I have a shelf of books I will probably never read - The Art of Racing in the Rain, Merle's Door, The Dogs Who Found Me, From Baghdad with Love, A Three Dog Life, Woof. I don't know why I buy them, other than as a salute to fine writers, knowing full well that as beautifully written and inspirational as they may be, they will make me sad.
I took Elsa for her annual physicial on Friday. She's getting on - although I don't know her exact age. The genetics of her breed are also a mystery. What I know is that I brought her home from the Oregon Humane Society on January 2nd, 2005. She was listed as a five year old retriever. She looked more like a small black bear, already graying, probably more like six or seven, more like part Chow and part generic black dog, with a ruff - a characteristic fur pattern for several breeds. And those eyes. You know those dog eyes. But with a little bit of the devil in them.
She is now ten, give or take a year, and her hips are a little wobbly in Portland's morning chill. She snores when she sleeps, which is a lot of the time, but she still wants to go wherever we go, especially if there's a car ride involved. When my husband and I leave her in the car, she curls up on the driver's seat and keeps it warm for us. She adores Costco roast chickens and would gladly eat an entire bird in one sitting if I weren't there to intervene. The vet took some of her blood for tests - blood count, thyroid and liver panel, renal function, electrolytes - all the same tests we get during our annual physical. She may be a little low on thyroid hormone. Or she's just getting old.
I like to say that she and I are walking slowly to eternity together - but I know she will get there many years before me. I say it more to comfort myself. How many more years can I reasonably expect from my life and how many dogs will fit into that? That's something I think about.
My African gray parrot is 11 1/2 years old and, if all goes well for her, she will outlive me. Sweetie the parrot has been around for Molly, Maddy and now Elsa. All good dogs. Sweetie still calls Molly, who died the year after I brought Sweetie home. The first time Sweetie called for Molly after the dog was gone, I was knocked sideways. Still in the throes of my deepest grief, I didn't expect to hear my bird calling my lost dog. Now when she calls for Molly, I'm oddly comforted, as if Molly were still around.
Sweetie has a speech impediment. She can't combine ells and esses in one word. So Elsa becomes 'Elta, Elta, Elta, come here, good girl.' Sweetie has expanded her vocabulary and sentence structure to include seven word oratories. 'Elta' doesn't respond to the parrot. (Neither did Molly or Maddy. Neither do the cats, even when Sweetie, at her most persuasive, calls them: 'here kitty kitty kitty, meeeow.')
Elsa has had two major illnesses in the time she's been with me - a ruptured disc and a 15 cm. liver tumor which turned out to be benign. The cost was as much the emotional toll as the financial - just as the dog is as much child as pet, and certainly a better companion. They just don't live long enough. And so it's with increasing anxiety that I take Elsa for her annual physical each year and await her lab results.
Theories that attempt to explain our attachment to dogs abound, as do stories that end as all dog stories end. One theory is that our love is made more poignant because it foreshadows loss, theirs and our own. This is not my favorite theory. Another theory has to do with the release of prolactin. Is that why I want to cuddle and rock every puppy I see?
I like to think it's because our dogs are good and true and pure of heart. So for now, Elsa is here with me. I hope her lab results are normal and I can have the same anxiety next year.
Causes Evelyn Sharenov Supports
Oregon Humane Society, ASPCA, PETA, HSUS