The Elegant Joy of Dogness

sasha in novemberThis morning, I’m thinking about the difference in dogs and cats. As many of you know, my mid-size terrier mutt Sasha is almost 17 years old and over the past six months, her age has really been catching up with her.  She’s quite deaf and a little shortsighted and even the smeller is going, since she nips at our fingers just to make sure there is no treat hanging in the air. She’s pigeon-toed and bow-legged because her legs are weak, and some days the shuffle is barely a shuffle. Some days, she’s incontinent and I’ve figured out the signs, and she wears a diaper with good grace. (I found her a denim overdiaper that’s actually kind of cute. With her green fleece, she’s stylin’,  baby.) Once or twice, she’s had a day so bad that I was sure I would have to take her in the next day. A meaty bone, plenty of physical support (i.e. someone carrying her), some good drugs, and she rallies.

But unless she’s actually in pain, she works around her limitations with her usual canine glee, barking at the top of her voice when she realizes that we’re going for a walk, shuffling as fast as she can down the street, around the little green, and then back home panting hard (where she gets a bone while Jack and I head back out for a longer jaunt). She still makes her rounds in the kitchen 47 time a day, performing her sworn dog duty to keep all floors tidy.

This what  one of the things I love about dogs. She isn’t wailing about the impending end of her days on the planet. She’s fully engaged, living today, living with excitement. She doesn’t mourn the long walks she used to take when she was a younger healthier dog, she just charges out there to do what she can do now. She doesn’t get all stressed out about the diaper or her funny walk. On bad mornings, she waits patiently for one of us to carry her down the stairs, and we gladly do it, and when she gets down there, she engages in the task of the morning—first, anything fallen since last night? Second, are the cats being fed (she gets to lick the plates)? Third, can I sit right here while you eat breakfast (peering in Mr McGoo fashion)… you are eating breakfast?.

By contrast, a cat will hide dramatically beneath a couch, rolling eyes in abject misery. I suspect this is because cats are vain. They don’t like to look bad. (Don’t misread this, of course. I adore cats JUST as much as I adore dogs, and am in fact aching to get a new kitten, which Jack would not approve, so I don’t). A cat gets a cold and creeps dramatically into a corner and waves a sorry paw—oh, never mind that tuna, you know I used to like it but I couldn’t manage even a single bite. I’m dying you know. Dying. Take it away. There’s no point. A sick cat must be coaxed into eating, teased into it, sometimes forced. (My favorite high-cal concoction is an egg yolk mixed with the oil from a can a of tuna, fed via eyedropper down the protesting cat’s throat. A cat who is a burrito in a towel. )

I tend to be more of a cat. Full of drama and worried over looking ridiculous and very invested in my fur. To honor Sasha, I’m trying to be right there with her. Joyful. Enjoying the good moments, taking care of her as well as I can during the bad ones, knowing that the very moment her true pleasure in life is gone is gone is the moment I will let her go, and glad we can do that with animals.

It’s an illumination in living. It’s easy to be happy in the moment. Easy to find ways to be joyful. My pleasure isn’t patrolling the floors, but I really love to write and read. I love to make beautiful meals. I love walking and dancing and cuddling the dogs. Right this minute, I love sitting in my favorite chair, a heavy Mission-style piece that’s big enough to curl up in, with a Titanic deck chair throw over my shoulders and a gold print throw over my legs, looking at Pikes Peak through my window. I’m writing, and writing delights me. My dog Jack is doing his job, glaring out the window at dogs who have the nerve to pass in front of us; also he is looking mighty gorgeous, which is his task. Sasha was here a moment ago, but has gone on patrol.

Today. Here. Now. In honor of The Ancient One, I’m sticking with the practice as much as I can.

What’s your joy, your task? Are you more of a cat or a dog?

November 7, 2009

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