I Didn’t Get Dogs, Until I Got Dogs
11/20/2021 Saturday. . .what seems like yesterday and forever ago. . .
The late Autumn sunlight, blue-bright and thin like it is this time of year, is shining through the east sunroom window. The entire bottom pane is covered in smears, smears from cold wet noses and probably a few warm wet tongues thrown in for good measure. Dogs are notorious window-lickers you know.
I need to vacuum, again, as I can see dog hair in the dust motes. It will wait. Today I have other priorities. Today will be spent loving on my sweet Gemma.
I grew up with cats. I was born into a home with two of them and over the years many sets of soft paws padded the floors. Most appeared upon our doorstep as strays and were inevitably, albeit sometimes reluctantly, allowed to stay. My father joked that there was a sign at the end of the street directing them towards our house. Rascal, Herbie, Mama Kitty, Puddin Pie, Felix, Suki, Sheba, Mittens, Pandi, Cricket, Annie . . . .I am sure I am missing a few. My brother and I asked for a dog a few times but the answer was always: ‘Dogs are a lot of work, they are a lot more responsibility than cats.’ I had friends and neighbors who owned dogs. They always seemed a little messy, a little more stinky than cats, with their doggy breath and doggy smell.
My first dog was and still is a sassy Basset Hound named Beatrice, aka The Faster Basset. The life expectancy for a Basset is 10-12 years, Bea is 15 yrs 9 mos. I am pretty certain she is a dog/human/cat hybrid. I bought her for my then-boyfriend’s 30th birthday. She screamed in her kennel all the way home. Thus began my life as a dog mom. Bea is stubborn as hell, feisty, sassy, and does things on HER terms (which means ‘not often and only if food is involved’). Once, when she had been naughty and knew she was going to be caught as I chased her through the house, she ran into the living room, laid on the couch, and shut her eyes as if to say ‘What? It wasn’t me, I’ve been sleeping.’ Another time she broke in to the refrigerator, stole the pot roast out of the crock pot, and proceeded to run through the house with it drippings and all. Her favorite place for a nap is the dining room table if a chair is left out.
The following year, for my birthday in October, Bea gained a companion in the form of an 8lb. 8-week old Yellow Lab. At 8 weeks she sat, was pretty well potty-trained, and fetched anything and everything. Gemma was as sweet and obedient as Bea was not. ‘I forget this is your first Lab’, my friend laughed, as I gushed yet again over how simply precious she was.
The next 14 years flew like no others. Do kids grow up this fast as well? River swims, camping trips, the Testicle Festival (yes, it’s a thing in Montana), Cannon Beach, the Ranch, Coeur d’Alene, Bozeman, and more fetches, kisses, cuddles, and walks to list.
If you met her you loved her. She would enter a room and work it like a pageant queen, making sure to greet everyone. She loved kitties and she loved kids. She was a tiny little thing, around 50 lbs., and could beat a larger dog to the dummy or ball with time to spare. When she went camping she would make her rounds to each person, cuddling up next to them in their sleeping bags, making sure everyone received Gemma love. When her ‘doggy daddy’ and I went separate ways she went back and forth from house to house, always eager to see the other.
She was eager for everything in fact. Eager to eat, fetch, walk, run, go. She would wake up in the morning bouncing off the walls as if to say ‘I’m alive! I’m alive!’
Now I get it.
I get them.
I get dogs.
Dogs may be the most unfailing, unconditional, love on earth. They are there through it all, completely. They don’t care what you are wearing or if you haven’t been to the gym in weeks, they don’t care if your presentation sucked or if your hair is a disaster. They care that you show up. Period. They’ve been there through every life event I’ve experienced, strong and steady.
We could learn a lot from them, if we’d only try.
Her time is very very short. Today we will eat duck eggs and popcorn and bits of steak. We will do gentle and tiny fetching. I will kiss her velvet ears again and again and breathe in her sweet fuzzy scent and look in to her soft brown eyes that are as true as anything in this world. We will cuddle and spoon on the couch, mostly this.
Gemma is 14 you see. She lies down or falls down and can’t get up on her own which means you can't leave her alone. She has spinal issues. She doesn’t like this. It is heartbreaking to see.
The nose smears will wait. The dog hair will wait. I have the rest of my life to vacuum. For now we will cuddle. After 14 years I am certain that the Lab hair has just become a part of the house, and it is, undoubtedly, forever a part of my heart.
We laid Gemma to rest November 29th. She was surrounded by love and hugged and kissed until the very end. It was, hands down, the hardest thing I have ever done. My heart will never be quite the same. She was worth all of it and far more.
My hope is that everyone, someday, gets to experience the love of a dog like her.
Funny little Bea, while missing her companion, is still going strong. I believe she may be aiming to set the record for the oldest Basset . . .and I wouldn’t put it past her to make it.