|in my own words|
|-- by Mike Murray|
She has been – in the opinion of more than one observer – spoiled from the start. Two long walks per day, extensive play time, meat from the table to supplement her premium dog food, plenty of treats and toys. Couch and bed privileges. Frequent belly rubs. Inclusion in every family vacation.
On one such trip to West Virginia, my wife's veterinarian cousin watched me closely as I cut up a healthy chunk of my dinner steak and fed it to Janna. (Part by hand, part in her bowl, part from my plate. It’s a three-part ritual that we have observed for years.) Upon witnessing this spectacle, my wife’s cousin – not altogether approvingly, it seemed to me – joked, "All she's lacking is a place at the table."
Several neighbors have teasingly remarked that they'd like to “come back” as our dog. I understand. It seems like a pretty cushy existence to me, too. We treat Janna as if she were our baby. Which, of course, she is. We would lavish affection on her in any case. But, perhaps owing to the fact that we’re an otherwise childless couple, our attention is concentrated, intense.
Janna had a hard act to follow, in that we adopted her not long after Maggie died. Maggie (the object of my Christmas in September essay) was one of those special souls, the kind most people feel lucky to encounter once in a lifetime. My wife and I never expected to be twice blessed.
But we have been. Upon her arrival in 2000 (via fosters Fran and Steve) Janna wasted no time. She immediately did what animal companions do best: effortlessly wormed her way into our hearts. As was Maggie before her, Janna is lovable – but in a slightly different way. Where Maggie was graceful, Janna is a roughneck. No matter. Dogs will be dogs, after all.
More than nine years have passed since Janna’s arrival. Because she was a rescue, it is impossible to precisely gauge her age. But, since Janna was already a pregnant adult when she was dumped by her first “owners” – and because she waited eight or nine months after that to be permanently adopted – we figure she was at least two years old when she came to live with us. That means she’s 11 now. Perhaps, even, 12.
Dogs of her size and weight (she’s a sturdy Rottweiler mix) don't usually get too much longer than that. As a consequence, my wife and I have become keenly aware of "the lateness of things.”
Which is why we have begun to spoil Janna even more. No telling how many more weeks, months, or years she has left. We want her to enjoy them all. And so now, more things than ever are "as she wishes." While she has always had some say on walks, for example, these days she gets to pick entire routes. This direction or that, long or short – it’s pretty much up to her.
We are also more likely than ever to let her drag us up some stranger’s driveway, so that she can attempt to charm yet another person into becoming her friend. Black or white; yellow or red; male or female; young or old – she seems to love just about everyone she meets these days. And most everyone seems happy to make her acquaintance, too. (Rare is the person who can resist a furry face and a wagging tail.)
Janna has for years had some control over her own life. From the moment she discovered that a gentle, polite “ask” succeeded (where an aggressive, pushy demand did not), the world became her oyster. These days, it is even more so. So long as her desires are not harmful or unhealthy, we try to accommodate them.
It seems silly to limit her as we would an immature pup or an adolescent dog. Within the context of her own life, she is now older than we are. And so, when she catches me stirring from my slumber on a pleasant night, I am usually willing to indulge her desire to camp out on the patio for an hour or so. Sure, it means that I have to stay awake too, in order to keep an eye on her. But it gives her such pleasure – taking in the cool, crisp air and scoping the yard for nocturnal critters.
And, after all: the nights remaining to Janna are finite. And they are dwindling rapidly. The days of her early arrival, the over-active ones that sometimes seemed long and wearing (as she struggled to settle down and to grasp the rules of the household – just as we struggled to learn how to effectively communicate with her) are long gone. They have been replaced by joyous days, days that pass too quickly.
Janna was adorable from the start. Today, she is even more so. Familiarity sometimes does, as they say, "breed contempt." Among humans, anyway. But it almost never does between people and animals. We love them from the start. And we love them even more with each passing year. They give us so much pleasure, so much comfort. Which is why, especially during the twilight of their lives, we do all we can to return the favor.
Copyright ©2009 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.