NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Good Dog … Goodbye

Love may last forever, but dogs don’t.

We said goodbye to our wiggly little yapdoodle last week. She’s gone in body but not quite gone in spirit.

When I get home, I still expect to see Molly standing sentry at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to take up our positions ― I at my desk, she curled shrimp-shape on the oversized dog bed beneath.

I’m still surprised to awake after an entire night’s sleep ― uninterrupted by requests for backyard trips long before dawn.

The cats are even curious. They wonder why she no longer competes for the choicest spot on the sunroom couch.

All in all, these days have marked our sad re-entry into dogless living. Though it’s the third time Russ and I have traced this path of grief and recovery in 40-plus years of marriage, Molly’s demise ― like the loss of every beloved pet ― still delivers countless little blips of sudden awareness.

When we’re out for a leisurely evening, I may catch sight of the time and think, “Oh, no, we have to speed home to let her out.”

When we come back to the car on days when the weather’s fine, no one yaps with pleasure at the thought of continuing her ride.

There’s no slobber on the floor beside the water dish (for our cats slurp much more neatly) and, after a day-long drizzle, no muddy paw prints smeared by the back door.

Saying goodbye is a special kind of tough for we who love our animals with no hint of moderation. I understand better now why my late mother-in-law never let her kids get the puppy or kitty they’d plead for. Her family had lost a dearly loved terrier when she was just a girl, and she’d resolved then to never expose her own children to the heartbreak she still remembered.

To me, though, Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

My entire family embraced that approach. I never saw a photo of my father, boy to man, without a dog or horse at his side. Jinx the dog and his successors, along with a series of cats starting with feisty old Tom, were essential fixtures in our home.

So, when we married, Russ never had much of a chance. Starting with the gerbils ― Herbal and Verbal ― I’d sneaked into my pet-free apartment, he may have had some inkling. When we bought our first house, we acquired our first jointly owned dog even before shopping for a lawnmower and curtains.

Ole was our original “used” canine. Like any first child, he was darn near perfect. Beautifully behaved and (we thought) a near-genius of the canine kind, he displayed just one flaw during the 15 years of our life together: Like every Norwegian elkhound, he shed as much as a freshly sheared sheep from his Arctic-quality double-thick coat and his fluffy curl of a tail.

We swore we’d never find another friend like Ole after he finally passed away. And we didn’t. But by the time our daughter reached elementary age, Adopt-a-Pet had linked us up with another used beast. Charley, like Ole, came to us at the age of 2 or so. Unlike Ole, this pudgy Brittany spaniel was anything but perfect ― vastly overweight, neglected, and hungry for love … plus anything else he could find to approximate dinner.

Charley was not without distinctive flaws. Due to the excess pounds that had already made him a bit bow-legged, he spent his first year with us on a doggy diet. He was miserable. He’d chow down whatever snack he spotted, including little-girl socks in neon colors, stray gloves, sofa pillows and dog droppings he browsed on slow, lumbering walks.

The dietary pain was not in vain, though he never entirely lost his exotic tastes. Eventually, we were able to stroll our entire neighborhood without him lying down in the street even once to catch his breath.

You hear that middle children get away with murder, while the firstborn had to toe the line. Correct. Ole was never allowed even an envious glance at upholstered furniture or a discreet bout of begging during dinner.

Charley? Not so much. In no time, he’d trained us to let him curl up beside us on the couch, and his treat-seeking behavior was epic ― especially popcorn and anything that smelled like peanut butter.

A dozen years later, we were grieving our lost friend again … and once again vowing he’d be our last dog. We’d acquired a couple of cats in the meantime ― soft-hearted Charley raised them both from kittens ― and gone through a quartet of parakeets plus untold tropical fish. The kitties and Poppycock the cockatiel, who’d taken the late budgies’ place, were plenty …

Until three years ago. I blame it all on Facebook. I noticed a post from an Adopt-a-Pet volunteer telling of a pair of elderly dogs destined to be euthanized after their adoring owner, a childless widow, had passed away alone. There was something about the story that gripped our hearts. Why should these beloved pets have to die when their only sin was outliving the lady who loved them?

Both were far, far from their puppy years. Both were black ― dooming them to be passed over for adoption. To our surprise, our kids stepped forward to adopt the larger beast, a black Lab-retriever cross roughly the size of their davenport. We welcomed little Molly.

Her major pluses included a tolerance for cats and, due to her poodle-ish lineage, no worries about shedding her tightly curled coat. The minuses were somewhat greater.

We knew no more about her real age than her bloodline, but our vet estimated at least a dozen years. She had cataracts. Either she was hard of hearing or a purple-ribbon champ at not at paying attention to her humans. She was a timid, worried little auntie, perhaps because of the trauma she’d endured; she shivered with anxiety for her first six months as a Hanson. And she was the pickiest eater our menagerie has ever known.

But she was a joy, too ― a lover of sitting in my lap, a snuggler, a happy character. She wriggled in sheer delight at the prospect of a car ride, a walk or anything involving our full and undivided attention.

Like any family’s later offspring, she disdained all rules. She not only “owned” her corner of the couch and occupied far more than her share of the bed at night; as age constrained her, we actually found ourselves giving her a boost up onto her favored furniture.

Yet time rolls on. Day after day, she’d wake up 24 hours older. Her arthritis, various undiagnosed aches and doggy dementia advanced with relentless certainty until we agreed we had to do the kindest thing on her behalf. As we’d done two times before, we said goodbye to a treasured member of our household.

Friends who aren’t pet people may not quite understand. Those who love their dogs and cats certainly do. They speak in kindness when they ask, “Do you think that you’ll replace her?”

Perhaps ― someday ― we’ll adopt another creature. The world is full of “used dogs” who lack the appeal of puppies and the vigor of younger beasts, yet have joyful years left to live and savor ― paths to prance down, trees and hydrants to inspect, guests to greet at the door and eager snoots to sniff the breeze, ears flapping, through open car windows.

But “replace” our yapdoodle Molly? Not going to happen.

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