Several years ago, I saw a documentary about the differences between wolves and modern domesticated dogs.
The part that was most striking to me was when they put some meat in plain sight inside a little chain link fence area. They released a hound, who tried for a couple of minutes to find a way in, over, under, or through. Then he gave up, sat down, and looked up to a human with a “l’il help?” expression.
The wolf just kept at it. Digging and circling and biting. It seemed to never occur to it that this was something one of those noisy, upright meat things could help with. That wolf gave the impression of an animal who would keep working at it until it finally gave up and found some new dinner. Like a cameraman.
I have no idea if this was a useful experiment or not, but the point was that dogs have completely outsourced their own health care to humans. Food, water, shelter, medical treatment, everything except ass-sniffing and -licking. Turns out to have been a pretty good deal for the dogs. And for non-allergic humans too.
I mention all this to distract myself from one thing: today, after 15+ years of dog maintenance, Esme needed me one last time. She could no longer stand on her own, and if I helped her stand, it was a struggle to stay upright or to walk. I had to choose between letting her go sooner with some dignity and little (if any) pain, or maybe getting a few extra weeks of needing me to move anywhere until she just gave up from exhaustion. At the end, it wasn’t a choice at all.
(One year to the day after letting Arrow go. August 22 can bite me — with apologies to my friend Stephen who has a birthday today.)
Esme was a much different dog from Arrow or Vandal. She was shy and suspicious around people she didn’t know, while her adopted siblings were gracious enough to let all humans into their noble presences. Even with people she knew, she was never really cuddly. You couldn’t hold her on your lap (although she was like 65 pounds most of her life) and she seemed weirded out by being on the sofa.
But among the humans she knew, Esme was loyal and friendly. She didn’t want me to give her belly rubs, but she wanted to be in the same room with me all the time. Her typical evening was sitting on her pillow near the window, and occasionally coming over to offer me the chance to scratch behind her ears.
For the first time in a very long time, I live alone. Gonna be kind of quiet. This house is far too big for one person, and it already felt empty without Arrow.
But that’s two dogs in a row that have made it past 15 years. I must be doing something right. At least, I think I did right by Esme — adopted her at four months old, and she never missed a meal, never got more than a little thirsty, and never had to go to sleep in the cold or the rain. Everyone reading this is probably within shouting distance of a human being for whom that’s not true.
I’m going to miss that standoffish mutt. She was sweet and gentle, and her only requirement was to be near the people she loved. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.