Dog Days – Flathead Beacon
Mowgli the Bernese Mountain Dog celebrated his 6th birthday last month and, as cliché as it sounds, I just don’t know where the time has gone.
I know, logically. But my stomach clenches and my heart races when I can’t account for every moment of every day we’ve spent together. It’s not guilt, exactly, though I find myself retracing my steps in the hallway when I pass him without stooping for a scratch in the stomach, aware of a fault that every nanosecond together is precious and fleeting. . Traffic lights turn green at intersections and horns sound as I lean in to meet his gaze. They are big waiting eyes. The eyes of a whale. Or that of a gorilla.
In his eyes, I cannot fail, so I am determined not to fail in those eyes; which, paradoxically, means that I fail daily. Its standards are impossible to meet.
It’s the wretched elephant in every dog lover’s room, according to poet Mary Oliver, who wrote: “It’s exceedingly short, its galloping life. Dogs die so fast. I have my stories of this grief, no doubt many of you too. It’s almost a lack of will, a lack of love, to let them grow old – or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us and to keep them young. The only gift we cannot give.
As I write this, he is lying at my feet, occasionally raising his head to see where we are in the daily routine. “Still typing?” he asks with a raised eyebrow covered in caramel before moaning audibly and falling back to sleep. He’s been coming to this newspaper’s office since he was an eight-week-old puppy. The tapping of a keyboard marks the meter of our days, the tapping of feet or the schussing of skis measures the tempo of our evenings.
He is strong. His tricolor coat shines in a ray of sunshine. His legs are stretched out like bridge cables. Her affection is immense and overwhelming and too often uninvited. Six years ago.
Although I have for the most part renounced the traditional Aristotelian concept of time in favor of a less linear construction – a constellation of emotional experiences that shape our identities as opposed to a “numerical value of change” – there is something in counting canine years which I’ve always found deeply troubling, especially considering the lifespan of a Bernese mountain dog, even one that regularly runs over 45 miles a week and behaves with a puppy exuberance.
There is an old Swiss aphorism about the Bernese: “three years a young dog, three years a good dog, three years an old dog; and all that follows is a gift. Well, Mowgli has been the top dog for six years and is clearly defying that pseudo-Swiss ethos, proving that the land of milk and honey needs to stay in its lane and stick to chocolate and yodeling. Nonetheless, the all-too-short deadly canine reel came to mind after reading a friend’s heartbreaking essay about the loss of his dog this week.
My family has always kept dogs. When I was born, I joined three big, sloppy dogs in my parents’ house – Baloo, Barney and Bogey. I was baptized in tongue baths.
Only Baloo followed us on our move from Illinois to Minnesota (the “Jungle Book” tradition continues today with my parents’ Sheepadoodle “Louie” and my sister’s Newfoundland, also “Baloo” ), and while I treasure my memories of the original Baloo, I was stunned by the silent trauma of learning that he was dead.
I remember the evening in technicolor detail. I was playing in the driveway with my neighbor, Noah, the two of us tearing up the black top in Knight Rider pedal cars when my mom called me inside to share the news. As I absorbed the weight of his eternal absence, an eternity could have passed. When I got back to the driveway, Noah was gone and the sun was setting on my little car.
Where does the time go?