Wherever I am, my dog Travis is nearby. I’ve spent years telling him to stay put when I pop into the kitchen for a cup of tea or trot off to the mudroom to grab my scarf. He never stays put. As soon as he hears my tread on the floor, he wakes from his nap (he’s almost always napping these days) and follows me to the next place. Wherever I am, Travis is there too.
This is a beautiful thing. It’s also kind of a pain in the butt. Not because he’s ever in my way, but because I wish he would keep napping. He’s old now, 15 years old this week (which according to a chart I found online is 78 in human years). He needs his rest. Besides, I’m coming right back. I tell him this, but he doesn’t listen.
Maybe that’s because he doesn’t hear so well anymore. It used to be you could drop a piece of cheese on the carpet on the other side of the house and Travis would come running. The other day, I dropped a piece of cooked pork with an audible plop! on the kitchen floor mere inches away from where Trav was rummaging around. He took no notice. Clearly, his sense of smell is also in decline.
He still (mostly) looks like a puppy. In the morning, when he sees me getting ready for his walk, he acts like a puppy. He runs around in excited circles before practically handing me the leash and pushing me to the door. Some nights around 8:00, he likes to play a brief but enthusiastic game of “Catch Me (& My Rawhide) If You Can!”
But let’s face it: in spite of these bursts of energy, he’s an old man. He’s cranky, he’s needy, he’s warty. Do you know about Cockapoos and warts? Oh, baby, have they got warts! He’s got warts on his snout and on his back, and recently a new one has bloomed beneath his nose. He also has a benign tumor on his chest the size of half a tennis ball.
Until recently, he was the sweetest dog on our street, always happy to cavort with the other dogs we met on our walks. Nowadays, he barks and growls whenever another dog is in his path. Sometimes he barks and growls at home when one of us accidentally wakes him from his nap.
Watching a beloved pet grow old isn’t easy, but it’s instructional. In spite of the warts, the whining, and the crankiness, Travis is still a beloved member of our household. He’s still very much a member of our family, one we’ll happily take care of until it’s time to say goodbye. It’s easy to love someone when they’re beautiful, eager to please and easy to please. But what about when they get older?
It turns out that it’s not harder to love the older, crankier Travis. It’s harder to live with him, that’s true. But our love isn’t diminished in the least. I was thinking about this the other day when suddenly my marriage vows came to mind: Will you take this person to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health? As Travis gets older (and wartier) I’m reminded that love is what helps us hold to these vows. Taking care of Travis in his final years is good training for taking care of each other as we get older, grumpier and bumpier.
Oh, pets, this is a tender subject for me! I have strong feelings about the quality of life they bring to a home! (Even when they get old and infirm.)
When the kids were little, we decided to adopt a cat, because we thought it would be easier than a dog (and I love cats). Well, we got talked into adopting two instead of one, so that they could keep each other company. There were a brother and sister pair, whom we named Tiger and Trixie. I loved those cats, but let’s be honest, in terms of companions for the kids, it was not like having a dog! Trixie was your stereotypical cat (read: aloof) and Tiger was more affectionate, but he wasn’t really into little kids.
So, a few years later, we adopted a wonderful dog named Teddy. He was a perfect dog for the kids to grow up with! And in retrospect, I realize how easy he was! He basically came potty trained, loved to play fetch, and was a great walker. I am so happy that we had a home with animals for our kids growing up. It definitely made their childhoods richer.
In March of 2021 (during lockdown) we had all three kids living at home, a dog (Teddy) and a cat (Tiger). By September, only Gary and I were left at home! Tiger died in March, two of the kids moved out in May, Teddy died in June, and Ben went away to college in September. We went from the fullest of nests to the emptiest in what seemed like an instant! I’m still recovering. The house was so, so quiet–especially after having everyone home for Covid for well over a year.
It was a form of empty nesting that we hadn’t really considered—having a VERY empty nest.
The whole experience of losing those two pets (though they were both quite old) was so devastating to us that we vowed to never get another pet. We were done with that. We just could not take the grief again.
It certainly gave us a freedom that we had not had in 15 years. We went on a few vacations and didn’t need to arrange (and pay) for a petsitter. I noticed that I didn’t need to sweep the house as often without all the pet fur around. We tried to embrace this change by making plans to travel more. We thought that in this phase of our lives we would regularly go away for long weekends in addition to our yearly vacation.
But every time we got off the freeway on our way home from a trip, we would think immediately about how excited Teddy was going to be when we got home—only Teddy wasn’t there anymore. Opening that door to an empty house was such a foreign feeling.
We first started talking about adopting a dog when we were having drinks on the beach on Catalina Island—a long weekend trip that we took to celebrate our empty nest life. We talked about how we would lose the freedom, but how it would be so nice to add a dog to the mix at home. We recognized the trade-off and decided to tentatively start looking at rescue dogs.
Within six weeks, we adopted Bailey. She was (and still is) a nervous little thing that needed a quiet home like ours to feel safe and content. She’s a little lovebug and my constant companion during the day while I work (often literally napping under my feet at my desk). She is our empty nest dog—she wouldn’t have been the right fit for us with three small children.
After having her for a few months, we still thought the house was still too quiet and that she needed a playmate. It’s kind of like buying a new sofa and then realizing that you need a new rug, and now you need to paint … where does it end?
Enter Ollie. He is the polar opposite of Bailey–full of energy and constantly seeking attention. They look like twins, but they could not be more different. He has been a lot more work, but I feel like they are the perfect foils for each other. Bailey would lay around and be lazy all day, but Ollie gets her up and playing. Ollie would bounce off the walls if Bailey didn’t wear him out a bit. They are each other’s best friends and a constant source of entertainment for us.
Gary and I both work from home, so they break up the workday by demanding some love, snuggles, and ball throwing–but then happily nap by the front window to guard us against squirrels and garage trucks. They get us out of the house on weekends to go on hikes or walks on the beach. They entertain us with their crazy antics while they chase each other around the house or backyard and play fight (this is less amusing when they insist on play fighting under my feet when I am on a work call. You can regularly find me doing laps around the house while on the phone just to get away from the noise!)
I worried a bit about how our three adult kids would feel about these dogs that they didn’t grow up with. Like they were tiny interlopers. But, I needn’t have worried. They love these pups as much as we do. I kind of think they come home to visit the dogs more than us!
So, have we taken those long weekends that we thought we would? In a word, no. It’s definitely more inconvenient to get out of the house for an extended time. But do I regret that? No. Our life is better for having these little critters in it! And now we’ve found a wonderful housesitter that the dogs love–so we are out of excuses for heading up to Cambria for a long weekend!