I thought I was getting the dog for my kid.
Since she was six months old, Kristina pointed at dogs, voicing whatever was her name for them then (surely not “dog”). As soon as she could form the words, she asked, “May I pet your dog?” of every dog owner/walker we met.*
*She still does.
If we saw a dog tied up to a bike rack or light stand, no matter how friendly it seemed, we walked on. Because you just never know.
There was never a happier girl than the one who cuddled a wriggly football-sized puppy on her lap the spring we brought Kaylah home.
Less than a year later, when her father and I sat down to tell her we were going to divorce, to live in separate homes, Kristina’s first (and indeed, only real) question was, “Where will Kaylah live?”
Kaylah is the best dog in the world and Kristina did not want to be apart from her. I can understand that.
Over the years, as is often the way, I became Kaylah’s main carekeeper. The one who feeds her, pretty much every day. The one who walks her, pretty much every day. The one who remembers her daily medications, the one who pays the licensing fees, the one who makes/keeps the vet appointments.
I work at/from home these days. Kaylah is my daily companion.
Kristina’s studies have carried her across the country, while Kaylah has been here every day, putting her head in my lap when I’ve been at the computer too long, barking a warning when the UPS man delivers a package (or a pre-emptive thank you for the treat he leaves for her), and giving a satisfying purr-growl when I pet her just so.
Kaylah blew out her knee a year ago. We didn’t know. We thought it was ageing hips. We cut back on the walks in the woods. We stopped frisbee and ball fetch. Still, it didn’t take much for her to have a rickety gait.
When she went visibly lame again in the fall, a visit to the vet called for a deeper look. We were mistaken – the x-rays showed that her hips are just fine, with no signs of the dysplasia often seen in larger dogs. But she had torn up the ligaments that support her knee.
Our options were surgery, or continued lameness with risk of blowing out the other knee from the extended unbalanced load. It would only take one wrong slip on the hardwood, or a stumble on the stairs, and she’d be lame for the rest of her life. And her overall health is like that of a dog half her age.
Well, except that she’s lame.
She’s my buddy. And the grief I felt when I faced the risk that she might not return from her surgery (something I could not even say out loud) was nearly unbearable.
“Wait,” you might be saying, “she’s a DOG, right?”
Yes, she’s a dog. Unlike any I’ve ever known. If you’ve had a dog like this, I don’t need explain further. You’ll nod and know just what I mean. You’ll pet the dog beside you, or you’ll retrieve a memory of the one who rode beside you in the truck or fetched a ball for hours.
If you’ve never had a relationship like this with a dog, I am sad for you. You have missed out, and no story will convince you that a dog is worth taking outside on a leash every time she has outside needs; worth slinging her hind end in a towel to ease the strain on her recently sawed-off and rebuilt knee as she hops up and down the two stairs to the deck (a move I’m calling flying buttresses); worth sitting beside for hours with my hand on her to calm her as she experiences the distorted world of narcotic pain medication.
But this time is a gift. It is a blessing that I can calm her simply with my presence, that she can bring me such happiness, simply with hers.
We have all – even Kristina, on her most recent trip home from college – acknowledged that Kaylah really is my dog. We are bonded.
And the beauty is, we are both willing to share. There is room for a family of love within that bond. She is family.
And she is a dog. We think she’s the best dog in the world.
(I wrote this piece in the first few days Kaylah was home. She is slowly and steadily getting better, although there have been some complications. My next post about this will likely be titled My Dog is a Jerk. It’s not all hearts and flowers – sometimes this shit gets real.)