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A Dog’s Life

They simply want to be loved and to love us back.

A subtle nudge to my leg seems to say, “Hey Mom, how about a little lovin’? Whatever you’re doing can’t possibly be as important or as cute as me…P.S. I love you and I need you.” Nudge. Nudge.

I drop my hand to gently pet his soft, fluffy ears. Reagan, my nearly 15-year-old black lab mix, seems to melt with joy. He inches forward to get as close to me as possible.

Reagan, and his sister-pup Kennedy, a feisty almost 13-year-old mix, are essential members of our family. They have their distinct personalities. He is a cuddle bug, sweet and friendly, eager to please and to be in the thick of the family fun. She is more of a loner, choosing to observe from afar with a close eye on the busy goings-on of the house. When all is quiet, and she is ready though, she stealthily maneuvers into prime snuggle position, resting her muzzle on us and promptly dozing off.

IMG_9421They have been a part of our family for so long—even before the human babies—and have gracefully taken their knocks down the totem pole after each new stork delivery. Once our only concerns, our “babies” that we missed while we were on vacation, that we couldn’t wait to greet every day after work, now often take a backseat to the hustle and bustle of life with kids. And, rather than being resentful or jealous, they love and protect our children. Kennedy keeps to herself, only barking at strangers and keeping a close eye on our antics. But, Reagan kisses the kids when they cry, watches alertly as they play wrestle or have tickle fights. When our voices are raised he gently inserts his sweet graying face both for reassurance and to remind us all to stay calm.

He still follows me around or leads me with quick glances back to ensure I’m still trailing behind, just like he did when we rescued him from the shelter nearly 15 years ago. Back then, I thought it was adorable; my sweet 5-month-old puppy keeping tabs on his new person. I also felt sad, imagining that he was afraid of being lost or abandoned again. All these years later, he still searches for me for comfort and out of habit. He sleeps at the foot of my bed, and even when I escape the freight-train sounds of my husband snoring, I awake in the guest room to find Reagan waiting for me. Whatever room I move to through the day, Reagan tags along. My oldest son once told me that playing hide-and-seek in the house with me is a breeze because he knows Reagan will be sitting nearby my hiding spot.

Now, the old pup sits at the bottom of the stairs while I go up to check on the kids, handle bedtime, or play hide-and-seek. His legs and hips have become too weak to navigate the steep staircase. His age is showing beyond the salt and pepper fur. He moves slower and a whole lot less. His hearing is fading. Responses to his name are slow and groggy. The doorbell isn’t nearly as exciting or alarming as it once was. I know the days are numbered until he won’t be able to make it up and down our back steps to the yard. Until he won’t be able to stand up on his own. He already needs a gentle lift now and then to get up off the ground. The complete loss of his sight, hearing, and mobility is rearing its ugly head.

His end is near. I know that. His brown eyes, cloudy with cataracts look at me pleadingly. All he wants is my attention. Some cuddles. Treats. And maybe, for all of the crazy, loud kids to just calmly pet him.

It’s hard to imagine my life without my little shadow. And, it’s terrifying to think of the day when I have to say goodbye to either of our pups. The companionship, loyalty, and unconditional love of our pets is astonishing. It is something I have taken for granted as I bustle through my daily to-dos and caring for the kiddos. The pups sit silently, watching, grateful for the love and attention they do get. Swift wags of their tails when we call to them, sit and pet them, or play express their glee. They don’t complain or ask for something more or different. There’s no malice, name-calling, anger, or negativity. They simply want to be loved and to love us back. They want to make us happy. To be close to us. To share their lives with us.

No wonder studies have shown that pets benefit their owners’ physical and emotional health. Perhaps we can also look to them as an example of how we can treat each other. How to look at life and choose joy. How to live in the moment.

I will be forever grateful to my teachers, Reagan and Kennedy, who gave me full-fledged lessons in responsibility, parenting, and selflessness and showed me unconditional love, loyalty, joy, and gratitude.


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