Yesterday, as I was trying to leash Sunny, she yelped.
I thought, at first, I had accidentally pinched her skin with the leash clasp. But, when I tried it again, she cried and started shivering, her tail tucked between her back legs. She wouldn’t let me come near her.
I didn’t know what to do.
Sunny has always had health issues. Her kneecaps slip, her stomach is sensitive, and her anal sacks would fill so often we finally had them surgically removed. In fact, we had just taken her to the vet three weeks ago because she had been vomiting for 24 hours.
She turns nine years old today. I thought about that on the drive to the vet’s office in Kailua. Eight. That’s 62 in human years, if the math is right. She’s almost old enough to retire and collect Medicare, the age when everything is starting to hurt or slow down.
I got Sunny because no one wanted her. She was already four months old when my friend called me about her, a puppy that couldn’t be sold at a pet store. She wasn’t conventionally cute, with pointy ears that were almost as long as her body. But she had an irresistible face, with that black muzzle, and as soon as she licked my nose it was over. She was my dog.For the next few years, spent a lot of time together. We went to Hawai‘i Kai Dog Park every afternoon, even on weekends. We hiked Mariner’s Ridge weekly. We went to the beach. We ate at KFC. We watched sappy chick flicks on Friday nights. She was, in every way possible, my favorite companion.
Then, we added Indy, a rambunctious silky terrier-Shih Tzu, to the family. (She wasn’t happy about that.) Then, I met my husband, who had his own dog, Opae. (She wasn’t happy about that, either.) Now, our pack has grown to three, but Sunny will always be my first, quite possibly my favorite. (Don’t tell the others.)I’ve seen her spritely behavior wane a little over the years. She doesn’t run around the yard as much or hike as quickly as she used to. She doesn’t cuddle with me at night anymore, preferring to sleep in her own bed next to mine. She rarely plays with toys.
She’s getting older, and every day now, I worry about the end.
Because my greatest fear is also the most inevitable: she won’t live forever. She will, as with my other dogs and rabbits and guinea pigs and chickens and fish, die. And, honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do.
I thought about a video my friend, Melissa, posted on my Facebook wall a few days ago. It’s a short film called “If I Could Talk” about what dogs are thinking, how much they love and appreciate us, even at the end.
It’s a horrible movie if you love dogs. I cried so hard, I thought I wasn’t going to stop.
It’s made me think about the end. Not that I want to, but I should. I should prepare myself. You never know when it will happen, and I want to be sure every moment my dogs are alive are going to be the best, that every night, when they drift off to sleep, they’re thinking, “Man, I sure lucked out! This was the BEST DAY EVER!”
I almost wish I never had dogs. We almost always outlive them. I can’t bear to watch the three of them get old, get sick, pass away. I hate thinking about it, but I know I should. I want to remember, as painful as it may be, that while life is short, theirs is even shorter.
Dogs — and pets, in general — do so much to enhance our lives, just by existing. They love us unconditionally. They can’t wait for us to get home. They think we’re the best even when we’re not. They don’t care if we gain weight, lose our hair, lose our job, have zero fashion sense, didn’t shave, didn’t bathe, forgot to brush our teeth, forgot to wear a bra. They just don’t care. Their love is real and genuine and forgiving. If only humans could love like this.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve these dogs, like I can’t give them enough attention, treats and adventures. I have to work, I have to take care of a baby now, I need to sleep. I wish I had more time with them.
Sunny is fine. (That’s her at the vet in the first photo.) She has some disc problems in her back that requires rest and pain medication. Her days of running and jumping and wrestling with Indy are likely over. The vet said she shouldn’t even walk up and down our stairs anymore. She’s getting old and, like with us, her body is wearing down.
I drove home with Sunny in the passenger seat next to me, like old times. I rubbed her head at red lights and told her she would always be my favorite dog. Because it’s true. She’s the best — and I hope she knows it.