By Dana Gornall
If you have ever owned a dog you probably already know—you probably already feel it in your bones—the relationship that happens between dogs and their owners.
I knew I always wanted a family dog. Growing up we had dogs, first a schnauzer and then later a mixed breed of a schnauzer, poodle and probably something else. After we had kids and they became the ages that could help with responsibilities, I started thinking about getting a family dog.
We chose a Golden Retriever puppy—a product of what would be called “an accidental breeding”—so at a bit of a discount. Puppies are a lot of work and our Dash kept us on our toes, always. I have affectionately called him a goat-dog because of his ability to consume pretty much everything—wood, sticks, mulch, grass, dandelions, paper, homework, mail, socks.
Oh those socks…thankfully he throws them back up.
It’s not been without frustration and worry. At just under a year old he broke free from my oldest daughter’s grip and ran out into a busy road getting struck by a car. I’ll never forget that call (I was working) and the drive to meet them at the vet. Seeing my children bawling their eyes out as we waited on pins and needles to see if he would be okay—to see if we would be faced with a horrendous decision so early in his young life.
Luckily he was young and luckily the vet was able to re-inflate the lung that had collapsed and tend to his road rash. He survived and bounced back quickly.
He has grown with the kids.
Barking at the young man who took my youngest daughter to the dance, resting his head on their knees as they did their homework, walking with them down to watch a high school baseball game, opening a brand new wrapped bone at Christmas while they unwrapped their video games and guitars.
Except if you have ever owned a dog you probably already know—you probably already feel it in your bones—that as we all grow and change, they do too, at a much quicker pace.
As kids lose interest in running around in the yard and throwing tennis balls, as they are out more than they are in, dogs also begin slowing down. They sleep a little more. They eat less sticks and socks. They take a little longer to get up from laying down.
Watching my pup get older I have grown more and more conscious of his need for continued exercise to stay strong. I’ve made a point to walk him daily if I can (weather permitting). This means that in the winter I bundle up with several layers, I rush after work to get him out before the sun sets, which can be a challenge on short, January days.
This past weekend we were told that our Dash likely has Degenerative Myelopathy—or “doggie ALS” as it has been coined. His hind legs have been slipping and sometimes collapse. He has worn down his back paw nails from a leg dragging on our walks. He startles at noises near his face. The diagnosis is not confirmed; as it turns out confirming it is quite difficult like many neurological issues can be, and also invasive and expensive.
“Walks are good,” the vet told us.
And so we walk. We walk a lot. We bundle up, we do what we can to fit it in our days. We chase those sunsets. Some days I see another woman walking her dog in a stroller. One day she paused and we chatted. She explained her Labrodor was 16 and was mostly blind and didn’t walk well. She liked to get her out, she explained, to get fresh air. Most nights I see her walking. We smile as we pass—me with Dash click click drag, click click drag, and her pushing the stroller as she chases sunsets too.
My dog pauses a lot more now. I used to feel so annoyed at the constant stopping to sniff—not only street signs, but trash cans, wrappers discarded on lawns or blown from cars, even popular doggie stop spots. Some days it feels like it will take an hour to get around the block.
I’m a little more patient these days.
I know deep in my heart that nothing stays the same. I have learned firsthand, especially in the past year or so, that everything we love goes away. This doesn’t make it easier. This doesn’t make the sting of seeing what we love and hold close die.
All I can do is enjoy right now—this moment—and keep loving fully with all of my being. To be mindful of the present…not in the prosaic, commercial mindfulness jargon that gets thrown around at every corner but in real, everyday solid presence.
I just keep chasing sunsets.
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