She’s really my son’s dog.
She was what he wanted for his seventh birthday: a dog, but not one that would jump on him and bite and bark. After weeks of searching for this near impossibility, I found her. She had been in a no-kill shelter for a year, having been left there by a couple who was divorcing and unable to keep her. When I held my hand out for her to sniff, she lowered her head and rolled over on her back, showing me her belly. “We’ll take this one,” I told the woman at the desk. “This is the one.”
She’s not a beauty, not in a conventional sense. From a distance, she has the noble silhouette of a Labrador, but when you get close to her, you see that her coat is patchy and graying, due to skin allergies and (in my opinion) premature graying caused by what was undoubtedly a stressful life change. Her jowls and neck have the soft fleshiness of a shar pei, and her tongue is spotted with purple like a chow’s. We don’t actually know how old she is, but the vet guesses that she’s about seven, but in good health, thanks to my obsessive mothering. What she lacks in physical beauty, she more than makes up for in personality. Her official name is Susie, but we hadn’t had her long before we started calling her Mamaw Dog, due to her tendency to furrow her brow in concern and worry about her babies when we wandered out of her sight.
From the moment I rubbed that belly, we have been inseparable. She follows me from room to room as I clean the house, curls up beside me when I read a book, and (despite my husband’s initial protests) sleeps in a sleepy warm heap at the foot of the bed. If the Husband gets up in the night, she will creep closer and closer until her head is beside mine, and when he returns to bed, he finds the two of us spooning, her head on his pillow, and what could be interpreted as a smirk on her face. As I write this, sitting at the table in my sunny kitchen, she has chosen to lie on the hardwood floor at my feet rather than in her bed ten feet away. That’s more distance than she is comfortable with. Personal space is not a thing Mamaw finds necessary.
I am her Lady. I am the one who is home all the time, the one who remembers to buy treats and is generous with them, the one who cooks dinner and sometimes drops bits of chicken onto the floor accidentally-on-purpose. When I’m sick or sad, she rests her sleek head on my knee and looks at me with concern. I can almost hear her ask me if I want a cup of tea or anything. She’s a Mamaw, after all. When my husband worked second shift and didn’t get home until late at night, she and I would curl up in bed together and watch Murder, She Wrote and eat cheese until we fell asleep. We are kindred spirits and old souls.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t relish her clear preference of me over anyone else in the household. The children, if we’re being honest, prefer their father. He’s big and funny and affable, always in a good mood, always willing to give pony rides or have tickle fights. I’m the broccoli enforcer, and the homework police, and if I had an action figure, it would repeat my catchphrase, “Are you SURE you brushed for two minutes??” So, yeah, I’m kind of a buzzkill. But to the dog, I am the Homecoming Queen.
In what is perhaps the most cruel trick the universe has ever played on the human race, dogs don’t live as long as humans. They exist for a while with us, pure creatures who offer love and comfort and devotion, asking nothing in return but that we fill their bowls and sometimes share our sandwiches. Sometimes I look at her, and it occurs to me that one day, I won’t have her here, and the thought is so sad that I have to push it down and bury my face in her floppy neck skin.
I’m a strong advocate for animal adoption, especially senior animals. Puppies get adopted first, because they’re tiny and cute and without medical complications or neuroses. Older dogs don’t get adopted as quickly. Unless they have the good fortune of being in a no-kill shelter or a rescue facility, the odds are against their survival. After spending an entire life with a family, to be abandoned at the very end seems devastatingly unfair.
The downside, though, is knowing that you won’t have as much of their time. She’s healthy and has years left with us, but she most likely won’t be here when my children are grown and I’m left with an empty nest and no one to coddle, and that’s a reality that is hard to swallow. But when I think about my girl, and how scared she must have been when her people left her in a shelter and never came back, it breaks my damn heart, and I know without a doubt that we made the right choice for our family.
I’m committed to give her the happiest ending any shelter dog could have. It’s a fairy tale story, really. She spent a year alone, in a noisy kennel with a concrete floor, and then a lady in yoga pants and crazy hair showed up and took her to live in the country, on a farm where she could run all day in the grass and sunshine if she wanted to, or take a nap at her Lady’s feet if it was raining outside. She has two children who love to throw tennis balls for her to fetch, who argue over who loves her the most, who tend to drop bites of their dinners under the table, and who shower her with belly rubs and chin scratches. The Man dutifully takes her out every night, then brings her back inside, where she sleeps in a people bed, between the feet of two people who would keep her safe no matter what. The Lady makes her scrambled eggs for breakfast and kisses her sweet head and tells her that she is the best, smartest, most beautiful dog in the whole world. No one yells at her, and no one would dream of striking her. She has never spent a night outside in the cold or the rain since she came to live with her Family. When she argues with the cat, the Lady always takes her side, because everyone knows that the cat is kind of a jerk.
She is technically my son’s dog.
But she is completely my soul mate.