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By Jillian A. Bogater
For better or for worse.
In sickness and in health.
Adopting a pet is a commitment that parallels marriage.
For years, I have had two dogs: Lexie (a small black lab) and Lili (a Snausage-shaped black-and-tan cocker spaniel). They are truly opposites. Lexie is the laid-back elder, who sheds her short black hair everywhere. Lili is a short, fat pup who doesn’t shed, but makes up for it with skin allergies and a penchant to bark at anything that catches her eye.
Over the years, we’ve gone hiking, camping, swimming … but this past summer, we went on our first prolonged roadtrip.
I had just taken a buyout from The Detroit News, and at the same time my dear Nana was very ill. So I packed the dogs into my baby SUV and drove south. In all, the three of us were on the road for a little over a month. Lexie preferred sitting up front, intently watching as the scenery changed, while Lili curled up in the back, anxiously waiting for us to reach our daily destination.
We took the scenic route down, through the Smoky Mountains, over to Savannah, Ga., south to St. Augustine, Fla. (where they both enjoyed a day at a luxurious doggie spa as I toured the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind).
A couple weeks before, on a quick trip to Florida to check in on Nana in the hospital, she asked when I was returning. I said as soon as I got back to Michigan I would pack my car and head back. She then grabbed my hand and asked about Lexie.
“Is she coming? I want to see Lexie,” she pleaded.
I told her Lex would be in her lap very soon.
By the time the dogs and I made it down to Florida, Nana was back at home but bed-bound. As soon as I opened the front door, Lexie ran through, directly to Nana’s room, even though it was her first time there. Lex sat at the foot of the bed, waiting for me when I walked in. She looked over, asking permission, before gently hopping up on the bed and crawling up to Nana to give her a gentle lick on the chin.
On the way back, I rewarded the dogs by camping for a week at the base of a waterfall in Asheville, N.C. The remote property is owned by two lesbians, and it felt great to decompress on woman-owned land, while allowing my dogs to romp in the creek everyday.
A third wheel
As the seasons changed, and the leaves fell to the ground, I felt something was missing. And somehow convinced myself that something was a third dog. On a whim, I drove over to the Westland Humane Society office, and that same afternoon left with a large puppy named Roger. His black paws were almost as large as his head, but the caretaker assured me he would only grow to about 55 pounds. Needless to say, she was wrong … but that was the least of my worries.
The first couple weeks with Roger were flawless. He taught my dogs how to use the doggie door my dad and granddad had installed weeks earlier, and they all seemed to enjoy the new pup energy.
Then things started to turn up missing.
Like my wallet. My pajama bottoms. My school backpack.
I looked all over the house. Started doubting my sanity. “I KNOW I just had my wallet!” I would scream. “How could the laundry basket just disappear?!?” I cried out, incredulously.
And then I looked out the back window, and gasped.
Strewn across the yard was everything I had lost, and then some.
Over the next couple months, I lost not one, but two, pairs of gorgeous Gucci eyeglasses, my Bluetooth phone headset, iPod earphones, countless pairs of socks and shoes. He also decided to custom-design the front room wood windowsill with his teeth. Financially, he has put me in a hole larger than the ones he also feels compelled to dig in the yard.
As Charlie Brown would say: Uuuuuuuuuuugh!
But instead of tying him to a tree somewhere, I learn from these experiences. I put my (now fourth pair of) glasses somewhere safe when I take them off. I put my shoes away when they are not on my feet. I don’t leave socks on the floor. Stuff that my parents (and exes) would be real happy to hear.
It seems overnight my pup Lexie turned gray. I can’t pinpoint the exact day it happened, but suddenly she had a white muzzle and white feet.
I’ve been saying she’s “about 7 or 8” for a while now, and just realized the ol’ girl is at least 10 years old.
There’s no doubt she’s top dog in my household, the elder of a pack of three. Despite her gray fur and developing cataracts, she’s still my baby girl. Each night, she reminds me so in our bedtime ritual. Just when she thinks I’m almost asleep, she nudges the sheets at my neck, and slips under like a snake, curling behind my legs.
She sleeps longer, isn’t as patient with the puppy, but still holds her own when she wants to wrestle away her favorite stuffed camel from Roger.
Yes, the relationship I have with my furry friends parallels marriage. A lot of hard work, communication (“NO! Roger! Drop it!!!”), lots of shit to deal with, to scoop up, but also a mountain of tail wags, wet noses and sneaky kisses.
And I’ll take that tradeoff. ‘Til death do we part.