The Englishman was not excited when I announced that Ollie’s Bargain Outlet was opening in our small town. I wasn’t sure if it was the word “Ollie” or “Bargain” or “Outlet” but he snorted when I dragged him to the grand opening. He vowed never to return. So, I dragged him back into the store several weeks later. I pushed the shopping cart and he feigned the three disses that are apparently in the English DNA: displeasure, disdain and disinterest. When I reached the cash register and unloaded the items onto the counter, I realized there was a book in my cart that was not placed by me. The Englishman avoided eye contact.
Old Dogs are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten was a black and white tribute to old dogs and was filled with pages of stories. Truths such as “Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy.” My three-pack was all of that and more. The stories were funny and heartbreaking and reminded me of many of the pet companions I have had throughout my life and their special quirks that I realized I now missed.
Poppy was my childhood cat from Mahwah, New Jersey who loved water. She might beat you to the bathtub for a swim. She was a fiercely loyal companion who would always wait on a boulder near our driveway at 3:30PM when my sister and I returned from our school bus stop. She would roll on the surface and wait for one of us to scoop her up and carry her back to the house with us.
Drummer was my childhood dog who had an unusual begging ritual for popcorn. He would flip onto his back and kick his legs violently into the air as he grunted with noises we dubbed “herf-a-lating”. He tolerated us using him to pull our sleds down the driveway in the winter to make a path, worried glances behind as the sled moved faster until my sister or I reached forward and pulled him on board for the ride of his life.
Sebastian was my Persian cat who adored shoes. He slept in mine until he outgrew them and then transferred to one of my father’s work shoes. He loved to snuggle and would place a paw on each shoulder to knead me. Happiness came in the form of purrs and drool.
Checkers was the family cat while I was still in college. Black and white and super fluffy, we eventually nicknamed him the “Quilting Cat”. As my mother and I placed pins through material, Checkers would work behind us, methodically pulling every pin. If we banned him from the room, he would race outside and sit in the window, miserable howls echoing through the neighborhood.
Madison was my cat when I first started teaching. He was sound asleep when I chose him from the shelter and he never forgave me from waking him from his cat nap. He could hold a grudge. Retaliation might not be immediate but it was sure to come when I least expected it. He would not tolerate the snooze button on my alarm clock. Once the alarm buzzed in the morning, any attempts at hitting snooze was foiled by teeth and claws. He loved anything that rolled and stole bottle caps, lipstick and plastic Easter eggs as his toys.
George was a quirky English Cocker Spaniel. He didn’t trust my athletic abilities. I had terrible aim. I still don’t understand how I managed to bounce the tennis ball off his head but George would flinch and duck if he saw me with a tennis ball after that incident. I have never seen another dog flinch and duck.
George howled. He taught the other dogs to howl. He howled to go outside. He howled to come inside. He howled at sirens. He howled when he was bored. It has been nearly two years of silence and I really missed the howls.
There are things that I miss with my current three-pack. I miss Chase digging in mud puddles and snapping at the rain. I miss Molly greeting me at the door with a treasured stuffed toy in her mouth. It didn’t matter if I had been gone for five minutes or the entire day, the greeting was the same. I miss Charlie dancing in his dog bowl to signal it was time for dinner. I miss the dogs making me late for work because they decided to explore well outside of their boundaries. I miss the joy of throwing tennis balls on the court after hours and watching the boundless energy of the dogs racing after them. But I have gained so much, too. I love the contentment of the dogs to be near us doing absolutely nothing. I love my newest ritual of carrying Molly to bed because she is sound asleep and it takes her too long to wake up. Charlie waits for me at the driveway gate each day at six o’clock without fail and we spend a few moments alone before the others realize I am home. All of my companions are still very much alive in my memories or right now in the present. So I read through the book with laughter, tears and joy and must agree with the author: old dogs are the best dogs.
When Chase was just a puppy, he had several conditions that affected his immune system. He was the sole litter survivor of parvovirus, and then promptly caught the mange. He was so small that I used an Igloo cooler to dip him twice a week into a medicated mixture that didn’t seem to work. The vet suggested a diet rich with immune boosting foods so I cooked for my puppy for several months until he was fully recovered.
Thirteen years later mealtime was becoming a battle of the wills. Molly and Chase were fine with kibble but Charlie refused to eat it until we layered shredded cheddar cheese on top. If the other two saw us garnish Charlie’s meal, they demanded the same treatment. Charlie usually abandoned the bowl once the cheese was gone and Molly and Chase would finish it off for him. Older dogs, dry dog food plus days filled with napping caused serious weight gains. The vet declared Chase chunky in April and I hurt my back trying to give Molly a bath. I knew they needed a change.
I threw out the dog food and headed to the grocery store filling my cart with ground turkey, chicken, spinach, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, zucchini, brown rice and light red kidney beans. Then with my crock pot I assembled a meal that would last three dogs a week. Very quickly, the three-pack began to associate the crock pot with their meals. They watched me each Saturday evening as I chopped and assembled layers within the large appliance and they smelled the meal cooking all night long. They waited very patiently, until at least six in the morning when they barked until I fed them. They became excellent judges of time. Meals were at 6:30 in the morning and 6:30 in the evening and they would not allow a deviation from the schedule.
I also explored sweet potatoes as dog treats (sliced and tossed with olive oil and cinnamon and baked for 3 hours at 250 degrees). These were also a success. The best indicator, however, was a vet visit at three months. Molly and Chase had lost ten pounds each and Charlie was down by two. The vet was very pleased, the dogs were content with their new and improved diet and I was now the official crazy dog lady.