|Kitty, relaxing in her suite at the Palmer House Hilton.|
Eight years ago today: Aug. 28, 2010. The bar mitzvah had been a great success, the luncheon afterward at Prairie Grass consumed and paid for. Now the only thing left to do was collect the boy's present. It had to be done quickly, like jumping out of a plane, lest nerves undo my resolve. In my journal that night I described it this way, "2 Petsmart for leash, puppy chow. Get name tag, 'Kitty' cut by laser. Picked up puppy. Not stressful. Dog never barked. Fell asleep in Kent's arms in back seat."
That "not stressful" was worth mentioning because it was surprising, to me. Somewhat amazing even. I thought a dog would ruin our lives.
And so the adventure began. The 3 a.m. walks in the rain. Back to Petsmart for training both pet and owners. It was effort, yes. It was at times uncomfortable, yes. But it was all somehow necessary and, even, wonderful.
Eight years. What's to say? Either you get dogs or you don't. Before I didn't. Now I do. Dogs enrich your life, add purpose and meaning. That time we stayed with her in a hotel downtown—the Palmer House was promoting its dog-friendly services and invited me to a sleepover—was as close to being a celebrity as I will ever come. Every eye in the grand lobby swiveled in her direction with interest and delight, and I mused on suddenly finding myself as a fussy older man with a little dog. At Miller's as we walked past, the barflies tapped on the window and waved and smiled.
She was the perfect dog for us. Sweet, loving, energetic. People mistake her for a puppy still, though of course she is now in the definition of middle age. Eight is half of 16, which evokes the haunting line of Mary Oliver's, "How many summers does a little dog have?"
|Drying a wet dog|
But a dog doesn't worry about the future, and I've learned a lot from having a dog. Walk frequently. Eat food. Smile if you can. Don't worry so much. The future comes whether you worry about it or not.
Walking falls to me. She fixes me with a look, and I somehow just know. I almost said, "She doesn't even have to speak," though frankly, if she started talking, it would only surprise me a little. As it is, we communicate.
Walks morning, noon and night—well, right after waking up, right before dinner and right before bed. We have a ritual. A big, seven-block circuit in the morning, watching our neighbors back their Jaguars and Audis out of their driveways and rush off to work. A shorter walk later in the day, maybe nipping around back, by the village community garden. Then toward downtown, around what I called "The Point," a triangle of flowers and grounds cover across from the train station. Sometimes the spirit moves her and we head downtown to make a loop through the park.
What's she thinking? Who can say? She has a brain the size of a walnut. "I'm a dog" perhaps. What am I thinking? With my far larger brain? Not much more. "I have a dog. We're walking." Often, this year, I've been listening to books on Audible. Chekhov skewering a "journalist of minuscule reputation" with such specific skill I suspect we must have met, that he must have seen my office and peered into my heart.
Here, the dog helps. I've certainly taken good care of this dog. Nobody can say I haven't. She could lose a pound or two—my fault, diverting chicken from atop my salad. But not fat. By no means fat.
A dog is a kind of exquisite timepiece, a clock I set ticking shortly after Kent's 13th birthday that will, if we're lucky, start ringing a couple years after he leaves law school. I'll look up then, astounded and heartbroken and ask myself where the time has gone. A question that sits there now, to be honest, waving its hand, trying to get my attention. But I won't call on it just now.