Lessons I Learned From My Dog

Muffy

Yesterday, we said goodbye to our tiny, eight pound poodle, Muffy. After a year of living with kidney failure, her seventeen-year-old body could no longer stave off the ravages of the disease and I don’t think I could be sadder. Before the pandemic, we sought every reasonable intervention to keep her alive. After subcutaneous fluids, herbal medications, laser stimulation, and acupuncture, we ended treatment in March since, due to pandemic restrictions, we were no longer able to be with her in the veterinarian’s office. We knew the risks. She was already sixteen; instead of treating her illness, our focus shifted to her quality of life and we supported her as best we could. After our decision, it was all on Muffy and, in her plucky way, she stayed alive. 

Since last January, we embarked on a year long adventure. As we posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram with the obvious hashtag, #muffysfarewelltour, friends asked, “Farewell tour?” Muffy seemed so bright, lively, and energetic, but we knew our time together was limited so we made an effort to make memories with our girl. We took day trips to South Boston’s Castle Island and Revere Beach. We drove with her in my lap to the ice cream shop, to downtown Boston to see Christmas lights, and to pick up take out, always ordering her a meal of her own. Muffy loved the pandemic phenomenon, the Zoom meeting, and she popped up on just about every call, making her a bit of a celebrity with my writing groups and assorted meetings. After it all, our favorite memory was a Covid-friendly vacation to Cape Cod, where we rented a house on a dog-friendly beach, where Muffy could run free. She loved every minute.

I thought about how I would memorialize our sweet pup in words without sounding bereft. Muffy lived a life of joy and wonder. She loved her family, her backyard, and pork chops. She entertained us with her silly antics like arranging her blue pillow and red snowflake blanket at bedtime each night, before settling in to watch Kitchen Nightmares. Every minute of caring for her, even in her last hours as we helped her cross the Rainbow Bridge, was an act of love. It was our way of repaying her undying loyalty as she padded along by our sides all these years.

Dogs may not have words but they speak to us in ways we sometimes miss in the moment. As I go through my day, my first without my tiny white shadow, I still feel Muffy here. Her memory remains palpable and real. I savor the feeling of her enduring  presence while it lasts. Every move I make, I remember her, under foot, begging, and just being completely adorable. In an effort to squash my maudlin tendencies, I jotted down a few lessons Muffy taught me, as a tribute to her legacy:

How to be shameless: Not a day has passed in the years since Muffy joined our family that I have showered or used the toilet without the bathroom door flying open. I always closed, not latched or locked, the door (that would have been intolerable for herself), but in the course of a pee or a shower, the door, without exception, flew open as the energetic, white fur ball burst into the room. At first, it was unnerving. In time, it became normal. On a positive note, the steam from a shower never fogged up the bathroom and the house benefitted from the infusion of moist air in the winter months. We never needed a humidifier because of Muffy.

How to share: This morning, on our kitchen table, I found the two fortune cookies left over from last night’s Chinese dinner and I laughed. I haven’t eaten my own fortune cookie since the day Muffy came to live with us, nor have most of our dinner guests over the years. She had an unnatural love of the crunchy treat, and everyone succumbed to her begging and cuteness. As I peeled off the cellophane, I thought of Muffy and, with my coffee, I ate my fortune cookie, alone and joylessly. Sharing with your best friend is so much more satisfying. 

How to start the day bright and early: My husband, Tim, usually started his morning by 6:30, after putting Muffy out and checking to make sure she had water and food. Once she was settled, Muffy was on her own and she usually honored my need for extra sleep, within limits. However, after 7:30 a.m., my slumber lived on borrowed time. Standing in my bedroom doorway, Muffy would yip twice, my signal to rise. As I followed Muffy down the hallway, her tail wagging, clearly pleased with herself, I always chuckled. Because of her, I started every day with a smile.

How to go to bed at a reasonable hour: Every night at 11 p.m., Tim would put Muffy out to do her business “for her last time” that day. After getting a sip of water, she made her way up the hall and into the den where I had just started another episode of the Ghost Whisperer or Schitt’s Creek. Having no part of this, the dog stood a few feet away, just staring. I knew what she wanted. It was bedtime. After a few minutes of visual strongarming, I would stand up and go to brush my teeth. I had a sense that she didn’t trust me to follow through with going to bed as she stood outside the bathroom door, glaring. I always succumbed to her demands, making her happy and increasing my odds of an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep. 

I fear for my future without my keeper. The odds are stacked against me ever getting up early and going to bed on time. I may eat my sadness by consuming my weight in fortune cookies. And I guess I’ll have to use the blow dryer to clear the foggy bathroom mirror. But the most important lessons I have learned in my life with Muffy are: how to love someone so much that letting go is a sacred transition through denial, sadness, and acceptance; how to do the kindest thing even when we knew our hearts will break forever; and how to wake up and start the day after the first night in thirty-nine years that our house didn’t have a dog in it. Without her jingling collar, the quiet is unsettling. 

I acknowledge the feeling of emptiness will dissipate in time, but these first days of loss and longing crush my heart. Tim and I have resolved that there will be no more dogs. Muffy was the best companion, physical comedian, and pillow-blanket arranging bedmate anyone could ever ask for and she will never be replaced. We are the ultimate empty nesters–no kids, no dogs, just us. Now when I talk to myself, I can’t deflect with  “I was talking to the dog.” 

It’s gotten really quiet around here.

Muffy’s Farewell Tour

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