Saturday, May 7, 2011

We’re All Getting Older

I’ve Earned These Gray Hairs, Dammit

At the beginning of the year I wrote about training for a half marathon. It was supposed to be last weekend in Louisville; I had to give up after pounding too many miles on concrete in the winter ice and cold; my hip gave out. Seriously.

You know you’re old when you say things like, “my hip gave out.”

All of our animals are getting older. Believe it or not, Cleo used to be a glossy deep brown, all over. She’s a Chocolate Lab/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, meaning she looks like a Chocolate Lab with two swirls and a pronounced ridge down her back. She’s around 12 years old now.

The thing that breaks my heart about watching Cleo get older is, she needs me now more than ever. She needs me to give her a little extra time on our morning walks so she can go a little slower. She needs me to give her extra time to get up the stairs and she needs a few more belly rubs. Unfortunately, with two puppies in the house requiring training and raucous playtime at the dog park, she isn’t getting what she needs.

Also our oldest cat, Sylvie, is nearing her end. I’ve had to turn our spare bathroom into a hospital room. She gets subcutaneous fluids twice a day, is incontinent and hasn’t eaten in a week. I’ll probably have to intervene next week. But she still purrs -- loudly -- and still looks at me like she knows who I am. These decisions aren’t easy to make. And all of this takes time away from Cleo.

I can’t tell you how much I love this dog. Moms aren’t supposed to play favorites with their kids but let’s be real, we all do it. I got Cleo from Metro Animal Control -- the old pound, when it was out by the Bordeaux dump, and rated one of the worst animal control facilities in the nation. I got her when I was interviewing Jennifer Kinley of The Kinleys, whose big cause back then was reforming our pound; every interview she did then was at the pound to call attention to the issue. Big props to her for that. But I knew I couldn’t show up for an interview at the pound and not come home with an animal. Honestly, I figured it would be a cat, since I’m really a cat person. No one was more shocked than me when I came home with a large dog.

Cleo was in a run with about six other dogs, all of them barking and lunging at the fence and trying to get my attention. It just about broke my heart. But Cleo was different. She was calm, very Zen -- maybe even a little sad. I was later told she’d been at the pound for weeks past her expiration date; even the animal control employees knew there was something special about her.

I have lots of stories I could tell about Cleo but I think my favorite one is about the time we went to Florida. It was just two weeks after I adopted her and while I normally wouldn’t take a new dog on a road trip so soon after bringing it home, this vacation had been on the books for weeks. Obviously, I wasn’t going to send her to a kennel after she’d been in the pound all that time. So off we went.

I’ll never forget it: after two days of driving and a night at a hotel in Montgomery, Alabama, we pull up to our rental house right on the beach. I let the dogs out of the Jeep and there’s Cleo: she looks at the waves crashing on the sand, looks back at me, then back at the ocean, then back at me. A huge grin breaks out on her face, and her tail starts wagging so hard she nearly knocks herself over. Everything about this dog was saying, “I can’t believe this is true! That this is really, really happening! That I’m really here!” It was one of the best moments of my life.

Making a dog happy is a ridiculously easy thing to do, but it never stops warming my heart.

Cleo still has a few good years left in her. This isn’t a memorial. I’m just sad to see her get older.