Earlier this month, our little six-pound canine leader, Athena, passed away at the age of sixteen. She was pretty much nothing much more than dog hair on bones, struggled to walk better than a drunken sailor, and was done with going outside to pee or poop. Still, to the very end, she ate like a horse. Athena passed away in my arms while my wife was at work. Like many other dog lovers have done, I sobbed tears of sorrow while being thankful her slow and painful decline was over. We buried her in our backyard later that afternoon.
We still have four other small dogs who keep us plenty entertained, but they also keep us bound to our home. It’s hard to take off for any length of time and leave them on their own. Finding someone to look after pets is not easy when some have special dietary needs while others need certain meds in the morning and evening. It’s asking a lot for someone to take on that task.
Toby, now our oldest, has canine Lupus. He hobbles with stiff aching joints and spends most of his day observing the rest of our crew. Lately, we refer to him as Hoover because his prednisone has him walking the house with his nose to the floor, a canine vacuum cleaner in search of bits of food. He sports a bow tie and is by far our most relaxed dog. He’s content to lie in a bed on the floor while the others are sleeping on the couch when we watch TV in the evening. When I am working in my office, Toby is usually lying on the rug next to my desk.
Betty, the daughter of Toby and Athena, loves cuddling, gets up and leaves when someone farts, and loves to get others riled up by playing with squeaky toys. She must eat a low-fat diet and if her food ever gets changed, well, let’s just say the results are never pretty. She loves to lie on top of the couch by the front door where she waits for my wife to return home from work. Less than eight pounds, she doesn’t take crap from anyone and begins everyday happily hopping down the hallway like a rabbit.
Mini is our largest and strongest dog (17 pounds) as well as our shyest. I picked her up when she was a puppy at a home where she spent her days in a small cage with another dog, too afraid to step out because of the pit bulls that ran amuck in the yard. She hesitates to walk through doorways and always lets others eat before her. Still, she is also the first to bark at a delivery person and stays up much of the night to guard the rest of us while we sleep. Her hair is unlike anything I have seen. Her vet says the same. Mini loves the outdoors and would make a wonderful ranch dog.
Then there is Peanut. According to his vet, he is a brat. She was being nice. Peanut thinks every toy is his, believes he oversees everything and everyone, and is the only one of the bunch who I take for walks. You see, if I didn’t, he’d spend all day every day sleeping. No animal has mastered the art of sleeping like he has. At five and a half years old, he still nurses on a blanket. Peanut came down with a bad case of White Shaker Syndrome at just six months which put him in a state of constant seizure due to brain inflammation. Thousands of dollars later and a few years of treatment have been worth it because his antics are hilarious.
However, we are still adjusting to life without our fearless leader. Athena ran roughshod over the others, was diligent with her daily newscasts (4 pm for our neighbors down the street and 5 pm for those up the street) and loved being doted over whether it was wearing one of her many fashionable coats, taking a warm bath, or receiving a massage which always calmed her down. She was Athena the Bitch for a well-deserved reason.
After losing one of her many fights she got into with her daughter Betty, Athena was her typical rage driven self while we fed her on the kitchen counter. It was from this perch she noticed Betty below on the kitchen floor unaware that Athena was eying her. In an instant, Athena, fragile bones, and all, made her move and jumped off the counter on top of Betty with the intent to kill her. Unfortunately, she failed to stick the landing, bounced off Betty and onto her back. Before Athena could get to her feet, she was begging my wife and I to pull her daughter off her jugular.
For Athena, the world was black or white and you either followed her rules or you received an earful from her. She was the same way with my wife and me as she was with our other dogs. Toward the end, she became too tired to direct but remained tough as nails. She’d get rolled over by the others as their excitement over my wife and I returning home would result in a mad dash to the front door. Athena would pick herself up and proceed to squeeze her way between the others and insist on being picked up first.
Time heals and as it passes, we will adjust to our smaller family dynamic. There are no more fights to worry about, fewer rules for the remaining dogs to follow, and a little more space on our couch each evening. Dogs have a way of reminding us just how precious our time is while we are here. The hardiest and liveliest person will eventually age and fade away like our Athena did. If that person is lucky, he will be surrounded by those who love him most and share their final breath held in the arms of a loved one, just as Athena was able to.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.