Paris and Dublin are now 9 years old.
That's not young, according to the American Veterinarian Medical Association. Small dogs are considered "geriatric" when they reach 7 years old. Larger breeds turn geriatric at 6 years old. Though our girls still seem like puppies--they tear through the yard and into the house, they leap up onto sofas and laps, they play with their rope and their little sister--they are old dogs now.
Thank goodness, they don't know that.
We are the ones who count and reckon, with our cursed foresight. We are the ones who look ahead, who make plans and worry about what's coming. Paris and Dublin are innocent of time, they don't know history and cannot divine things that take place beyond their senses. They don't go to funerals.
Or maybe they do, in their way. They were here when Sherpa grew feeble, they watched us put her in the wagon they trotted alongside when we went on our walks. They watched her stare off, unreachable, in those long warm afternoons.
She was a difficult one, she never really took to me for reasons that might have made sense to her. She was our first real rescue dog, she'd suffered some early trauma (we guess) she never really got over. The little girl who fostered her is a grown-up veterinarian now.
I don't mean to suggest Sherpa wasn't worth the trouble, because she taught me about patience and courage. Because she was funny and sweet and modest in a way that Coal and Bork--the dogs we had when we brought her home--weren't. Those boys were all swagger and contention, two would-be alphas who competed whenever they felt watched. Only when they thought that we weren't looking would they settle together, back to back, haunches touching, into a companionable silence.
Coalie died in 2006; he was 14. In 2008, Bork's cancer came back. He was 15.
A month later, we brought home the littermates Paris and Dublin. We gave them those names because we didn't mean to jump back into the puppy business so soon after losing our Bork--we'd spent a couple of years dealing with infirm animals we didn't feel comfortable boarding or even leaving with a house-sitter for more than a day or two. Sherpa was healthy then and, despite her skittishness, low maintenance--she loved Karen and responded well to women in general, and she didn't have any special needs or seem to care too much who filled her bowl and changed her water.
But Karen saw our girls online and sent me their photo, and we fell in love with them. We went to meet them and a big man named Earl handed Paris to me and told me she was "the boss." We brought them home and Sherpa loved them. She trained them, as much as we ever did.
Sherpa died in 2012. We think she was 15.
It was not long afterward that Audi showed up, a Schnauzer-ish puppy with black eyes, a docked tail and botched ears. Someone dumped her, she bumped into a neighbor who mistook her for our Dublin. We tried to foster her and give her up, and failed. She is our joy; all of us are so proud of her.
All our girls were born in the spring, so we decided they'd share a birthday. May 5 seemed as good a day as any. (We originally decided on May 10, somehow the date migrated over the years. So now it's Cinco de Mayo.) We take the girls to street celebrations and tell them the party is for them. They strut and smile and enjoy the attention. We try to make their lives eventful; we buy them corn dogs and ice cream.
We were supposed to take them to an event this past Saturday afternoon, a fundraiser for the Humane Society of Pulaski County, but human obligations intervened. So we took them to the Heights at noon to march around a street fair where children petted them. Later we took them out for a stroll in the evening.
I understand some people think it silly to treat animals the way we do, especially when there are people in the world who suffer. I know there are people who sacrifice much to make the world just a little gentler for the poor. I know that when this column runs in the newspaper I will hear from people who will tell me how they buy lunch for the people who panhandle them. I know some of you are really good people--some of you tell me that all the time.
But I like dogs better than I like most of you. Sometimes I have real problems with the way human beings behave. Genocide and the war thing are hard to get past. And consider the reflexive racism, the constant maneuvering for advantage while pretending to selflessness, the way we privilege notions that flatter our idea of ourselves as special--you have to be a better person than I am to unconditionally embrace the neurotic mass of humanity.
Not even Paris and Dublin can do that. They have people they like, and others who make them suspicious. (Audi seems to love everyone, but that's her particular talent.)
Anyway, Paris and Dublin are 9 years old. Audi is 5.
That doesn't matter to them; they live in one long unending now through which they romp and roll and twist until they drop into furred commas, their tuckered chests rising softly as they sleep.
We pretend to take care of them, we brush their teeth and fur, we give them heartworm medication every month. We put out food and snap them into harnesses and parade them around.
And when the time comes, we will try to do the best for them, to alleviate their pain. To make the way easy for them.
It tears me up to think of it.
It is only a part of what we owe them. They are more than worth the grief their leaving us entails, and I know that it is stupid to borrow worry from some future that's unpromised to any of us. But nine years isn't nothing, it is probably more than half. I am glad they don't see the shadows growing longer.
That's my job. I am the reckoning beast; the one who keeps accounts.
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.
Editorial on 05/09/2017
Print Headline: Nine years, and halfway home