(But Learned a Few New Tricks Instead)
I’ve threatened to kill Luna.
I’ve cursed her name. I’ve smacked her on the butt a few times in her life. Oh, and maybe kicked her lightly once as she went out the door.
Luna is the family dog. Throughout the 13 years of her life with us, she has deposited pee, poop, puke, and piles of her white fur on every inch of my floors and carpets. Her fur is woven into the upholstery as well as into my clothing, especially my favorite black polar fleece jacket, a magnet for her stiff white hairs.
In the family we like to say that Luna has been everywhere we have been, all over the world, really. Her hair is in our suitcases and guitar cases, on our coat sleeves and the soles of our shoes. I have had a hard time practicing compassion for this animal. As far as I go, try as I may, I can’t get away from Luna.
We all loved her from the start. She was so sweet and shy when we rescued her as a puppy. The kids and I thought her shyness would melt with our love. The people at the shelter said she’d been found in a ditch, possibly abused and abandoned. We all showered our cream-colored pup with affection as we brought her up in the safety and security of our family.
Thirteen years later, she still flinches at quick-reaching hands and threatens to bite those hands that have fed, petted, and thrown countless tennis balls across the lawn. She’s an emotional wreck when any family member comes home — doing her weird whiny throat yodel — as if she’s surprised we haven’t abandoned her. Lunacy! Her defensiveness and neuroses are mysteries we may never understand.
All The Rage
Now that she’s older, she’s decided to potty-train in reverse. I am finding fresh pee stains on my new shag carpet. She can’t hold it as she used to, and she seems confused by body signals that used to tell her to go outside.
So it’s back in the kennel at night and when we go out, the one we used for potty-training when she was a puppy. I’ve even purchased some doggy diapers at the pet supermarket. As I run the vacuum, I realize that her fur accounts for 85% of the dirt I’ve sucked up for 13 years. Why do I even have dogs in my house?
And as I watch her age, my rage grows. It’s not just the fresh pee or the perennial fur. Luna is the embodiment of all that I cannot control.
We’re both getting older. And we’re both wearing out.
We spend a lot of time together now that the kids have grown up and out of the house. In the mornings, she’s a little leg-stiff. Me, too. We both hobble out of our beds and head outside to scan for life on the lawn. Squirrels and birds scatter as we step onto our mossy grass and sniff the wind. We find a comfortable seat and settle in, staying out there under the trees all day when it’s warm. We like to go for afternoon walks in the woods with our other dog, sweet (non-shedding) Josie. We keep moving even though it would be easier to sit still.
Luna was a great athlete in her youth. Her sport of choice: Tennis Ball. She awed everyone with her soaring mid-air catches. Our joy was in recognizing her joy, the embodiment of doing exactly what she was created to do: run, leap, land, and loop back to do it all again. And again. And again. And again.
Perhaps too many rough landings led to those shaky back legs of hers. I admire how, even now, she’ll surge after a squirrel, though she’ll pay for it in pain later.
I can sometimes see her attributes:
- She stays clean and white and doesn’t smell bad.
- She cleans sweet Josie’s eyes and ears.
- She accepts each day as it comes and lives in the moment.
- She doesn’t seem to worry about what the future holds.
I’m trying to learn from Luna. Soon enough, one of us will die, and the odds are against her.
My brother’s dog, Annie, died last month. He and his family are heartbroken. She’d been a part of their family for a long time. I think I would miss Luna if she died today.
She has become a mirror for me. After years of our love/hate relationship, I have reached a new awareness: If I can learn to practice compassion for this dog, perhaps I can find some for myself.
Luna teaches me to get creative with aging. Some new tricks I am learning:
- Bending over again and again to clean her mess offers me a constant choice of cursing versus gratitude.
- Scratching her favorite spot behind her ears gives me pause to recall the years of walking this dog with my husband, kids, grandma, and neighbors.
- Pondering the love she accepts and gives prompts me to remember the love I get and give away, too.
- I can find compassion when she flinches for no good reason, acknowledging my own flinching fears, still with me after all of these years.
Something tells me I’m never going to get control of all the chaos in my life, whether it’s dog crap or my own crap. In fact, I suspect I will have less control over normal things, the older I get.
Strange how we often end the way we start: a little unsteady and needing a close eye. Like infants and the elderly, dogs like Luna often just want a little love, patience, and compassion.
I had never intended to kill Luna. I guess I don’t really want her dead.
She’s out on the porch now, barking at me through the glass, demanding to come in. Today, I will open the door and scratch her ears as she enters, offering an extra dose of love. She’ll thank me with a grunt and a shake, depositing a fresh sprinkling of her lovely white fur on my freshly-vacuumed rug.
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