Sorry for the silence this week; it’s been a tough one. What time I’ve spent in the kitchen has been devoted to cooking not for us but for Zoë.
Zoë is our 12 1/2 year old shepherd mix, a gorgeous lanky girl who back in the day could run like an arrow, pluck a tennis ball out of the air, and keep on going into tomorrow without missing a step. Stationary she was gawky and uncoordinated, but once in motion she was a canine ballerina, slim and muscled and graceful to watch. Her penchant for racing after deer caused us to install a couple of fences, but eventually it was old age, not chain links that slowed her down.
These days arthritis keeps her confined to the couch, or the blanket under my desk, arthritis and the kidney failure she was diagnosed with nearly six months ago now. That diagnosis came two weeks after we lost Daphne, one of our sweet yellow labs, to liver disease. Daphne’s primary symptom was that she would not eat and though I cooked her every good dog thing I could think of, she just turned her head away. Feeding, of course, is what I do, what I need to do. But for Daphne I could do nothing at all but hold her and love her and say goodbye.
So Daphne died, and then Zoë got sick and at first it looked like we would lose her right away. She too lost her appetite, and there was I, back at the stove, trying to concoct just the right mix of ground beef or roast chicken with rice and broth to get her juices flowing again. By the grace of a good vet and a little internet research we got her stabilized and relatively healthy –- a three month rally that was a total joy. From the middle of May to just a week or so ago we could practically pretend that nothing was wrong with her, except that we were cooking a lot of chicken and buying huge sacks of rice at Sam’s because chicken and rice is all she would eat. But eat it she did, and this summer was good.
Boy, said a friend, hearing of our culinary efforts on Zoë’s behalf and clearly thinking we’d gone over the edge, she is one lucky dog. Maybe. Not as lucky as we are, though, and for all that these furry guys have given me, I’d roast a whole world of chicken thighs and simmer an ocean of rice.
Because it’s true, as all dog lovers will understand, that every dog who has lived at our house has been wiser than I in some fundamental way, and has shared that wisdom with unstinting doggy generosity, asking only the occasional, stinky pigs ear in return. Max, beloved little schnauzer dogging my steps, taught me about faithfulness and loyalty, Clio about scrappiness and the value of telegraphing don’t-mess-with-me right from the start of a difficult encounter. Daphne Alice was the essence of fun, a joker of a dog, and she taught me not to be afraid of playing the fool once in a while if it makes you feel good and gets you a laugh.
Zoë, oh my dear Zoë, has taught me about gusto and zest – not just for bread and pizza but for hugs and kisses and every good thing that comes your way. Regina Marie (Gina for short), Daphne’s litter mate, is as queenly as her name, though age has given her a less than regal limp. Gina reminds me of the importance of dignity and boundaries, and of knowing when its time to cast both aside. Ginger, dog of my heart, has a fearless soul, an intrepid spirit (except when it comes to thunderstorms, when it’s my job to protect her from the big dog in the sky.) When I need a role model for guts, I carry Ginger in my heart. Bandon, little bear of a dog, tells me to speak in a loud voice and to be sure I am heard. He’s louder than I’ll ever be, but it something to aspire to.
I’ve saved a lot of dollars in unneeded therapy with this pack of dogs I have loved. Lessons learned, hurts healed, tears shed and more laughs than I can count. I don’t know how I’ve deserved it, but the luck is all mine.
With Zoë the summer’s respite is over. She is feeling crappy and very little tastes good to her. I shred some chicken, cut up some roast beef, pull apart some bread (once her favorite), give her the crusts of my pizza broken into tiny pieces (this for a dog who once scored an entire fresh tomato pizza off the kitchen counter all by herself.) She is still sweet and affectionate and clear-eyed, but she is teaching me yet something else. You’ve fed me well, mom, now it’s time to let go.