Ode to an Animal


As I looked down at my dog the other day, I realized that she is almost ten years old.  Not that that is all that miraculous.  Lots of dogs turn ten all the time.  Probably every day.

What struck me as significant, as I gazed at the always-glad-to-see me lump of fur breathing beneath me, is that I have somehow kept the mutt alive for her entire ten years.  From the first day I brought her home, 8 weeks old, curling her little body on the tops of both of my feet while I chopped vegetables at the kitchen counter, to now: still alive.

My pet history started at the county fair.  For 25-cents you got a bucket-full of ping-pong balls.  If the ping-pong balls landed in one of the tiny goldfish bowls filled with colored water, lined up side-by-side, you won a goldfish.  The balls pinged and ponged off of the edges of the fishbowls and somehow, much to my mother’s dismay, you always won a goldfish.

“I swear you guys.  No goldfish this time.  If you bring home a goldfish, I’m not letting you keep it,” she would yell at our backs as we headed to the fair.  We always brought home a goldfish (or five) and she always let us keep them.  Most likely banking on the fact that half of them usually died the next day anyhow.

Until the day that my sister boiled the goldfish.

To keep things fair, we would alternate who got to keep the goldfish in her room.  My sister has an internal thermometer that rivals that of a cold-blooded amphibian.  I now understand why she lives in L.A.  Let’s just say, she likes things hot.

So in an attempt to bring her room temperature up to her acceptable comfort zone (like a living room in a volcano), she blasted the thermostat, shut the door, and promptly left for the day, forgetting about the five little fishies garbling away happily in their watery den.

By days end:  all 5 fishies belly up in a tank warmer than my bath.

On to Pet Number 2.

Feety.  My pet salamander that was a result of winning the science-class terrarium project in Seattle.  Seeing the opportunity for Feety to broaden his horizons, I smuggled him on the airplane headed for California, where we spent our summers with our Dad.  Consider flying nowadays and let me repeat:

I smuggled a salamander onto an airplane.

Feety lived happily in his terrarium far away from the misty rainforests of the wild and wet Pacific Northwest.  Sometimes, just to re-enact his days of paddling through muddy puddles, I would make him a “kiddie pool” not unlike the one in my Dad’s backyard.  I put him in a bowl of water with an upturned bowl in the center to serve as an island; an oasis of reprieve for when he got tired of swimming.

Thinking my bases covered, for there was no way he could climb up the slippery sides of his water world, I left.  But my pets are amazing animals and I often underestimate them.  Climb out he did and I spent the next two days searching my dad’s house, calling out his name, “Feeee—eety.  Feety.  Where ARE you?”  As if he, a salamander, might actually hear my cries and come crawling back into my outstretched arms.

On the third day I found him.  Dead in the closet and closely resembling a fossil.  His little ribs showed through wrinkled and leathery skin.  Oh dear….

–but wait!  Was that movement in his lungs???


I rushed him back to his terrarium and started dumping cupfuls of water on him.  His thoroughly dehydrated form soaked up that water like a sponge, as if he had descended from a long family line of Sea Monkeys—JUST ADD WATER!!  Miraculous!!!

Feety  found his final resting place at a hot springs in Idaho, where, leaving him out while we went swimming in a green pool supposedly made of “deodorant minerals”, he dried out.  Again.  This time, no amount of water brought him back to life.

Dum-dum-dum………Pet Number Three.

A parakeet, Skydie.  It was the coolest bird.  Did tricks.  Sat on my shoulder while I did my homework.  Ate Cheerios from the side of my cereal bowl.  Went into the shower and splashed in the spray while I washed.  One morning I woke up and found him dead in the bottom of his cage.  When we brought him back to the pet store to find out what happened, the woman picked him up, looked into his cage and asked, “Have you been feeding him?”  “Yes,” my eight-year old self replied meekly.  She picked up his food dish, looked me in the eye knowingly with disdain and blew.  And all of the husks scattered in freeze-frame slow motion into the wind.  I had thought there was food in his dish, but actually, it was only the shells of seeds.  With that one breath and zero words, she told me that I had starved my pet bird to death.

When the realization of what I had inadvertently done to my sweet and good-tempered feathered friend sunk in, I was silently horrified.  Mortified.  Embarrassed and filled with shame beyond belief.  Jesus.  That is one way to teach a child the responsibility of a pet.  I’m not sure I ever got over that one……

After that there was the replacement parakeet who flew out the window the same day our SPCA rescue dog-from-Hell bit my sister and was promptly returned to the pound.  There was a pet duck, Brutus, whose egg kept getting pushed out of the nest in my grandma’s barn.  When he hatched, being ignored by the mother, I took him in.  He imprinted on me and thought me his mother.  Many a days I spent in front of the fireplace with a small, fuzzy duck curled up underneath my neck.  Apparently his mother knew something I didn’t and he died a couple of weeks later, bleeding from the nostrils and unable to hold his own head up.  There was a ferret I babysat for a summer.  A cat that I think was an extra in the film version of Stephen King’s, Pet Cemetery.  A few rabbits.  A frog.  And, like a long list of lovers, perhaps a couple, give or take a few, that I can’t remember.

So as you can see, it is actually miraculous that my dog has survived her ten whole years.   My furry success story.

After a long year filled with a whole lot of traveling, her staying behind with friends, roommates, neighbours and strangers, I was looking forward to having her by my side.  I mean, who else has stuck by my side for ten whole years?  (besides family—I hear you, Ma.)   I owed her some serious quality time.  Walks along the beach.  Leashless, like her younger days.  Treats.  Bones.  Leftovers.

She has seen me through new apartments, new boyfriends, jealously barking when we embraced.  (and somehow she can suss out the bad ones)  Through new cities, road trips, camping adventures, snowballs, soccer balls, tennis balls (anything round will do), cottages, airplanes, lakes and oceans.  Through sadness and sickness, parties and drunkenness, success and giddiness;  sensitive to it all.  She gets me out walking, giving me fresh air and exercise and she teaches me that life should be so simple: all you need is a game, a meal, a poo and a friend.

She’s been there for so long, and there were days when I would walk into the house and not even say hello.  Too busy with all of my important things.  On autopilot, I would walk her and feed her and not even see her.  But every day she looked up at me anyhow.  Her brown eyes full of love and hopeful.  Unconditional adoration and tireless in her loyalty, every single day.

And suddenly, as if overnight, she is old.  Her eyes are starting to get cloudy, her breathing more laboured, she has difficulty standing and walking.  Not to mention the gas and the snoring.  When she tries to stand and her hindquarters remain on the ground, too sore in the hips and thighs to hoist herself up, she stays seated, gazes up at me, and flops her tail a couple of times as if apologizing or embarrassed.  There were a whole lot of years when I never allowed her up onto the bed.  And now, when I’ve softened around the edges a little, when I want to offer more comfort for her bones, she can’t even make it up on the bed by herself.  I have to lift her up.  It is heart-wrenching to watch her struggle and attempt to pull herself up, only to flounder, sink and then fall.  It’s the first time I’ve had to consider that she is not always going to be by my side.

There has never been anyone who has loved me more.  And maybe it’s too late, but I see you now, sweet girl.  I see you.

Do not take for granted the love of a pet.  Do not take for granted the love of any creature.

Do not take for granted.  Love.







5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Airlie
    Jan 21, 2012 @ 16:11:09

    Love this Jen. It made me laugh (quite a track record with the pets, wha?!) and made me cry. My sweet cat, Kitty, was put down just this past Tuesday. She was 19 years old. I am left thinking, like you, of all those times I didn’t see her, urged her to piss off and leave me alone because I was busy and she was fussing. Now I wish she were here to occupy my attention by requesting to be let out, then in, then out, then in…then out…then in…(she never was a very decisive critter!) Animals truly are incredible creatures and teachers. Enjoy every remaining day you’ve got with your fur baby. Learn from her and be amazed at how much one being can love so much (I’m talking about you!) xo


  2. Amber Reed
    Jan 21, 2012 @ 18:21:10

    I’m not even on to pet #2 yet – laughing hysterically about the fish that I accidentally boiled. Oops!


  3. jrbrandts
    Jan 21, 2012 @ 22:19:01

    It put a smile on my face (a smile based on what, i don’t know, because it certainly wasn’t a FUNNY night…) as i read about the “bird-out-the-window” night of chaos. The “Year of the Rabbit” was another interesting era…:) Jerzey should indeed feel VERY fortunate that you learned all of the “hard” lessons of pet-ownership prior to her arrival in your life!


  4. Debbie macKinnon
    Feb 26, 2012 @ 17:05:16

    Love your heart Jenn…..this kind of loyalty is why a dog is a girl’s best friend!


  5. Trackback: A Glimpse of a Girl | Memoirs of a Downward Facing Dog

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