I Choose the Dog

 I Choose the Dog

"The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man."

--Charles Darwin

        In the peace of morning, I sit quietly reading. Early morning light fills the room, and the only sounds are bird call from outside, perhaps the occasional notes of the wind chimes as the air stirs. But into the stillness bursts a little dog—a dirty, muddy little dog, who has been digging for moles. Mud, and pieces of grass cake between her toes, and up she jumps onto me in all her spring-morning enthusiasm to tell me about her dig.

        “Sparkle, no! Look at you! Look at my white page.” (No longer white, but splotched with muddy paw prints.) “I was peacefully reading,” I say to her in reproach. She gazes back at me undeterred, as tender joy fills her eyes. And a voice says to me, “What would you rather have, the peace and quiet of your solemn books or a joyful, if dirty, little dog?”

        I answer, “I would always choose the dog.” For, however much I love and value my books, in choosing the dog, I am choosing life. In a way, choosing what is over my projected image (contented, sunlit peace and quiet.)

A dirty little dog gazes at me with tender love in her eyes.

        It was the same way when Chance became old, leaking urine wherever she lay. I know people who euthanize the animal when this happens, which I find unspeakably sad. Then, as now, I would choose life over an odor-free home and spotless rugs. I would always choose life, in all its beauty (the flowers and the trees) even with its inevitable flip side, death and decay.

        It's now spring, and with spring comes planting and bending and lifting. When I tweaked my back the doctor said absolutely no lifting for six weeks. And yet….

        There's a dog with only three legs, and she seems to be aging fast. Sometimes it's hard for her even to rise and get out the door without help. I slip on her harness, then I can gently lift up as she hops. But by day's end, she often hasn't the energy to hop out the simple lip to the back yard or climb the steps up to the bed, and I must carry her. My Isabelle. But then I hear the doctor's words. And I think to myself, if I'm hurt, who will care for them?

        And yet… .

        I'm standing by the window, looking out to the branches as they sway in the breeze, to the birds as they peck at seeds, when I see Isabelle, hoping and torquing her body, slowly and with obvious effort, back from a dig with cohort Sparkle. She hops, but her one front leg buckles and she falls to the ground, her face hitting the earth. I leap from my post by the window and run to where she is. I scoop her up with my tweaked back, and I feel not an ounce of pain. As I carry her in, she surveys the yard, sniffing the air from the weightless height of my arms, and I know she's grateful. When I deliver her to her bed in the sunlight, I hear her sigh, and I think to myself, “Back or dog? I would always choose the dog.”

Isabelle's content to lie outside and sniff the air.

        I have also chosen the dog again and again every night as I put aside my book and begin to drift off to sleep. It's always at this moment that Isabelle begins her snore chorus. So here we are a snoring cacophony and mud fest, but that's okay because there is more love flowing through the small home than I could ever imagine.

        Then there is the oldest of us all. The sweetest and silliest dog that I have ever known. My dear, silly Sasha—who is now senile Sasha, or my Sasha shadow, following me around, then stopping and standing there staring. Sasha has never been too couth, and when spring arrives, so too do allergies, which means Sasha begins her scooting. Specifically, choosing to scoot her butt across the rug where I do stretches and yoga.

        “Sasha, no! That's not correct,” I say, trying to hide my smile. “You can't do that in polite society.” (Not to mention places where my face brushes the ground.) She stares up at me guileless. Said differently, completely clueless.

        Sasha is deaf and, perhaps because of this, she has taken to barking. Perhaps as a way of making herself known. Just as our society tends to overlook and “not see” old people, so too does our society often not see old dogs, lavishing the love and attention on cute, new puppies and pushing the slow, wart-covered dog aside like furniture. But I have always loved the old ones. And Sasha, who is now 16 or 17, and I share a history, stretching back thirteen plus years. She is my connection to Flash and Chance and Olive. And while she has never been the brightest bulb in the pack, she doesn't have mean bone in her plump and lumpy body.

          I'll be reading, or working, or on the phone and out of the blue, “Bark, bark, bark!” Sometimes incessantly, almost always monotonously, “Bark, bark, bark!”

Sasha barks.

         “Sasha, there's nothing there!” I holler but she doesn't hear. I wave to her instead, for sometimes she barks to know she's not alone, and to find out where we are. And in those moments, when she turns and sees me waving to her, I watch as her ears flatten against her head, the worried wrinkles between her eyes unfurrow and she trots her arthritic gate over to me in relief and love.

         Then a mere five minutes later, from behind me:

         “Bark, bark, bark!” I nearly leap out of my skin.

          But of course… I choose the dog.

Gallery of dogs and nature:

Awaiting dinner.

What is Sparkle staring at?

 Our long, black friend is back.

Sasha: I will always choose the dog.