After Midnight

Midnight passed. He was the eldest dog in the neighborhood. The sage, the one who’d woof hello and amble down the lane for his daily walk, slowly, deliberately, with a kind of elder regality. My neighbor, Jane, Midnight’s mom, is crestfallen. You see, he was her constant companion, not just in the everyday rituals of dog care, but in this larger vehicle called life. In fact, Jane and Midnight just returned from a months-long trip to New Orleans. That’s over 1,500 miles one way. I don’t know about you, but I would only take a 3,000-mile road trip like that with a very good friend. And that’s just one of the gifts Midnight was to Jane. I remember upon their return from The Big Easy, Jane shared with me that at one of the many stops along the way, I think Alabama, she dined at an outdoor cafe with Midnight at her feet. After the waiter took her order, he solicitously asked what might Midnight like to order. And the two dined together under the southern sky.

With a deep appreciation for Midnight, I have been thinking about what pets bring to our lives and the first thing that crosses my mind is the word, pets, itself. It is so inadequate. Everyone I know who has one, considers he or she to be family. And I concur. After all, we welcome these beings into our homes and our lives, and indeed our most intimate moments. My own ancient sage, Bouksari, a legendary yellow lab, sat more than once at my feet, offering solace. While I wept, he placed his head gently on my lap. Akin to a hug, his presence would say, “You are not alone. Let me bear some of this sorrow for you.” At other times, he’d become the class clown and eagerly entertain, reveling in his ability to make us laugh. He was an endearing, delightful, and oh so generous soul.

Maybe it is because these animals rely on us for daily care, from bowls of kibble to scratches behind the ear, that we become so intimate. Unlike our own children, who eventually leave the nest, our four-legged kids stay with us, until like Midnight, they take their leave way too soon.

It is an unfortunate truth that the average dog lives 10 to 13 years, a mere percentage of our own lives, if we are lucky. And yet, that decadeplus feels like a lifetime, which I suppose for the dog, it is. But for the human, it’s not just that you forget what your life was like before this dog, it’s that you can’t imagine being without him. Daily walks, dinner time, and most assuredly, coming home are never the same.

This reflection ignites a desire in me to press pause on my inevitably busy schedule and take the time to really be with my dog. Any dog. To look into those brown eyes and inwardly say, “I see you.” And, more importantly, “Thank you.” This is a great idea, for what I have yet to mention is a certain puppy named Rocket who recently entered my life. She is a crazy combo-mixed breed from the Humane Society; a 12-week old puppy my husband adopted a month ago. A surprise, who appeared in my world and, just like a late-in-life unplanned pregnancy, I responded with an “Oh my God, I am too old for this!” combined with an absurd love for this little being in our charge. Unlike a human baby, this one though has sharp puppy teeth, which makes me think that along with German Shepard, hound, and dachshund, she might also have some Great White Shark in her gene pool as well.

So it’s been a busy month of crate training, which has been very successful; potty training, which we will not discuss; and leash training, which is non-existent as she sprints across the lawn dragging her leash in pursuit of a butterfly. This all means there has not been much time for eye gazing and appreciation. But let it start today.

Yesterday, Jane gave Rocket Midnight’s soft blue fuzzy blanket. I brought it into the house and Rocket promptly lay atop it, snuggled in as if in Midnight’s embrace, and fell asleep. To all dogs including Bouksari, Midnight, Rocket, and Lexi - Rocket’s sister who was adopted by great neighbors across the cul-de-sac, which is a story for another time - I say thank you and offer my own woof of appreciation.