Age Spots, Part I

Today, I struggled with something difficult. It evoked such complex emotions – fear, grief, gratitude, love – a reminder that to be human is to be powerful yet humble.

Even when Jolie was very young, she was an old soul. People of all ages were drawn to her sweet demeanor, and of course, those cute little spots. (I once challenged a group of admiring boys to count them all. It sure kept them busy!)

As a Therapy Dog, she always sought out the person who seemed to need gentle attention. They were often sad, distraught or just plain tired at what life had been throwing them. She required nothing of them. They could pet her or scratch behind her ears or even hug her. Or not.

Jolie all dressed up to visit dog lovers at a nursing home

But mostly, they talked to her. They told her about dogs they’d loved, who had passed away or had to be given up when they moved into a nursing home. They reminisced about people and places and childhoods long gone.

One elderly woman began crying. She quietly confided in Jolie about how she had been sexually assaulted long ago. It was a powerful moment, an instant trust between two souls that I was privileged to witness.

Jolie is now 15 years old. She has been retired from Therapy Dog work for a long time, and from dog sports like agility and Rally obedience even longer.

I keep forgetting that she was only eight months old when we evacuated from our New Orleans bungalow in 2005, two days before Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees broke.

We had piled a petting zoo – four dogs and two cats – into our minivan, heading north for what we thought would be an extended weekend visit with family. The next time we saw our house, there was a brown, brackish water line at eight feet. A dead minnow was stuck to the siding, just below our bedroom window. Frogs greeted us from inside the house, buried beneath waterlogged furniture, books and clothes that would forever smell like the black mold seeping out from them.

Nearly fourteen years later, only one dog and one cat remain of the original New Orleans pack. Jolie is the last of those very special dogs. And she is ailing. It is not just the usual, cumulative pains of an aging body. She has congestive heart failure and kidney disease. When she walks, her stronger front legs paddle forward while her wobbly rear legs slowly stumble after. Her neck and her back look like sway bridges, tenuous connections to all the other body parts.

The sun was shining so brightly today that I mistook it for warmth. I decided to take a chance and bring along my sweet, weak girl to pick up my son from preschool. Hopefully, she could handle a mild adventure.

We met my son at nature preschool and walked to the playground area. The strong wind gusts snuffed out the rays of sunshine. Thankfully, Jolie handles cold surprisingly well.

There were lots of kids and moms at the playground. My son darted off to play with two small girls dressed in varying shades of pink. I enjoyed the luxury of just watching my dog sniff, breathe in, breathe out, repeat, as we slowly walked the perimeter where the playground and the woods meet.

I expected the usual rush of children – their curious parents not far behind – all eager to pet the real-life star of Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.” That didn’t happen.

To be continued …

(originally published April 26, 2019)


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