How can you live with a dog,
with its lifespan of ten to fifteen years,
and not realize how quickly the clock
How can you live with a dog,
Late one morning last week, alerted by one of these yelping fits, I rushed to the kitchen to open the back door for Ella. As usual, she tried to squeeze through the opening before it was wide enough for her. Then she clattered down the stairs from our second-story deck, and I could hear her charging around the yard like a wounded rhino. She started barking from near the gate at the side of the house, so I leaned over the railing to make sure the gate was shut.
What I saw when I looked down was a squirrel climbing past the security lights installed on the corner of our brick building. (I wished I had a camera but my iPhone was in the apartment, charging. The photo below is one I took a few minutes later.) Ella was on her hind legs, barking up at the squirrel. The moment the crafty little rodent saw me peering down at it, it changed direction and darted along the railing of the deck below ours.
I hurried toward the stairs, my only intent being to flush the squirrel in Ella's direction. (I'm a good wingman for her in that regard, as is Laura.) But the squirrel didn't stop when it reached the end of our downstairs neighbors deck railing. It launched itself through the air, over Ella's head, leaping six feet to snatch at the branch of a tree in the garden. In moments it had swarmed up the trunk of the tree and made its escape over the roof of the garage.
We were on our way back home after nearly two hours out when Ella communicated to me that she would like to explore the alley we were passing. She did this by stopping at the mouth of the alley and looking down it pointedly. At this stage in our walks, I'm usually eager to get home so my custom is to tell her no and make her keep walking. But we had plenty of time that morning and I'd made her leave the park before she was quite ready, so I relented.
Ella spent a lot of time sniffing around a group of black plastic trash bins in the alley before she'd let me move on. Her fascination with squirrels is rivaled only by her fascination with rats, so I kept a close eye on her. We continued through the alley and then back up the next block where a squirrel with a peanut in its mouth taunted us from a tree behind a fence. Soon we were back on our original route home, but Ella tugged me into the next alley we passed. She made a beeline for another group of black plastic bins and darted into a gap between them.
I saw a little shadow with a naked tail flash through the gap. Ella struck, and when she drew her head back a rat the size of my fist was wriggling in her jaws.
Ella had a tough night, with thunder and lightning hunting for her in the early morning hours. I had a hard time getting her out the door at dawn for her walk. Then I had a hard time getting her out of the yard. Then I hard a hard time getting her down the block. It was no longer storming, but Ella well knows that the thunder is just lurking around the next corner, waiting to spring out of hiding and attack us. She can sense it.
Normally Laura or I will walk her for a full hour in the morning, but Ella and I had only been out for ten balky minutes this morning when I made a deal with her. (And she understood the deal. She did, at least the key words.) I told her that all she had to do was poop, and then we could turn around and go home. She trotted along after me after that, not happy but at least hopeful.
We reached a townhouse development where we frequently chase squirrels. She trotted along the short side of that block just fine, but then she balked when we reached the corner. She would not budge. She was done.
I try not to lie to our dog very often, but I was desperate to keep her moving and not compromise my authority (further) by turning us around. So I said, "Ella, there's a squirrel around the corner."
But those few moments of facing the prospect of arthritis only reinforce the sad knowledge that Ella is getting older. She's eight years old, well into middle age for a dog, and though we joke (somewhat desperately) that she has another thirty or forty years left in her, we know that's not the case. (It's more like fifty.)
News organizations keep obituaries of public figures ready to go, just in case. I keep thinking that I should start working on Ella's obituary now because I'll be in no shape to do it when it's needed. We are no respecters of species hereElla is the third person in our family, and I know that when I have to write that blog entry I'm going to leave out some of the important details of her life and personality that I want so much to preserve.
There's the slight crookedness of her spine, which means that when you're walking behind her in a straight line you can see how her hindquarters are angled a couple inches to the right. There's the way she decides some mornings that she wants to walk all the way to the lakeshore and resists all attempts to turn her from that eastward path with a withering staredown. There's the way she often misses the first step when she goes charging up the back stairs. There's the way, when she has a toy in her mouth, that she likes to bash you in the backs of the legs so you'll keep playing tug with hereven if that toy happens to be a stick three feet long and perfectly positioned to take you out at the knees. There's the way that she'll try to pick up even a huge fallen willow bough to drag around with her at the park. There's the way she can't control herself when you reach for the plastic bag with her basketball inside and starts hurling herself into the air to bite at it. There's the way that she invented her own game to play with that basketball, chasing it so she can push it around with her face. There's the way she kicks back dirt in every direction but the direction where she left her droppings. There's the way she loves to tease other dogs when they're leashed and she's not. There's the way she sometimes goes on a tear at the park and runs in huge figure-eights for the sheer joy of it. There's the way, when it snows, that she can't seem to walk four feet without throwing herself down on her back and wriggling around in the powder. There the way, when she hasn't eaten her breakfast, that the urgent devouring of it suddenly sidetracks her when we're trying to usher her out the back door. There's the way that, if we give her a treat before leaving her alone at home, she won't eat it until one or the other of us has returned. There's the way she scratches at the hardwood floor like making a nest before she collapses onto her side and curls up. There's the way she sighs and rests her chin on your knee while you're reading on the couch.
Do I need to tell you how it started? Okay, it burned a little when I peed. (Don't worryLaura's story and mine are not related.) This went on for a couple of days and I didn't pay much attention to it, but then on Saturday morning it didn't just burn. It felt like a red-hot poker was being jabbed up there when I peed.
Our doctor doesn't have office hours on weekends, so I took myself to a clinic. The doctor there didn't take much of a medical history from me, but he put me on an antibiotic in case it was a urinary tract infection, told me to drink lots of water, and sent me home.
Anyway, I was working in the study yesterday afternoon when I heard Paul opening the back door. Ella heard him too, of course, and came trotting into my office with her cigar in her mouth. She stopped by my chair, looked up at me, and set the cigar carefully down on the floor. Then she looked up at me again and scooted out the door to greet Paul. The implication was clear: Will you please watch my treat while I'm gone?
Or, as Laura put it in a text message when I told her what had happened: You are the keeper of her most precious items!!!
It's eerie how clearly Ella sometimes manages to communicate her intentions. It's obvious what she wants when she brings a tennis ball to one of us and wags her tail, but some more complex messages are just as easy to parse. Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, Ella came to find me in the study once again. She stood looking up at me and wagging her tail until I took notice of her, then turned and trotted to the door. She looked back. Okay, she wanted me to follow her, so I did.
But wait! For a limited time only, we're offering a 20% off discount. That's a whole year of Ella for only $14.39. But wait! Through tomorrow you can take another 20% off that already crazy price if you use the discount code BURIED at checkout. That's only $11.51 plus shipping and handling. What a steal!
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I made my first ever post about Ella on April 12, 2004. That was just a couple of days before Laura brought her home from the Chicago suburbs to our Queens apartment. Ella a little over six months old. She's been part of our family now for nearly seven and a half years, and it's hard to remember a time when she wasn't with us.
Happy birthday, Ella! We look forward to celebrating eighty more with you.
We often say, my wife and I,
that Ella is our first dog,
the one you make your mistakes on.
But for me, that isn't true.
My first dog was Jessie,
a runty black shepherd mix.
Some of the mistakes I made
with Jessie were things like
Don't scold the dog unless
you catch her in the act.
Don't let the dog bite you.
Don't ever hit the dog.
Don't buy a dog with someone
you don't like, let alone love.
All mistakes I wouldn't
ever ever make with Ella.