Posted on | September 28, 2012 | 6 Comments
Because he’d had a rough start to life, AJ took a while to warm up to being part of a family. For a long time, the only interaction he allowed me was feeding him and dragging him from under the bed to go outside for walks. I’ll never forget taking him to my parents’ house for the first time and letting him sleep on their screened in porch.
AJ wasn’t one for playing with toys. He mostly kept to himself as a puppy and would hide away if anyone was around. I woke up on Saturday morning at my parents’ house and my mother called me to come down stairs. AJ was out of his kennel, with his toy in his mouth, doing what could only be called “prancing” around the porch.
It was the first time I ever saw him truly happy and playful.
From then on, he started to warm up to being a part of my family. When I would cry (which was often that year), he would curl up beside me, his little pink tongue sweetly tickling my cheek, reminding me it would be okay. When I got sick (which was not as often) he would throw up on the floor beside my bed. I joked that he was so in tune with me, that he hurt when I hurt… and it seemed to be true.
We were inseparable; he was my world and I was his. A friend of mine watched him one day on campus when I was in class and he sat and did nothing the entire time I was gone, then bounded towards me like I was the second coming of Christ when he saw me. He trusted me. I was his family.
Just before law school, when he was seven years old, I came home from work to find him unable to walk without leaning against something. His legs weren’t working, his eyes wouldn’t focus, and he was visibly scared. There was an emergency vet just up the street from me and I picked him up and carried him as far as I could, sobbing until a friend came and drove us the rest of the way. They told me then that I should put him to sleep.
I didn’t listen.
He rebounded quickly, and never had another spell. He was the youngest old dog you’d ever met, even at thirteen jumping without hesitation onto the high bed in the master bedroom and chasing his toys around the back yard. When J first came into his life he was suspicious and wary, but he soon grew to love him, following him around the house and protecting him from the big bad world (or from Riley when she arrived). But sometime over the past year things deteriorated for him. He developed arthritis in his legs and took to licking holes on his back legs until they bled and then scabbed over.
And then his hearing started to go and he started to get very scared at night with the lights out. I took to leaving lights on in the house and the door to J’s bedroom open because the bed was lower to the ground, and his aged legs could still manage the small lurch up onto the mattress.
I watch him move now and he is but a shadow of the boy he once was, aged and mottled with gray hairs and raw spots about his face and legs. He moves purposefully and when I go to pet him, he leans the full weight of his body against me as if to say “Hold me up, Mom, just for a while.”
I ache for him. I ache for the puppy who made my life worth living when it seemed that nothing else did. I ache for my fiercely loyal companion who bit a crush on the shoulder when he was tickling me and I screamed “OW!” I ache for the decision that I may have to make one day too soon, the moment I may have to lay my head beside his and mouth words of comfort he can no longer hear.
On Monday, I will take my sweet boy to the vet and ask the question I have put off asking for so long. Because I can not be the reason AJ suffers. Because he deserves better from me.
But I hope, oh how I hope, that my vet will reassure me that there is still more time.