|Written by Wendy Doscher-Smith -- BT Contributor|
Our correspondent’s beloved cocker spaniel dies at age 18, leaving her owner with half-a-lifetime of memories
I’ve avoided my laptop for the past week. Not because I didn’t have a topic, but because I did. Here I am again in grimly familiar territory: a dog tribute. This time it’s a memorial to my cocker spaniel, Anise, who was more than a pet. Among other designations, she was a landmark. What else do you call an 18-year-old dog?
In five years, I have witnessed three dogs -- my children, really -- die in front of me. Two were ill and had to be put down, and Anise, well, her heart just stopped.
None of it gets any easier, and each case offers its own personal bouquet of horrors, snapshots of the end that replay on a loop in one’s mind. Eighteen years is a long time to have a pet or maintain any relationship. Just ask divorce lawyers. Since I had Anise for 18 years, her death conjures up memories not just of her, but also of other events. (I’ll take that double whammy with cheese, thanks!)
Simply put, Anise, as she was known for her first 12 years, or “Granny,” a.k.a. “Tribe Elder,” as she was known for the last six, was always here. And now, just like that, she isn’t.
Anise was given to me as a gift when I was a college senior. I’m now 38. Had Anise been human, I might be dropping her off at her college dorm, instead of deciding on the destination of her ashes.
You are never prepared to outlive your children, even if they are furry. Yet that is the fate of every responsible dog lover/owner. The irony is, I started worrying about Anise passing a few years ago, when she would sleep so deeply she would awake with a start. But as she trooped on, energetic as ever, I stopped thinking about it. Anise had a spirit that seemed too stubborn to go. (We joked that if she heard us mention her senior-citizen status, there would be hell to pay.) When she finally did die, it was quick and on her own terms. Typical Anise!
Anise was my first dog. It was the mid-1990s, before cell phones, the Internet, college graduation, starting my first job, and marriage. There were landlines. Online dating and Facebook did not exist. The Walkman, not the iPod, was the portable music listening device of the day. Print media was a thriving industry, the Twin Towers stood, and eating organic food was considered freakish.
When I was sick, it was Anise who gave me the most comfort. When I went on a date, it was Anise who gave her approval, and when my heart was broken, gave me her soft fur to cry into. Anise lived with one parrot, countless cats, and many dogs, but from the start, she was independent-minded, preferring the company of people to animals. In her later years (I’m talking the last 12), “Granny” was a feisty curmudgeon who demanded her meals be served on time and her treats to be tasty.
There are people who believe dogs do not have souls, that they are meant to live outside, and that the love for an animal is inferior to that which is between humans. I feel sorry for those people, because they have a limited capacity for love.
To never know the love of a dog is to miss out on life itself. And if life is a lonely road, grief is that unmarked, unpaved turnoff you see at night from the highway. The one that makes you shudder a bit because you wonder where it leads, yet you don’t want to find out. Everyone, at some point, travels down that road, and they do it alone. The difference is how you handle the gravel underfoot.
If I drank, I would take my grief neat; no ice diluting my feelings or olive juice tainting my recollections. You cannot heal if you don’t face your injuries. It’s the rip-the-Band-Aid-off approach. It hurts a great deal at first, but slowly, eventually, the sting subsides.
Family and friends try to help, but in the end, grief claims the individual. And grief is greedy. Grief steals your joy, your time, and in some cases, your sanity, temporarily or otherwise. But grief is also your friend; without it, you would not be able to continue.
In the days after Anise died, I went to feed her first, as per the routine. (We have multiple dogs.) Twice. I heard footsteps behind me and thought it was her wanting to go out, but it was another of our dogs. I saw a shape in my periphery, and did a double take, but it was a dog bed. I’ve been sleeping with her blanket. Crying jags come and go at will.
I can still see Anise in the pet store in Gainesville, in that glass enclosure with the “For Sale: $300” sign above her small black body and white nose. She was a tiny thing, just three months old, glancing up at me tentatively with big, brown eyes.
On the car ride back to my townhouse, I held her in my hands (she fit in that small space) and marveled at how lucky I was to finally have a dog of my own. I decided to name her “Anise,” after the licorice flavor. I walked her and a group of schoolchildren would surround us, all petting at once. While a puppy, people often commented on how her nose looked like it was dipped in whipped cream. With her long, floppy ears, big eyes, and standout white nose, Anise was the dictionary definition of adorable.
The bond a person has with his or her dog cannot be matched. Much to their credit, dogs are not people. They are not as evolved, and therefore, paradoxically, seem somehow more evolved. Their love is unconditional, and that is a quality you will never find in any human. It’s simply not in our nature. I think that is why some dog lovers prefer their dogs to their spouses, partners, children, and grandchildren.
I hear it constantly: “Oh, I’d trade my husband (or wife, or child) for my dog any day!” they say. Or “This is the way I feel about (fill in the blank situation), and my mind is made up. If my (fill in the blank once again) doesn’t like it, they can leave. But the dog stays!”
Usually these people claim to be surprised by their admission. I’m not. And if they laugh uncomfortably afterward and say, “Oh, just kidding,” I look at them directly and reply, “I know you’re not.”
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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