I was just starting to vacuum today-usually one of Amy’s chores, but taken over by me until she gets rid of her cough-when I decided that it was just too nice outside to be in. So I grabbed my camera and headed for the back yard, with a little friend at my heels. Willow-our other dog. Our small Shepherd Sheltie mix. She inspired this post.
I’ve written about Willow before, and how she came to be our dog. How for the first year and a half of her life, she’d just seemed to get off on the wrong paw-being born to a mother who was a stray, and being one of only two puppies in the litter to survive. How she spent her early months in the shelter, only to be adopted by a family who found she was not the right fit. And how, more than 14 years ago we entered the picture, because we could not bear the thought of this poor dog going back to the shelter again.
14 years ago.
How can that be? Willow was a wild young lass back then, with no formal training to speak of, when we said we’d take her. She was a year and a half old, and had so much to learn. She wasn’t even house broken. The third day we had her she escaped and ran away. At the time, I had the fleeting thought that it might be a blessing in disguise, because quite frankly I didn’t know how to handle her. I don’t even remember how we recaptured her-she was extremely fast in those days! But recapture her, we did, and the training began. That long, rewarding process of letting Willow learn to trust us and become a responsible part of our family.
The years went by and then it happened. We realized that Willow was getting old. A little gray around her muzzle. A little stiffness in her legs after a long walk. She’s almost 15 and a half now. Her eyes are failing and she can’t hear very well. Her breathing seems labored most of the time and she wheezes a lot. (In fact, at night, her snoring is so loud it’s as though a freight train is rumbling through the house!) Her teeth are bad, and she has arthritis. And still, her vet sees her as something of a wonder dog. She’s outlived many other dogs. Dogs who had a much easier start in life.
These days, Willow sleeps a lot. Those long ago races around the neighborhood at break neck speed are behind her. And when she isn’t napping, she is constantly “hoovering” for food, obsessed even, and we wonder if the memories of being a starving stray puppy have come back to her. She has “accidents” in the house, leaves puddles of drool everywhere, and is often underfoot, tripping us-especially in the kitchen. To be honest, she takes as much patience now as she did in her wild youth.
And then I think back to the time before Kona, about three years ago, when we visited our local humane society because we’d decided the time was right to begin our search for a second dog. There, at the shelter, was the most heart breaking collection of unwanted dogs-some old, some sick, and many too weak or ill to manage more than a slight wag of the tail. They all deserved better.
Willow definitely is our little wonder dog. Though at times we wonder how we can care for her while retaining our sanity, mostly we just think she is wonderful, and love her for being herself. Which is doing the best she can.
Even at 15 and a half, Willow is still fast enough to be a blur in this photo!