I did worry sometimes that I'd be too much of a pushover and that the dog would not learn his or her manners and people would dread coming to my house because there would be this spoiled monster ruling the roost, jumping on the table, snatching ham sandwiches right out of people's hands, humping their legs, then chewing up their Italian leather shoes, perhaps with their feet still in them, peeing on their leather handbags, leaving her mark on the Persian rug, with me just leaning back saying, "Isn't she the cutest?"
I got really lucky with Zoe. It took me two weeks and two nights to train her to tell me, reliably, when she had to go. She had arrived in our home in May to a glorious verdant late spring and she relished all that time we spent outdoors during housebreaking. After that, the only accidents we ever had were when I failed to hear her, when I didn't listen to her message, and those incidents were rare. The rest was, I see now, bizarrely easy too. She had sit and stay and heel down in a nanosecond, and we were soon ready for the world. She was never a chewer, she's never taken food from low tables, or gotten into things in the house that she shouldn't. She didn't jump on people when they arrived, and although she barks when anyone drives up to the house, she makes them feel welcome once they show her the proper respect and let her know that they understand she's in charge of this residence.
But it became clear to me early on that Zoe would follow the commands I gave her only when the intellectual rigor of these games appealed to her. When she got bored, or when there wasn't anything in it for her (treats) she would come when she felt like it. We've rarely been in a situation where her being a haughty, independent, strong-willed dog has been a problem. She has never been skunked. She has only terrified me by running into the road to meet another dog maybe three times total in our nine-plus years. And when she wants to go a certain way on a walk, I follow. She is always good about heeling; I think she takes pride in it, now more than ever, especially since, as a tripod, it has been harder to go slow than to go fast.
The Monks of New Skete warned against letting the dog think you're its butler, and that notion has always made me smile. I am not just Zoe's butler: I'm also her chef, nurse, workout buddy, traveling sidekick, health advocate, and now, increasingly, I hope, her confidante. She is my muse, and that's a lot of pressure to put even on a working dog, but other than turning away rather disdainfully sometimes when I try to take yet another picture of her, she has borne her lot in life with me with good will.
So now we're trying to do things totally her way. I am hearing Frank Sinatra in my head: you know the song. She said no more chemotherapy drugs and we said, fine. Before that she said no more hippie-dippie raw food diet with Chinese herbs mixed in, and we listened. She wanted to see what regular dogs ate and we tried that for a month. This Monday she said no more dog food, I want only what you're having, especially the lamb, and now we just cook up three serving of meat and vegetables and try to take Sheri's advice about going easy on carbs, and she licks her plate and asks for seconds. I should have been tipped off last week at the lake house when Pam brought us moussaka and Zoe ate more of it than anyone. I'm still learning.
|hello there, you|
|Zoe eating with gusto fills my heart|
When I went to the Potsdam Humane Society in May of 2003, thinking I was beginning a systematic search for finding the right dog, I didn't notice Zoe at first. Most of her seven litter mates came up to the end of their cage to climb up and say hello, but Zoe stayed back resting with her head on her outstretched paws just as she is doing now as I write. She was known as the shy dog in the pack. The mellow one. The philosopher. I fell in love with her at first sight, but I also thought I had to rescue her because the people visiting would be wowed by the other cuddly, vivacious pups and would not give an aloof dog like her a second look. I found out later that two other people asked to have her right after I put down my name, and if I hadn't walked into the pound on that very day, at that very minute, I would have missed the chance to be her person.
She was a little bit melancholy. She had trouble trusting. She didn't make eye contact easily. And my oh my, when she did finally look directly into my eyes, I was a goner. And still am.
I told myself I was channeling the Monks of New Skete by picking a shy dog. I thought it would be easier for me to be the alpha pack leader with a retiring little pup who sat off to the side thinking deep thoughts about the meaning of life. But actually, I learned, she was simply demonstrating her independence by separating herself from the crowd. She's not a follower. She is her own brand.
I love being her butler, chef, attendant, nurse, companion. Today, when I brought Zoe out a bit of Poly-MVA (known to shrink tumors, but at the least, to boost energy and the immune system; as you can see, certain old habits die hard) with a smoked salmon chaser, my husband and I were just finishing lunch on the deck. I said, in mock culinary speak, "The dog will start with smoked Wild Alaskan salmon in a light broth of Poly-MVA" and Kerry said, "The real question is this: is the broth frothed?" No, but the dog was salivating when she saw it, along with the tastes of pâté and goat cheese I brought her on a plate as a midday snack.
So here's where we are. We're at peace. We're content right now, this dog and me. My job is to just sit beside her and listen. That's painful sometimes because her breathing is getting labored. She has trouble getting a deep breath sometimes, like all our human friends with asthma, but then she's okay again for a while. Watching her breathe and listening for when it gets too hard is my only job at the moment. The prednisone is helping open up her lungs a little, and helping her find one last blast of energy and appetite to fortify her for the journey ahead, but it won't do its magic for long.
And so we sit and watch the world go by and breathe together. She's in charge. She's always been a dog who did best when we did things her way, although sometimes I have forgotten and imposed a few elements into her regime that I thought would help her live longer and better. But from the moment we met, I've been her person and serving her has given me more joy than anything I've ever done in my life.
She'll be in charge of when she leaves this house and goes out into the universe. Until then I'll keep sitting beside her watching and trying to learn all I can to do right by her.