My dog bit me this morning.
Well, “bit” is a little overdramatic. Sally nipped me. Being a pekingese, she can only fit so much finger in her tiny mouth. Combine that with getting roused from a sound sleep, it ended up being a clumsy and largely ineffective attempt at self defense. A couple of worn down, yellow chompers made contact with a calloused finger, and that’s pretty much it. No damage done.
At least not physically.
I felt awful about it, though. The furry little thing was wrapped up tight on my side of the bed, soaking up the remnants of body heat l’d left behind from a long night’s sleep. Focused on the day ahead, I bumbled my way through the dark bedroom to gather clothes, and I reached out to give Sally a quick “good morning” scratch on the back.
That’s when it happened and I reminded myself for the thousandth time.
Sally’s gone deaf.
She doesn’t hear me – or anyone else – entering a room anymore. Calling to her does nothing, and she won’ respond to the sound of food being cooked at the stove. She still hears things people can’t hear, though. Stuff at higher frequencies. Humans detect sound in the range of 20 to 20,000 hertz, but dogs hear at a level three times greater than that. Once in a while, Sally will detect hands clapping, and sometimes mechanically generated noises will make her perk up. So she’s not totally deaf, I guess.
But there’s a barrier between me and my furry, black-and-white sweetheart that’s never been there before.
Last autumn, Sally was a puppy. A 12-year old puppy, granted, but youthful nonetheless. Always up for a bit of fun, running and playing in the backyard, terrorizing our four cats. And taking care of Misty, her golden pekingese companion.
Misty was adopted into our family three years after Sally joined us, and Sally took to her in a way she’s never taken to another dog. Misty was blind, and Sally understood in that special way dogs have that the newest member of the family required help.
On walks, Sally would always patiently let Misty get a snootful of her scent, allowing Misty to follow along, drifting on the subtle odors left in Sally’s wake. At feeding time, Sally never made a grab for Misty’s food. And on days when Misty’s old body was sore and moving slow, Sally would examine her thoroughly, sniffing out the situation and making sure she was ok.
At the end of last October, we said goodbye to Misty. Her body – an incredible 19 years old by best estimates – was shutting down, and we made the difficult choice to help end her suffering. We buried her in the backyard and planted a weeping willow tree next to her. Sally sat and watched as we placed Misty in the ground, and when it was over, she walked over and sniffed the freshly turned soil that covered her companion.
Nearly a year passed. And for the first time, Sally got old.
Nine years ago when we adopted Misty, she was roughly 12 years old. At the time, this seemed astonishingly aged. Now, Sally is the same age, and having experienced the years Misty put on between then and last year, it doesn’t seem so old after all.
But it is.
Time collects its toll one way or another, and everyone and everything pays along the way. The fee for Sally, a dozen years through life, was her hearing.
Late this morning, I sat in an American sign language (ASL) class, surrounded by people of various ages and abilities. Some of the students are deaf, while others use ASL to meet other types of communication deficits. I’m fairly new to this communication modality, but I’m getting used to it as I sign daily with those I work with and expand my vocabulary.
I’ve begun to expand my vocabulary with Sally, too. I still call to her when it’s time for a walk. I’m certain I always will. There’s a lot of joy in that act. But she doesn’t come running anymore, and I need to find her on her bed, under the love seat, or upstairs on or under the big bed. And I try to wake her without startling her – she sleeps so much these days – and I wave my hand in a “come on” sort of gesture. And she gets it. A few seconds later, it’s old times, and we’re going down the sidewalk at full speed, tail wagging, tongue hanging out, sniffer sniffing.
Suddenly, Sally hasn’t aged a bit.
And neither have I.