We found her sixteen years ago when she was running the streets with a pack of small dogs in Queens. What are the chances, this little girl and five Yorkies? We were suspicious of a disreputable pet shop owner in the neighbourhood who was known to keep dogs caged in his basement when they weren’t adopted right away. She was at least six months old, so we figured that maybe he got tired of feeding her and the Yorkies and turned this gang loose to fend for themselves.

My husband caught all of them, enticing the group with biscuits as they ran down our street. The Yorkies were adopted out quickly and without a problem. But what to do with the odd-looking (maybe Dachshund, maybe Papillion, maybe Sheltie, maybe Terrier) mixed breed who had lots of spunk and a big attitude from the beginning? I knew my husband wanted to keep her, but my plate was full at that particular time. My dad was seriously ill and in the hospital and I was busy working fulltime, going to school, and visiting him daily. We also had another dog and a menagerie of cats. But I knew that my guy would assume all the “pet duties,” so I gave in (she was cute in a strange way). And later on, I would link this dog to a time when Dad was still around, when my husband was alive…a little magical thinking but a comfort nonetheless.

She was a character. She would toss a toy in front of our mild-mannered, sweet Pit Bull, and wait for him to pick it up. And when she did, this little terror would charge at him, snapping and barking. The Pit Bull would drop the toy and retreat, tail between his legs, rather than deal with her nonsense. She periodically chased our cats around the house, until she got tired of the game. Then her body language would say, “I dare you to chase me back.” They retreated because they knew better.

When we moved upstate, she had a yard to run free in, and all the squirrels and woodchucks she could terrorize. I was always amazed at how fast she could sprint down the stairs and across the grass, racing past the big dog without resting or panting, even in warm weather. Once, the big guy figured out how to open the back gate and the two of them disappeared into the neighbourhood. He returned first, soaking wet, most likely from swimming in some backyard pools.  She was gone much longer and we thought she was lost and we’d never see her again…and all of a sudden, there she was. She was walking slowly and deliberately up the street and along the curb, into our driveway, and down the walk to the front door. She sat on the step, waiting impatiently for someone to let her in the house, looking like nothing had happened.

She is part of an era past, but she’s still here, although time is not doing her any favours these days. Her once-silky hair mats and falls out in patches, and her eyes are clouded over with cataracts. She is losing teeth and she’s incontinent at night, and sometimes she trips and falls on the stairs. When I go out, she is anxious and hates being left alone. She barks and paces and sometimes vomits. She sleeps more than she used to and is prone to colds and infections, but I don’t mean to sound like she has a miserable life. Not at all. Her life is certainly more difficult, but she still has her own agenda. It takes a little longer for her to become oriented in the morning (which is true of myself as well). But when I finally open the bedroom door, she’s off and running—no, skipping—down the hallway, looking forward to breakfast and a walk outside. If it’s windy or raining or snowing, she likes to stop and sit and squint her eyes, smelling the air and taking it all in before we can continue. She is standoffish with adults, but seems to enjoy the company of children in her old age. The other day she sat with my granddaughter and licked her face, a show of affection that was not in her nature when she was younger.

More than a few times, I have looked at her and thought, “This is it. Prepare yourself, she’s not looking well.” I have rushed her to the veterinarian, hoping that whatever is ailing her can be temporarily fixed since I am not ready to let her go.  The doctor is always amazed at her resolve to stay here a little longer. So am I. I have to admit that I have been a selfish human and imagined what life would be like if I didn’t have to run home for her; if I didn’t have to walk her and clean up after her. But I think that, when her time comes, we will both know. Right now, I look at her curled up in her favourite corner, where the sun comes through the blinds and she feels warm. I think, “Stay a little longer, old dog. You are loved.”