She’s turning ten this month, that’s seventy they say in dog years. She has visibly aged with white whiskers encircling her snout and brows. She moves slowly and has trouble with stairs. She doesn’t jump up on the bed or sofa willingly but somehow when she forgets and accidentally ends up there, she has trouble getting down. Her joints seem to creak and although she rarely speaks up, her eyes express kind acceptance.
Last night she gently scratched at the bedroom door as she had many times when insecurity overwhelmed her. Lightning lit the sky with the inevitable sound of distant thunder. I told her to settle down but I knew that she wouldn’t, not until I got up and joined her in the family room where she could keep an eye on me. The storm moved closer with increased violence and she brought her body next to mine deciding to sit on my feet. We both dosed in and out of consciousness, she with more assurance. It lasted about two hours this time. I quitely left her to return to my bed knowing she was aware of my every move. She didn’t protest. She knew that I would be back soon enough to perform the morning ritual of feeding, preparing, awakening.
I read all the warnings about a dog like this, about the inbred attachment issues, about the separation anxiety, about the long list of physical challenges, but who doesn’t have issues. Besides, we needed a dog to accompany us in the hill country, a guard dog of sorts, one that would warns us of approaching danger. She never became that dog. Scared of every noise and movement she reluctanly played her role as we slowly became dependent on each other, filling the void left when the kids went off to college, something that the couple of aloof cats we had could never do.
Days turned into nights, months into years and here we are looking into each other’s eyes, knowingly, painfully aware that going back is not an option. Sometimes I can tell she can’t see me clearly. She waits for my voice and then heads in my direction, happy yet uncertain. I cook for her and bathe her weekly as she gratefully follows me around wherever I go, a habit I now take for granted.
On most days she still patrols our property mostly observing the boundary lines, occasionally zooming in on a rabbit or squirrel she knows she’ll never catch. She searches out the sun on the patio floor till overheated she hurries inside and plops down panting. Fear makes her bark at other humans warning them to stay away, assuring me that she’s on guard. Misunderstood she puts her head down and retreats, waiting for praise instead of admonishment. Lately she’s given up. Still bothered by the noise of the blower on mowing days, her barks are mostly for my benefit.
Many dogs and cats have enriched our lives over the years. As we spend this last chapter together, I realize that even as many times as I wished I could sleep later in the mornings, or be away more than a few hours a day, or be free to travel without worrying about boarding her, or be able to sit without being interrupted by constant demands for attention, Schnitzel has managed to warm her way into our hearts in a very special way.