This is not about editing. It’s about my dog.

Dolly is 12, and she and I have been together for 10 of those years.

I was really ready for a dog in the spring of  ’03. I’d been divorced a couple of years, and I’d bought a new little place in the city. My job at the paper was going well, and I felt solid. I have no kids, but at 40 I finally felt that I could reliably care for another soul, and I wanted a dog.

Definitely not a puppy. I wanted a grown-up dog who already knew a dog’s bathroom is outside. One who could walk nicely on a leash and be left alone for a few hours at a time while I went to work. One who could live in a townhouse with no fenced yard. And one I could pick up, like a  terrier or a schnauzer.

I started trolling pet-finding websites the way lonelyhearts search eHarmony. And I did find a few little dogs who seemed, digitally, to be my type. But when we met, no spark. Then I saw the picture of Dolly, and I just felt a jolt, a sudden recognition — that’s my dog.

She was beautiful, but she was a long-legged hound, and at 42 pounds about twice the dog I’d had in mind. She’d been picked up from a rural roadside one hunting season, skinny and pregnant and scared. She had a tattoo in one ear, indicating that someone valued her as a hunting dog. But no one claimed her, and she ran out of time at the shelter. On what was to be her last day, a couple from Stafford County who ran a home-based rescue raced down to Sussex County to save her.

They fostered her as she had her litter, and then they found homes for all the puppies. But at pet store adoption event after event, Dolly went unclaimed. She stayed at the rescue  — a private home in the country, full of dogs and cats — for many months, waiting for me to realize she was mine, I guess.

When I went to meet her, she greeted me with wags and snuggles, an uncharacteristic enthusiasm that surprised her caregivers. I signed some papers, and she jumped into the car, and we belonged to each other.

It was a rocky adjustment. Dolly adored me but hated the suburbs. Everything scared her: aluminum foil; a flushing toilet; the phone; sneezes; the dishwasher; Big Wheels; other dogs; sticks; wind; tennis players; teenagers in formalwear. And thunderstorms, my god.

She did not walk nicely on a leash, because you can’t do that when you’re running away in a panic. But in every other way she was *such a good dog*! Housebroken, gentle, sweet, and quiet — a perfect pal for a single townhouse dweller.

A trainer helped us with leash skills and basic obedience, and the process built mutual trust. After a few months, Dolly and I could walk around the neighborhood without either of us freaking out and bolting for home. I discovered some lovely things about this girl. She was gracious with little kids and friendly to cats. A squirrel could walk right under her nose and not even be acknowledged. The words “Ride in the car?” — even whispered — would bring her running from anywhere in the house.

But where she truly amazed me was in the woods. There, my timid, tentative hound transformed into a surefooted leader. She navigated boulders and found paths through thickets. And if a deer had been around recently, Dolly knew about it and wanted to go find it.

As the years passed, Dolly mellowed. A few summers ago I realized she wasn’t scared of thunder anymore. Instead of racing upstairs to quiver on the bathmat, she’d just lift her head, then go back to sleep. This dog who’d made several easy trips with Jim and me to the beach or the mountains suddenly started to get carsick even on short rides.

She never did grow to like city walks, and when I would force-march her a couple of miles around our neighborhood, she always knew exactly where home was and pulled me that direction at every corner.

Just in the past month or so I’ve realized she doesn’t always know the way home anymore. Sometimes she gets confused even in our townhouse driveway, pulling me toward a neighbor’s front porch instead of ours. Then she stops, baffled. She lets me lead her to our door.

Dolly was never a reliable eater, and I’ve struggled to keep her over 40 pounds. This dog has gotten all kinds of choice foods mixed with her kibble — ground turkey, ground beef, brown rice, Greek yogurt, roasted chicken — and that helps. But she’s thin. Sometimes she just sniffs at her bowl or laps up a couple of bites to be polite.

She stumbles a lot.

Last week our vet, the terrific Dr. Olson of St. Francis Animal Hospital, found a mass in her mouth, a big, ugly red lump on a gum. I was loath to put the old girl through surgery, and Dr. Olson spent a long time in his office and on the phone with me, going over options. Together, we decided that given Dolly’s current quality of life — pretty good, despite her geriatric foibles — and the potential of the lump to grow and interfere even more with her eating, surgery was a good idea.

She’s home now, recovering, eating very little, refusing her antibiotic, being the sweet, gentle pain in the ass I love so very much. She sleeps a lot, except when I’m sleeping. She’s at her perkiest right after our 3 a.m. trips outside. She paces the room, knocking into things until I sit  by her bed and pet and hug her. After a while, I can feel her relax. Then I can relax.

Other times, like this morning, she just doesn’t settle. She slept in, till 4:15 or so. I got up and walked her, gave her a little something to eat, then tried to go back to sleep. Ha. I gave in about 5:30, and we’ve been up ever since.

I have, at least. At the moment, Dolly is curled on her bed in the living room, snoring.

Book recommendation: “Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs” by Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson



2 Responses

  1. Lori Izykowski
    Lori Izykowski April 30, 2013 at 1:02 pm | | Reply

    So sweet, glad I paused for this read. Thanks Laura!

  2. Gene Moyer
    Gene Moyer May 1, 2013 at 2:26 am | | Reply

    A beautiful piece about a beautiful dog and a beautiful dog;s life. I loved it along with the dog and her mistress. Thank you for mentioning it this evening.

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