“Happy birthday, Boy,” I whispered as I scratched his now-completely gray ears. He didn’t move. He’s deaf, and he likes to sleep. It’s mostly all he does these days.
My heart ached as I watched him. It’s his birthday and I should be happy he’s still alive, but instead I feel sad. This could be the last birthday we’re together. Fifteen years is a good, long time for a dachshund to be on this earth.
It was a beautiful spring day when we drove up to Santa Rosa to get him. His tiny body belied his playful personality and gregarious spirit. He fit in my two cupped palms. His mom’s name was Ruby and his dad was Spike, and on the way home he curled up in my lap, tucked his nose and feet in toward each other, all twisty and pretzely. By the time we got back to San Francisco, his name was Pretzel.
He was my first baby and we were inseparable in those days, Pretzel and I. Before the human babies came, we spent hours at the beach or the park every day. When his short legs couldn’t carry him anymore I scooped him up and bundled him into my fleece. Dachshunds are bred to burrow, and from his very first night with us he nosed his way under the sheets and blankets, and slept curled at my feet or right next to my pregnant belly. His reddish-brown fur is grayer each day, but he is still the warmest, softest bed partner ever.
As I watched him slowly open his now blind and milky eyes this morning, my heart tugged as I remembered the ever-present, frisky, high-spirited doggy he once was. Suddenly his tail started to wag as he lay there, warm in my bed. Almost as if he knew what I was thinking. And he was reminding me that he’s still here.
He is old, this dachshund, but he’s still here. And watching him live and age over these last 15 years, he’s taught me a few things:
1. Eyes may develop cataracts, bright, healthy fur fades and grays, and in time even the floppiest ears lose their hearing. But an inherently happy, determined spirit will keep you alive even when your heart and bladder are weak.
2. Blatant chutzpah will get you what you want, even at 105. This little dachshund bumps into walls and doors, has a hard time walking up and down stairs, and can’t hear us when we call him. But when he wants a slice of brisket he knows where to find it, and how to get it. Even if it’s high up on the dining room table.
3. Which brings me to his appreciation for good food. His appetite has not completely disappeared but he definitely doesn’t eat with the same gusto as he used to. Unless it’s leftover chicken or hamburgers. Watching him wolf down a chicken leg in no time, I wonder if his bowl stays full during the day because he is saving his appetite for the good stuff. Who wants Beneful when there’s a chance of steak for dinner?
4. There are all kinds of ways to love each other, but unconditionally may be the purest, sweetest and hardest to come by. Unless you have a dog. He will love you if you walk him and he will love you if you don’t. She will love you if you leave her for hours, or even for a few weeks. They will love you, no matter what. And that is the most heartwarming, fulfilling way to be loved.
He is old, our Pretzel. And he’s still here.