by ALEXI VENICE
My earliest childhood memories have a dog in them. Our first dog was a small poodle named Dooley. I used to pull her in my little red wagon and considered her my best buddy. Always loving and friendly with me, I watched her bite the hand of our next-door neighbor—a lawyer—when he reached down to pet one of her puppies that was breastfeeding. In my child mind, and now—over forty years later—I firmly believe the bite was justified. What was he thinking?
Much later in my life, I acquired my own dogs, and fell in love with the breed of duck tolling retrievers. I’ve never been without a dog at my ankles, helping me load the dishwasher, lying under the table while I type, or simply following me around the house. And, I hope never to be.
Chester (left), Daisy (middle) and Zane (top right with smirk).
Three years ago, after my daughter left for college, Zane, the one smirking in the above pic, decided to move outside. He simply refused to come in when I called him—day or night. I got what he was telepathing, so I bought an igloo and tucked it into a corner on our deck, padded the inside with wool blankets and covered it with a thick blanket at night after he crawled inside. Ever since, he’s been sleeping in the igloo for the duration of the night without incident.
He exits the igloo in the morning when he hears the coffee pot and T.V. come to life. He seems happier when he’s outside, so I respect his decision. (For those of you who live in colder climes, I make Zane sleep inside the house when the temperature is below ten degrees Fahrenheit because that is just too cold.) He comes in the house to eat his food, socialize for an hour, maybe take a quick nap, then eagerly begs at the sliding door to go back outside.
I wondered if there was an association between my daughter leaving for college, and the dog moving out on the deck, so I thought about it. Indeed, there was; but not a superficial one. I had to connect some dots in my mind, recreating what took place around the time of my daughter’s departure. When she moved out, my husband, Bill, and I became empty nesters.
Being an athlete his entire life, Bill began treating our house like a locker room, so, for him, empty nest naturally meant naked nest. The same was not true for Zane and me. Poor Zane. He took one look at the locker room and declared in the only way he knew how that he was out of there!
I feel sorry for him, standing eye level to all that manly nakedness. It was too much for him, and me, to handle. We had to make a new house rule: Empty Nest Does Not Mean Naked Nest. Thus, the name of my blog. Even though I named my blog this, and told Zane about it, he decided to remain outside. Again, I don’t blame him.
There is a monumentally-sentimental, second part to this post. Recently, I realized that I love one of my dogs, Daisy, more than I have any other dog I’ve ever owned—even my childhood dog, Dooley. And yes, even more than Zane and Chester. Along with this epiphany, I realized that she won’t live as long as I do. After all, she’s already eight years old!
Here’s one of the reasons I love her so much. Daisy is disabled. She was born without the radial bone in her left, front leg, so it’s smaller than her other legs, and it’s bent at an angle, giving the impression she’s going to shake hands with you. The paw of that leg never touches the ground. She gets around fine on her other three legs—running, swimming in the lake, and fetching the tennis ball more aggressively than any other dog.
When the breeder emailed us a photo of Daisy as a puppy, she was lying down because she couldn’t even stand at that time. I broke into tears and told Bill that I had to adopt that dog. At the time, we didn’t know if she would need a lifetime of orthopedic care—like a prosthetic for her leg or what—but I knew I had to have that dog. And, so it was that she came into our lives as the most loved dog ever! I spoiled and babied her, even calling her “Baby.” For all intents and purposes, though, she’s a normal, well-adjusted dog, who’s accustomed to my major-league spoiling of her.
She has returned the favor of love to me, and our family, so many times more. She’s been inspirational in showing us how to live life to the fullest—even in the face of major obstacles. When my son died suddenly and tragically seven years ago, Daisy sat in my lap while I cried. She walked with me while I cried. She fetched the tennis ball while I threw it and cried. She nestled in next to me on the sofa while I read and cried. She walked with me into my son’s room to stare at his things while I cried. In addition to God, family and my human friends, Daisy helped carry my burden of loss. Yes, Zane was there, too, but not in my lap.
So, when she had a little health issue that looked like it might need surgery, my mind realized what my heart already knew—that I love that little dog more than I have any other. She has become like a child to me, and I fear how much it will hurt when she passes before I do. Like so many other pet owners, I will experience the pain of loss of a canine family member, and hope that she reunites with my son in Heaven. By the way, she was two when my son died, and he used to call her “Darth Daisy” in jest to get my goat. I suspect they will have a grand reunion. For now, I won’t entertain thoughts of loss, but will savor her continued company.
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