Saturday, April 12, 2014

Is There Such a Thing as a "Last Dog"?

When I was a child I’d lie awake each night listening for the burglar to come up the hall and into my room to get me. He was a very sneaky burglar. I’d hear the floorboards creak and then silence. Of course, he knew I was awake and so he was just waiting until I fell asleep to take that second step. Then … creak … and I’d then be awake until early morning hours. Other nights I knew there was a witch in the closet. She, too, was waiting until I was dead asleep to creep out of the closet and snatch me away.

That all stopped, however, one Sunday when we got home from church and my dad was waiting on the back porch with the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. Our allergy doctor had said “no dogs.” I think my mom had said to Dad, “Small, with short hair.” And there he was with a dog the size of a collie and the long flowing hair of a collie and the markings of a Brittany or English Springer Spaniel. For reasons I was too young to know, our grandma told us to name her Pandora. Such a special name for such a special dog, I thought. We called her “Pandy” for short.

And from that day forward I was a dog person. And nobody ever tried to snatch me away in my sleep ever again.

Over the years all the dogs I’ve brought into my home have given me more joy than I’m sure I have given them. They soaked up my tears and made me laugh. They frustrated me but also took me out of any moments of self-absorption. They made even the most bare apartment or house a home. They were usually satisfied with anything I gave them, and they were even content when I had little to give them.

It’s pretty hard to find any research that identifies negatives about dog ownership. It improves both physical and mental health because a dog gets you out into the world to exercise and because most dogs are social the owner meets more people. Research is even showing that having dogs in the family when children are young reduces allergies and asthma. Because dogs carry so many mites, tiny bugs, and dirt in their fur, the people they live with develop more immunity and have fewer colds. And I can happily report that my sisters and I never showed any allergic reactions despite our doctor’s dire warnings. Over 35% of households own dogs, and I believe that at least ten million of those dogs live in my neighborhood. In fact, I think it’s in the HOA bylaws that you can’t move into a house here unless you have at least two dogs or one dog over 50 lbs.

But now I’m dogless.

My last dog, my goofy girl Skyler, went to chase tennis balls in heaven this week. She was originally my kids’ dog. After a previous dog had passed on, in true dog person fashion we went out to find another. Brad and I had chosen the smart and calm Millie (who died too soon), but my children feared she would not be fun enough. We took a deep breath and let them choose a second one. And play Skyler did. Incessantly. The tennis ball was her thing. But she also was champion at marathon sessions of squeaking dog toys when we were trying to watch television. She got me out every single day, no matter the weather, to run across the golf course at the end of the street. And everyone who walked past our gate stopped to give her love (and sometimes dog treats).
Skyler in her prime

When the children grew and moved on, she stayed with Brad and me. And eventually even walking around the block was too much for her. The care and time I wanted to give to her was one of the reasons this blog has been dark for so long. So this week she found peace and a life free from pain while surrounded by people who loved her.

I’m dogless. It’s a strange feeling because I’m actually contemplating the possibilities of a life without dogs. My dogs have averaged lifespans of 16-17 years. In that amount of time in the future I might be looking for someone to take care of me instead of me carrying a dog up and down stairs to go out like I did with Skyler for months. I’m a true emptynester with the freedom to take off and travel without having to make dog arrangements. I have free space in my life to support family and friends who might need it. If I don’t ever bring another dog into my home am I taking five years off of my life? Will I become more social because I have the time to do more? Or will I meet fewer people because no one is stopping to pet my dog?

If Skyler was my last dog ever, I was lucky. But can I really make it without one?

And what will protect me from things that go bump in the night?

Tell me about your favorite animal family member in the comments box. If you were a dog person who chose to go dog-less, tell me how you did it.


Nadine_Feldman said...

Julie, my heart goes out to you. These animals are such precious, beloved friends!

I had had cats most of my adult life, but in 1993 two Springer Spaniels moved in to my back yard. They were sick and skinny with matted ears, and so we took them in. It took me a long time to get used to them, but once I did I was hooked (the cats weren't nearly as excited, but everyone managed to coexist).

Our Lucy died in 2004, and Rosie followed in 2005. Even now I think of them. In my therapy for an anxiety disorder, I learned to visualize a "safe place," and they are always there, young and energetic and playful.

I'm not sure I ever said, "Never again." Even though I haven't had animals since, I never made any rules about it. Life changed, and it isn't the right time for many reasons, but one never knows what the future holds.

Patricia said...

Julie, I am so sorry for your loss and know it is painful and deep. Every time I read about the care you were offering Skyler, it was easy to feel the love in your words. I have always had dogs and cats ~ at one time we had two dogs, 3 cats and a rescued squirrel that had fallen out of the nest and lived with us for three years.
When our 11-year-old wheaten terrier died, 12 years ago, we too made the decision to remain without a pet and travel for longer periods. We never stop missing them but enjoy those in our children's homes. Keep those loving memories close and they will still keep away the things that go bump in the night. But then again … sometimes the urge to fill that gap is too great … we will be waiting to see!

Anonymous said...

Hello Julia,
I am so sorry for your loss. We too have always had a dog and what they give us is so much more than we give them. We lost our last dog so unexpectedly at 7 years old in August and then we went and did what dog people do - we got another. She is driving us a bit crazy as she has much more energy than we do - but she brought joy back into our lives. Although it doesn't stop the pain of losing Tasha.

Do what is best for you and honor your dog in your own way. I hope you find some peace in knowing what a good life you gave her/him.

Take care and be gentle with yourself.

Tele said...

Oh, Julie, I'm sorry for your loss. How fortunate Skyler was with her humans.

Big hugs and good thoughts -

Muriel said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I think that it is all about doing what works for you. having a dog makes travelling a bit more difficult, so it all depends on your priorities. Take care!

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