It was quiet, too quiet. For the first time in almost eight years, there was no bouncing mass of fur when I came home from work. No grinning muzzle, no tail wagging so hard that it wagged the dog too. For a split second, cold fear had me by the throat… then I heard her snores and breathed again.
Curled up on the sofa, her head on a cushion, the small dog was smiling in her sleep. So deep was her slumber that I watched her for several minutes before she awoke… alerted, not by my presence, but by the scent of chicken emanating from my handbag. You could see the twitch of her nose carrying the prospect of treats to her brain as she struggled to focus drowsy eyes.
She didn’t even attempt to leave the sofa, but caught my arm with her paw as I reached out to stroke her ears, holding my hand in her fur in the way that she has, reaching her muzzle to my face so that her whiskers brushed my skin like a whisper.
We sat there for a while, just being together, with love for this beautiful creature spilling down my cheeks. She asks so little of me… just somewhere warm to sleep, a little play, a walk and her food… and would accept even less, as long as she has love.
We cuddled, sharing warmth and touch and a wordless communication, until she felt the need to head for the garden. Usually, she is out of the door, like a cork from a champagne bottle, within seconds of my return, bringing the ball and determined to play. Today, she struggled to rise from the soft surface of the couch, and so did I. Heading to the door, she turned and grinned at me, as if to say that she understood and that it was okay. We are growing older.
We have a lot in common, she and I. Our bodies are changing shape, our hair is touched with grey, our movements are no longer full of energy and grace…or at least, not until we have been moving for a while. And we are both still pups at heart.
Neither of her parents came from long-lived breeds and, although cross breeds tend to live longer and healthier lives than their pure-bred parents, I can see Ani’s age beginning to catch up with her. I know that the years we still have ahead of us will be fewer than those we have already shared.
It made me realise that when you grow old with someone you love, be it ‘only’ a dog, the goodbyes begin early. Not in some morbid way that anticipates grief, mourning the inevitable long before it happens, but in love and joy, cherishing the moments spent together with an increased awareness and gratitude.
In some ways, acknowledging that there will be an end, one day, brings out the best in both love and in life, making you more conscious of how rare and precious a gift both can be. It makes it easier to ‘be the person your dog thinks you are’. It is why so many old tombs show death and life hand in hand in their artwork… a reflection on the vanity of worldly pursuits as well as a stark reminder of all we do have that is real, but which is often taken for granted in the pursuit of material success.
We have this unconscious idea that those we love will always be around… even though we know it to be untrue. That there will ‘be time enough’… until there isn’t. And then, when the curtain falls without warning and it is too late, where there should be loving memories, there remains only regret.
I hope I will have Ani beside me for many years to come. That we will grow old together for a while, sharing laughter and adventures, and, if the gods are kind, that she will take her last breath with her head on my knee and my voice in her ears. But, if I come home one day to a silence unbroken by snores, I want to weep only for the departure of my friend, not for love ignored and time together wasted.
So now, I am going to cuddle my dog.