Her heavy hips remind Angel Girl not to rise needlessly, so she lies on one side with her front paws splayed around her water bowl, lapping the cool liquid greedily. Her thirst hasn’t changed over her long life. Nor has her epicurean delight in all things food related. Whether it’s a meal that’s devoured in a flash or the rhapsodic sniffing of tantalizing kitchen aromas, the old girl hasn’t skipped a beat.
The same can be said of Dale. Give him a well-done steak and a baked potato, or a juicy cheeseburger and fries, and all is right with the world. I’m grateful for this because I know that the difficulty with swallowing, a prominent symptom of PSP, is possibly lying in wait to make our lives more miserable.
Over fourteen years ago, I tucked a little 1 ½ lb. mutt inside my hoody after finalizing the adoption with the ASPCA. Dale proudly drove Mother and baby home where we immediately bathed the new addition because she smelled like she’d lived her first weeks in a compost heap. Our only regret about that day is that we didn’t also adopt her yippy brother. They would have been fast friends during those early years of chewing up all un-closeted shoes or pulling unguarded toilet tissue rolls from their dispensers.
Without a playmate, we tried to make up for any loneliness our 8-to-5 schedules caused by creating an environment of entitlement for her. We often, of course, rued that decision. In fact, a friendly observer once remarked, “After I die, I want to come back as a dog in the Shorts’ household.” She took our largesse and our love for granted and in turn offered total devotion and frequent wet kisses.
On many a summer day I’d admire them from the kitchen window -- my bronzed, shirtless husband striding across the expanse of our backyard with a short-legged ball of fur trotting behind. I couldn’t imagine life without either one of them. (Actually, I think Dale was a forerunner to today’s hip-hoppers who carry their dogs as accessories because his full head of near-black hair was complemented by Angel’s ebony plumed-tail.)
When Dale would pause for a dip in the pool, a frenetic puppy would follow him around the deck, never diving in, but begging to be splashed. It tickled us both to watch her gleefully jump and lap at the explosion of droplets raining down on her -- quality time with her Da.
But that was the past. That was before a milky cataract obliterated vision in one eye, and now threatens to do the same in the other. That was before arthritis invaded her joints, making jumping impossible, and walking painful.
These days, Angel spends the better part of 24 hours sleeping, sometimes deeply with a distinctive little snore, sometimes a light snooze with her good eye cocked for activities around her. She goes outside reluctantly to potty and occasionally to lie in the shade for a few minutes while I garden. When she’s ready to go back inside, she hesitantly extends one paw as a feeler toward the back stoop, ensuring it’s there and gauging its height before clumsily hopping up and through the door. She limps toward her next nap, often beside Dale who regularly “rests his eyes” while his broken body leans over the right side of his chair.
After a good afternoon nap, all three of us will parade to the bathroom for Dale’s shower – he on his scooter, Angel limping up the rear. No matter what, she’ll never retreat from her perceived duty as shower guardian.
I often wonder, “Where did the days go when I watched my husband ‘stride’ or my puppy ‘trot,’” movements once as natural as breathing. The images are fuzzy now and I question my memory. Did I hallucinate that these two loves were once so vital? From a distance Dale’s hair is still near-black. Upon closer inspection, the strands of silver are evident as are the myriad facial lines reaped from a life fully lived.
When the two are napping together, the rhythm of their snoring duet fills my heart with a mixture of joy and sadness. Is he dreaming that he’s still behind the wheel of his macho truck? Is she dreaming of the mischievous antics of her puppy days? I hope so. In dreamland, they can re-live their days in the sun for a while longer – at least, until the Sandman’s last call.