December 7, 2013
We are getting old together – the cat, the dog and I. The cat, who is thirteen, now, has turned gray around the head and tail, sleeps a lot more and, although still curious, sometimes needs my help getting out of whatever adventure she manages to get into. Otherwise, being an indoor cat, she is still pretty self-sufficient.
The dog, an eleven year old boxer, has had a harder time of it. She has cataracts, has lost some of her hearing and has a hip dysplasia that makes it difficult for her hind end to go where her front end wants it to. But she is a game old gal. She gets around on carpeted surfaces fairly well once she gets on her feet, but on the vinyl flooring, she needs a helping hand to get to the back door and onto the porch. Once there, she’s learned to launch herself off the top step and into the yard and still stay on her feet, most of the time. She does need help getting back up the three steps to the door and back across the floor to the carpeted area. And I guess that’s the heart of this story.
My son is moving to California in a couple of weeks (though for the life of me, I can’t understand why) and can’t take the dog with him. He moved upstairs last month to help me move downstairs and to arrange for lawn care, house maintenance and so forth after he leaves for California. I saw how much difficulty the dog had getting in and out of the house and I panicked. Of course, she can’t get up that flight of stairs to the apartment, so, although my son takes care of her when he’s home, she stays down here with me. And I admit, the thought of trying to take care of her by myself through the winter, with snow and ice around, scared me silly. At seventy-three, I’m not all that steady on my own feet, sometimes. We talked about putting her to sleep before he left, but neither of us really wanted that.
We even ordered a set of doggie socks with rubber pads on the bottoms to give older dogs with problems better traction. But, yesterday, when winter finally hit – with six inches of snow and temperatures in the single digits – the socks hadn’t arrived, yet. So after my son went to work, yesterday became a test of my and the dog’s fortitude. After some momentary panic on my part about getting her back in the house, we did fine. Using an old broom I keep by the door as a walking stick, I followed her out to hang a feeder full of seed for the birds while she did her business. Going back inside, the snow actually seemed to give her some traction, giving me hope that the doggie socks will help her, too, when they finally do get here.
Today is sunny and cold, sixteen degrees at the moment, so the snow isn’t going anywhere for a few days. And I’m sure there will be more, as winter progresses.
We went outside a while ago. She doesn’t play like she used to, but she seemed to enjoy wandering around, poking at things half-buried in all the white stuff, checking the fence line, wagging her stubby tail while sniffing the air and whuffing at people coming and going at the convenience store next door. Some, who remember her from when she lived here before, even stopped and visited with her for a moment. Honestly, I was ready to go in from the cold long before she was.
I do feel comfortable with her problems, after these last two days. And it means a reprieve for her, for now, though I’m under no illusions that the day will not come, eventually – for her, the cat, and for me.
And I guess what I notice most about this slow collapse of the Empire is that it’s a lot like being old in wintertime. As things get worse, life and death will go on, just as they have in the best of times. We’ll face decisions we don’t like to make; we’ll panic, adapt, make our choices and move on – for better or worse – just as we do in the best of times. Eventually, however good the choices we make, death will catch up with each of us, just as it does in the best of times.
Maybe the cat and dog have the right idea. Keep your curiosity, meow for help when it gets the better of you, nap a little more when you need to, sniff the air, whuff at strangers, visit with friends, do the best you can by those you love and trust those who love you to do the best they can by you. Just like we should have been doing all along – even in the best of times.