We took care of a dog over the weekend. Dog sitting is the popular term. Her name is Olive. She’s a black lab. She’s fairly young – people told me a year or so – but I’m not experienced with dogs so, truth be told, I have no idea. She’s small and compact with a square jaw. Her fur is soft and shiny. Shedding is moderate. If eyes are a window to the soul then Olive is filled with goodness, much like Mother Teresa, also known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Olive is Saint Olive of the East Side.
When I was a kid we had dogs, but my brother was the main caregiver. We were a family of six kids, so it was always chaotic. Some dogs adjusted; others didn’t, and we let them go to calmer households. There was the sheepdog (name at a loss); Hans the Schnauzer; and two Irish Setters, including Duffy of the Malmar, tall, slim and restless. She came with papers. Duffy walked you. She dug a huge hole in our backyard that remained for years until my father filled it in with dirt one spring morning and sprinkled grass seed on top.
Having a dog while I was a single working gal was out of the question. I was a newspaper reporter and never home. Who would walk him? Back then, dog walking was not a lucrative business. For a nanosecond, I considered getting a dog when my two sons were toddlers, but someone who is smarter than I about canines said a puppy was like having a baby. My sons are 13 months apart, so I wasn’t prepared to take on the responsibility of another human being – just yet.
Still, I gladly babysat for friends’ pets. How can I forget Gretchen, the shy beagle that curled up in my lap while I watched a movie, or the Australian Shepherd that escaped from its leash and went after a Pekingese out for a stroll on a sun-dappled spring day? The shepherd pounced, and the tiny thing withdrew under a yew.
Over the years, my younger son kept badgering me about getting a dog. He bought dog books and browsed the Internet for dogs we could rescue from, say, the badlands of South Dakota or the swamps of Louisiana. Whenever a dog crossed his path he would take the time to pet it and exchange pleasantries, like “Hi girl’’ or “Hi boy.’’ Scratches behind the ears were his specialty. I felt deeply guilty for denying him such a simple pleasure, but I was envisioning early-morning walks in frigid temperatures and no puffer coat at the ready.
Then Olive came into my life. There was an instant connection. She got me. I got her. It helped that I was the one who fed her (too much) and took her for long walks in the neighborhood. Her affection was so strong she started following me around the house like my son did when he was a toddler. Our bond was built on respect (left plenty of room for me on the sofa); unconditional love (waiting for me at the door after work); and happiness (tail-flapping on the floor when I gave her a belly rub).
During our crack-of-dawn walks, I saw my neighbors in a whole new light. We all looked like we just rolled out of bed, grabbed a leash and stumbled into the street after a reckless night. There was the redhead, hair askew, with the mutt working on its social skills; Susan with the 11-week-old puppy taking its first steps; and Mr. Convivial with the wrinkly-faced pug waddling along oblivious to life’s cruelties. We all shared a secret.
Olive left on a Monday morning when it was still dark. I’ve always wondered what people meant when they said their dog was like a member of the family, or why they sobbed when their dog died. Now I know. A dog gets you out of your room. A dog is your best friend forever. A dog loves you no matter what. Thanks for the memories, Olive. See you in heaven.
Elizabeth Rau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.