Dogs Are People Too

Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart? 

                                     --Hank Williams, 1951

For the first three or four years she wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. We had reached a manageable détente. I’d feed her twice a day but otherwise, I was persona non grata.

Screw it, I thought. You go your way, I’ll go mine. I can be stubborn, too.

We finally determined it wasn’t me and it wasn’t her. It was exigent circumstances traced to her first few months. We rescued Rover from a heartless prairiebilly, deep in the Flint Hills of Wabaunsee County. Her first five puppy months were spent in a cage with little or no human contact.

Jackie was hip. “You have to make the first move,” she counseled. The gifts I have received from this woman since we first met in 1994 cannot be counted, but among the most cherished is this notion that dogs are people, too.

My wife was right and it was to be a watershed moment of clarity on my glidepath to the precipice of middle age. I tried harder and slowly, incrementally she warmed up. Turned out Rovie had every bit as much emotional cognition as me. Who knew?

We entered each other’s orbits and taught each other. The canine and the human each acquired knowledge and understanding through experience, judgment and reasoning toward an eventual full blown rapprochement. We each gave, incrementally at first, all in at the end.

The Cold War was over. Nixon went to China. Mr. Gorbachev tore down the wall.

I first got Rover as a birthday gift for my wife. But the offering Rover gave me, through Jackie, will stay with me all the days of my life.

The last couple of years, we settled into a comfortable pattern. Rovie preferred to dine in and amongst the chairs under the dining room table, so that’s where I served her. While she was enjoying her breakfast or dinner, I’d be in the kitchen, preparing an insulin syringe. She’d finish eating, find me and then trot to a very specific space between the coffee table and couch in the living room.

She’d plop down and without complaint, receive her insulin injection. Then she’d stand up, position herself with her front paws on my left leg and allow me to administer daily eye drops. Then, this dog who once wanted nothing to do with me, would lick my hand.

Somewhere between 4 and 4:30 each afternoon Rovie would find me, regardless of my location in the house and purposefully place herself directly within my line of sight. Just sit there and stare at me, accompanied by the occasional low growl.

“Chill, Rove. It’s another hour and a half until chow time.”

More staring. One blue eye, one amber eye drilling into me. Predictably, I’d give in and 6 p.m. chow time became 5:45, or 5:30. She had me figured out, Rovie.

We first noticed the blood in her left ear Tuesday night. On Wednesday, our veterinarian diagnosed spontaneous bleeding. By Thursday evening Jackie and I forced ourselves into the dreaded ‘quality of life’ conversation and made the heartwrenching decision.

Rovie often slept on my side of the bed and as I arose, I’d hear her tail thumping on the floor in the darkness. She would literally herd me out of the bedroom, down the hall toward a morning routine, sustenance and another day of thawed, cordial relations. Another day’s gift of mutual love and respect.

I got up this morning by myself. This is the time of day I’ll miss her the most.

Rovie lived three weeks shy of a dozen years. During her time on the planet she survived the heartless prairiebilly, allergies, diabetes, temporary blindness, eyeball surgery, various and assorted infections, doggie scrapes and my stubbornness.

Our hearts are broken and sadness permeates our home on Sunnyside Drive this winter weekend, but we know this too, shall pass.

I can’t pinpoint the exact date, hour and minute God’s will entered our hearts, Rovie and me.

I can only judge by the results.