A Gift Nonetheless

Friday, May 13, 2022 | 0 Comment(s)

It’s a gift that our pets get old. 
About a month ago our neighbors got a 4-month-old grey and brindle French Bulldog named Millie. She is a love and a joy. It turns out that, in reality, fences with slats missing are actually the ones that create good neighbors, a love affair soon blossomed between our Falcor, 10, and this new bunny-sized fearless gremlin. This began conversations with her human family and arrangements were made whereby we can grab Millie and pull her up over the fence to let her play in our yard (which has more room for running). And they run. Ohhhhh. They run. Millie has youth but gives up about 55 lbs of length and weight. 
"Hi, I'm Millie"
Falcor, has always been a younger brother a of dog. He is both chronologically the younger brother, with Grover, 12, ever having a chill old man personality, being his senior. But, he also acts the part. He nudges. He still has that boundless energy where you have to scold him to get him to stop giving you kisses on the face. This “older dog” role is new for him, and it’s incredible watching him grow into it. When Millie cuddles in my arms, Falcor goes right up to her and gives her tiny little love nibbles, while she squirms happily on her back. He is so gentle with her, not catching her when he chases her, even though over time he has let it slip that he can. Millie exploits her youth. While Falcor has the edge for the first 20 minutes, he has a finite about of steam. Millie still runs like she’s got a Tesla engine inside her. This results in Falcor flipping on his back and just letting her attack him. She is happy to oblige. With the size difference she loves using our lawn chair and dog bed, or anything off the ground, to propel her at Falc from above. She landed on his back and neck twice just today. It’s impressive.  Millie’s youth is palpable and when you squeeze her, the idea of anything bad ever happening to her is unfathomable. She is immune to time. She is beyond it, and will be for a long time.

Sometimes when I look at Millie through the glass of our sunroom. The sun reflects just right and the window gets that ephemeral blue shimmer that makes it look like I’m watching an 80’s VHS cassette recording. Where you know you’re watching something that really happened, but it is somehow visually removed from the clarity of present day reality. And through that lens I see one-and-a-half-year-old Grover, lolling on his stomach on the grass back in South Amherst. He has gotten tired on the way home from a walk and has begun taking breaks in the plush grassy yards for brief sunbaths. His final stop is in front of our house and his grin is crocodilian. With a face as wide as his, somehow his smile is even wider. The cavern of his mouth is so vast it’s as if the curtain of his lips were being heaved open by a thousand stagehands. You could lose yourself down there. And I do. 

When we get in the house he jogs to the water bowl before flopping across two sections of the couch, happily panting away. I sit down on the remaining square, put his head in my lap, and watch the hours melt away. In this moment we are beyond time. Immune.
As Falcor and Millie frolic away, Grover lays gingerly on the outdoor dog bed. Millie has passed his sniff test and she quickly realized that Grove was not really the play buddy she was looking for. A month in she is excited to see him, but she generally keeps a respectful distance. Grover’s had a cat-like number of lives. He was found on the street, and managed to make his way to me. He got the end of his tail caught in a screen door a few years later, and even after 6 months of bandages, we couldn’t stop the bleeding, so he lost a chunk of his tail. Five years ago, his back gave out and he suddenly lost functioning in his back legs. After rushing him for emergency surgery, and weeks of PT, he recovered to almost his previous strength. Then during the pandemic he had a cancer scare that finally turned out to be a SECOND SPLEEN that he was growing in his kidney. I do not use caps lock lightly. That is as unbelievable and rare as it sounds. After getting his kidney and both spleens removed, all of his biological functions have bounced back to normal. He is, by the book, a healthy boy. But, when you look at my man, he is deep inside the wheel of time.

What used to be a gigantic planet of a head has now settled like fabric over the tent poles of his skull. While he regained his rear leg strength, age has exploited his previous weakness, as it always seems to do, and Grove can’t do stairs anymore. Or hardwood floors. His hearing left about a year ago, which is some ways has been a blessing. Thunder is no longer a problem, unless it gets real bad. Even our fire detector going off only caused minimal concern, when it used to put him into the bathroom tub shaking. The downside of the hearing loss is that whenever he feels confused or needs help, he just barks his fucking head off. And for a dog that didn’t really bark his entire life, he’s got pipes to spare. As his mobility decreases, the number of situations in which he feels confused or needs assistance grows, and so does the ubiquity of his calling card howls. And, just cause life requires a little bit of TMI . . . Grover has taken, only in the last year, to eating poop. More specifically, his and his brother’s. While my wife and I take pains to try and keep the yard poopless, the task is a Sisyphean. So, when Grover inevitably barks at you, it reeks and it is as unpleasant as it is motivating. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a love and as gentle as baby seal, but he is no longer immune.
I guess my point, if there is one, is that when Grover dies, I will inevitably be crushed. We are bonded in a way where there is no other option but to grieve forever a love that will forever be missed. But I also know, because I love him, that there will also be a release. An exhalation of a life lived as hard and as well and as long as possible. A life of recognized potential, after giving his all.
It is a gift that dogs get old. Without the wear and tear of years of experience, Millie bullets past my feet like a bunny potato on uppers. Her body plump like a juicy cantaloupe; a stick is a new adventure. Across the yard, Grover lays on one hip on the pavement, savoring the late day sun. He perks his head up now and again as he stares off into space. As the sun begins to hide behind the tall part of our fence, he musters the energy to stand, only giving out a nominal howl to signify his intensions of going back inside. I grab the handles on his harness and guide him gingerly up the ramp covering our back steps.

When we get in the house he takes a wobbly few steps to the water bowl before flopping across his bed by the fireplace, quickly falling asleep. I sit down on my chair next to him, gazing at his head drooped purposefully over the side of his bed, and watch our hours together melt away.

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