My canine daughter, Jessie, is turning 11 this November. According to the American Kennel Club this makes her about 70 years old in human years. It also makes me an impossibly young mom – even though I am a middle-aged mother of human children. The fact that we make these sorts of calculations, translating dog years to human years, says a lot about our desire to embrace canines as part of our human family.
Jessie looks great for an old gal. The golden part of her doodle is still thick and shiny, with not a grey strand in sight. While there are several large tumour-like bumps under her skin, we’ve had them checked. Nothing ominous the veterinarian assures me, just fatty deposits of old age. I try not to think about her old age and her predicted demise. My girl’s breed has a life expectancy of 10-15 years. But these predictions are based on averages, right? And Jessie has always been an above average dog. Not that I’m bragging.
While she will always be a puppy in my heart, there are changes impossible to ignore
In a blink of an eye Jessie has turned from puppy to mature adult. Scooping kibble every morning from a gigantic bag clearly marked “senior formula” reminds me of that. That’s what happens when you cheat at the game of life and age in multiples with each passing year. While she will always be a puppy in my heart, there are changes impossible to ignore.
We used to spend carefree hours in the school yard playing tennis. I only had to ask “Jessie, school?” for her to bound off the sofa and start running around in circles even before I opened the front door. I’d bring a racquet and whip the ball across the yard. Over and over again. It would take a lot to tire her out. But eventually she would lay down in the grass panting, her tongue hanging lazily — as her signal that it was time to head home.
She keeps looking at me hopefully, with those big expressive brown eyes, that we’ll return to our old games
She can’t chase the ball like that anymore, or rather we can’t let her. After invasive surgeries on both hind legs we have had to substitute a tame game of “catch” for fetching a ball from afar. She keeps looking at me hopefully, with those big expressive brown eyes, that we’ll return to our old games. Sadly, those days are over.
The change that has been harder to accept than her physical limitations is that I am no longer her favourite. For the longest time, she slept at the foot of mine and my husband’s bed religiously every night. In the morning, she would hop up on my side. I would scooch over to make room, drape my arm around her warm middle and cuddle for a few extra minutes before starting my day.
But this past summer my eldest son, Jake, moved home. Now, Jessie often sleeps in the hallway outside his room. In the morning, she stares at Jake’s closed door and growls until I let her in. She hops up on his bed, walks in circles on top of his duvet to flatten a spot for herself, and lies down beside his slumbering frame. She lets out an old woman groan, like she’s already had a tough morning, closes her eyes and falls back to sleep.
I’ve never claimed to be a model for maternal propriety so I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve been googling with search terms like, “how to become dog’s favourite”
Jessie still loves to come for walks with me. Except when she has better options. A few nights ago, she needed to go pee. I put her leash on and we headed down the front steps. I started to walk left on the sidewalk. She wouldn’t budge. “You want to go the other way, Jessie?” I asked. This happens more and more often these days. She has become very opinionated in her old age. I no longer walk her. She walks me. So, I head to the right instead. She refused to budge again. At 70 plus pounds I can’t move her when she’s put all her weight on her back haunches.
Jessie stared at our front door looking distressed, like she was being kidnapped. “Damn it, Jessie. You are being a very stubborn old girl,” I admonished. But I knew the source of her sorrow. She was looking for Jake. I stormed into the house and told Jake he had to take over pee duty. He came outside, took Jessie’s leash, said, “Let’s go Jess” – and she trotted off contentedly, her head held high, tail wagging.
I know it’s probably bad mommy behaviour to be in competition with my eldest for Jessie’s affection. The other members of my family are much more mature. My husband used to be a cat person so is quite happy with more subdued displays of affection. Our younger son Micah doesn’t expect to be singled out for grandiose displays of love – he is a second born after all. But I’ve never claimed to be a model for maternal propriety so I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve been googling with search terms like, “how to become dog’s favourite.”
I admire how she can assert herself in an unapologetic way in her old age
The puzzling news is that I’m doing everything right. I was the one who was there for Jessie in her most formative months when the kids were in middle school and I worked from home. I give her belly rubs and liver treats. And did I mention that her trip to the salon costs me double what I pay to get my own hair cut? That’s the sort of sacrifice I have made for my dog.
While it stings that Jessie clearly favours Jake, I admire how she can assert herself in an unapologetic way in her old age. She doesn’t pretend to want to cuddle in the morning or come for walks with me when she doesn’t feel like it. I will never hear her utter the canine equivalency of “We should go for drinks some time” when she knows she is speaking empty words. She spends time with whomever she wants to spend time with, and doesn’t seem to be in knots with feelings of guilt. My canine daughter is pure and transparent in her affection. She devotes her time and energy honestly.
Isn’t that a good trick for the rest of us?
This is a guest essay by Sue Nador (www.therelationshipdeal.com) of Toronto, Canada. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email firstname.lastname@example.org