The Last Puppy
Realizing that Angus is the 'last' has impacted other parts of my life, and as I enter what we can all agree is the last phase, is an unexpected gift
The Best of 2023
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Like many people, we got a pandemic puppy. We already had a wonderful black lab called Echo, who was 8. Now one of Echo's great aunts was having a litter and I was itching for another dog.
I knew the door was closing on the energy needed to raise a puppy and — let's get real — our ages were becoming a factor for another reason.
I had two dogs when my husband, Peter, and I first met. Oscar and Maddy saw us through our courtship, our wedding 42 years ago, and the birth of two of our three children before dying at 15 and 13 respectively.
Over time, we had other dogs, but we hadn't had two dogs at the same time in decades. At 67, I wanted that experience one more time. I knew the door was closing on the energy needed to raise a puppy and — let's get real — our ages were becoming a factor for another reason. While no one knows when they will die, by the time you're in your late 60s recognizing that the runway is shorter is impossible to ignore, and no one wants to leave a beloved animal behind for someone else to manage.
The Driving Force Behind Our Dogs
Now Peter is a dog fan, but he is not the member in this duo who feels as if his life is a little less than without a canine companion. He likes them fine once they arrive, but I've been the driver behind every dog we've had. As my 40th birthday neared, for instance, and we had been dogless for six years, I announced over dinner one night that my gift to myself would be a new golden retriever puppy. The announcement was met with squeals from our three children and by stunned silence from Peter.
Another time, I collaborated — connived? — with my best friend, whose husband was the breeder of Echo and our earlier black lab, Sophie, to "give" me the puppy who became Sophie. How, I said innocently to Peter as I informed him of the upcoming arrival, could I refuse a gift from Betsy?
A variation on the same strategy occurred with Echo, who joined our family during a time of extreme distress with one of our adult children's mental health. Echo, I told Peter, was going to heal us all. He was joining our household full stop.
Fast forward to the pandemic, when I learned that Betsy's husband was breeding another litter, possibly his last. "Wouldn't it be great to get a puppy?" I said, bracing myself for the list of reasons why it would not be great. I listened to Peter's expected lackadaisical response and then decided drastic times called for drastic measures. "I want to have two dogs one more time in this lifetime," I said. "This would be the last puppy."
Angus has also helped mend our broken hearts at Echo's passing a few months ago.
The ploy worked. We have now had Angus for two years, and he continues to bring me and Peter, with whom he spends at least an hour every day in the woods running and hiking, all the expected joy and wonder. Angus has also helped mend our broken hearts at Echo's passing a few months ago.
But Angus's gift goes far beyond his winsome eyes and enthusiasm for virtually everything life throws his way. While I anticipated joy from watching his puppy antics, what I did not expect was how Angus has helped me realize and appreciate life moments that have absolutely nothing to do with him. Realizing that Angus is the "last" has impacted other parts of my life, and that, as I enter what we can all agree is the last phase, is an unexpected gift.
Better with 'Firsts' Than 'Lasts'
As a society, we are quite good — or at least better — at firsts. First word, first kiss, first job — the list is almost endless and mostly limited by our imagination and lack of wonder as we travel the world around us. We mark these moments — take photos, create celebrations, note them in our journals.
We are less good with lasts. Even the phrases associated with the word — last gasp, last straw, even dead last — imply our lack of interest in considering potential endings.
But thinking about something as the last doesn't have to mean or imply an end. Instead, it can be a reminder to live in the here and now.
Thanks to social media, we are bombarded daily with reminders to be mindful, to live in the moment. How many of us, however, actually do it? How many of us take the time to appreciate what is happening to us as it actually happens? Mostly what happens as we scroll and see the Instagram or TikTok mindful reminders is a second of thinking, Yes I should do that. I will do that, and then the next black lab puppy reel shows up and the thought evaporates.
Angus changed that for me. I'm not saying I'm always aware, but taking the time to appreciate that certain events, from something as simple as a tasty dinner with Peter by the fire as we watch PBS NewsHour to the more obviously momentous, such as our granddaughter's graduation, could be the last time I participate in them has helped make me more appreciative on a daily basis.
As one of Peter's older British cousins said of their thoughts when we discussed this concept, "This will see us out."
Thinking about lasts even helps me with life's potentially annoying moments. No one likes writing a check for a new furnace but somehow thinking it's the last time I'll do it can make it a little less painful.
Car shopping recently was a different experience as well. Why not get the new car instead of our usual used one if this is going to be the last car I get? As one of Peter's older British cousins said of their thoughts when we discussed this concept, "This will see us out."
While my children accuse me of being morbid — here's Mom talking about her death again — my life is so much richer for having this idea percolating in my daily life. And so I try to take a moment to sit back and appreciate — the cup of coffee, that laugh with Peter, that workout at the gym. And if I start to lose track of this idea, Angus is happy to remind me — each and every time he sticks his nose under my hands and forces me to give his ears a good rub.