Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Word About My Dog, Molly

My Golden Retriever, Molly, turns 10 this month. She has been, and continues to be, the surest affirmation of grace ever to have entered my life. Her intelligence, beauty, and zest for life have been a thing of legend in our family. It’s an exercise of profound mystery to consider the moral and ethical superiority of dogs to human beings. But, when I think of the colossal changes that have occurred in the world during Molly’s ten years, it becomes clear to me that Molly alone, among all of my family, friends and acquaintances, has been the immovable, steadfast north star. Not once in 10 years has she been angry with me, cool with her affection, bored with my stories, or anything else but delighted with my mere presence in the room.

Here’s what this dog provides for me and my family. Each morning she greets us with unbridled enthusiasm for the day. Every afternoon when any of us return home from work or school, we are greeted like rock stars, so uncontrollably thrilled is she with the celebration of our amazing and miraculous return. It’s as if she spent all day worrying that this time, we would never come home and she would never see us again. Every day she encourages us to take at least a few minutes to play. She brings us a ball with the hope that we will forget about whatever it was that put the anxiety and frustration on our faces. We never disappoint her. Even when we accidentally step on her tail, she yelps in pain and then scurries toward us, desperate to reassure us that it wasn’t our fault. To Molly we always are the person we so desperately want to be to everyone else, enchanting, charismatic, and heroic.

This isn’t to say that having a dog is all sunshine and roses. Having a 90 pound beast under foot is a game changer for any family. In Molly’s case it means the continuous and daily administration of three different oral medications. It means giving her a bath every week of her life with special shampoo and conditioner to keep her various allergies at bay. I have spent more money on medications and doctor’s appointments over the last 10 years on Molly than my two human children combined. It means never being able to eat a meal in peace. She is always at my elbow with her mournful countenance and hopeful whining. It means never being able to have a spontaneous moment where we throw everything in a suitcase and head to the beach or the mountains, because preparations always have to be made for Molly. Lucky for her and us, my sister and her family live right down the street and they too have fallen under Molly’s charms.

Lately I’ve noticed that she is aging. The fur around her eyes has turned snowy white. Her stamina isn’t what it once was. She doesn’t last as long on walks or fetch the sticks with endless enthusiasm like she once famously did. And lately, she has started having trouble navigating the stairs. It takes her awhile to stand when she’s been laying down. I have noticed the beginnings of a limp. With these disturbing visitations has come the stark, cold realization that Molly will not always be with us. We all make this bargain when we bring a puppy home. We embrace the beauty and wonder of a dog knowing that she comes to us with mortal strings attached. She will blaze through our life, lighting up our world with happiness, and then she will leave us entirely too soon. She is a loan, a grace note sent from God to help us deal with the brutality and disappointment that can often be our existence. We pay back this heavenly loan by learning to treat those we love like Molly treats us, with unconditional respect and gleeful appreciation. The debt can never be paid in full, because we just aren’t good enough. I will never be as wonderful as Molly thinks I am. But I will spend my life trying to be.