Toby was bossy, brilliant, single minded, the quintessence of Terrier tenacity. But she was once a puppy, dithering and distracted, thoughts running in every direction. A seasoned dog trainer advised me, the ingénue, that puppy’s brains are scrambled eggs: time and guidance would firm them up. Evie, just past babyhood, rescued us a month after Toby’s untimely departure. She was always a bit airheaded, eggs never solidifying like Toby’s but gelling nicely. Then the unsettling: the senility announcing itself a year ago at 15. The eternal puppy face, with its distinctive pink nose a bit faded and crusty now, doesn’t match the mechanics of her body and mind. Her devoted humans have now become her caretakers as she resides blissfully in the doggie version of la-la land. She stands looking blankly at the wall, engrossed until we bring her attention back, usually with food. Her appetite remains hearty, her meals enriched with antioxidants and life enhancers, an arthritis pill and a powder to prevent flare-ups of the gallbladder issue which nearly cancelled last year’s vacation.
Sleep drugged, I don the massive old down coat and snow boots with lightning speed to get us outside after the 2 am pacing wakeup. I try to know in this interminable, coldest winter of Evie’s long life that the hushed, moonlit, snowy outing with my fuzzy sweetheart is a fleeting blessing, that I’m grateful it’s a Saturday night and there’s no need for a working brain until Monday morning, that I must be patient as we stand in the bone chill while she tries to remember why we came out. Back in the house’s warmth, the pacing may continue, or if luck holds, she’ll doze again soon.
The dozing comes easier now. The strong short legs that carried her on hill climbs, on all weather hikes, propelling her onto the couch to her favorite lookout are slow and cranky, moving tentatively. The cloudy eyes, the small bewilderments, the hearing loss compressing her surroundings are all her present existence, yet she still loves this life way too much to leave it. Grief is for us, not for her: she is blissfully devoid of self-pity, free to live out her quirky dotage as it comes. We accommodate, assist, hug, and excuse each mishap.
There’s no handbook for this, the Old Dog time, the way to prepare for the suddenly odd activities, the unscrambled eggs, the closing of the circle. Puppy antics, housebreaking, obedience: educational material abounds. We learn that meds exist for this cognitive disorder thing, supplements, pheromone diffusers, acupressure, herbal remedies. They all work for Evie for a time, until they don’t. What we need is an instruction manual for watching our darling, the always-game socialite, our surrogate child, fade before us, progeria-like. Polite sympathy from dog free acquaintances, friends: not the heartfelt commiseration they shared over my Mom’s denouement. I don’t expect them to get it, and I move quickly on to other subjects.
We’ve become the crazy old couple we’d have scorned in our youth, lavishing countless hours and dollars on a dog, willingly. I scale back my strength training so shoulders and hips can handle the pickup and carry without pain. We reserve movies and dinners out for only those deserving of hiring the dogsitter: we’d rather hang out with Evie, checking frequently while she naps that the soft blonde fur still gently rises and falls.
The company of this beautiful little old girl has filled the house, our hearts, seemingly forever: loving background music in our lives. Unbearable to imagine stillness.