One More Hill To Climb

The first time I saw Addie in person she was nine weeks old and shrieking to get out of the crate she’d been flown to me in. I opened the door to the crate and welcomed her to my comforting arms – which she completely ignored, preferring instead to head toward the tarmac in search, I’m pretty sure, of something to yell at. Ruh-roh, I thought.

She was a backup dog, selected exactly the wrong way, in a hurry from the internet. My son’s recovery from meningitis and coma had left him struggling to relate to people, but easily able to relate to our dog Betty. And then a month into his recovery Betty got sick, and the vets said she probably wouldn’t make it. I needed a Swissy fast so my son could find his way back to the world that missed him, with a dog as his guide, and so I found Addie.

Or Dogzilla. Or Badeline. Gladeline. Beastie. My Goddamned dog.

Dear Goddamned Dog,
This weather is not my fault. Not the wind, not the cold, not the hooded men with machines, not the salt on the walkways.

I’ve tried to take you out – you won’t go. It’s therefore completely unfair of you to approach the pile of papers next to where I’m sitting, bark directly at me and, when not responded to in the way you desire, look at me, step on them and start to rip them up with your teeth.

FINE. We can do some training. But this time you have to be the one getting trained.

Your Person

She’s the kind of dog that keeps a trainer humble. Barky. A little bitey as a pup. A little guardy with other dogs, including Betty, who was endlessly patient and kind. A little reactive. Hyper-excitable. Demonically clever. Mechanical – God, so mechanical, learning to turn doorknobs with her muzzle, zippers with her teeth, peeling snack bar packages and cheese sticks open using what are clearly her hidden thumbs.

Dear Goddamned Dog,
I’d like to talk to you about covers and beds. You see, you have fur, which automatically makes you warm, and therefore technically able to sleep without covers.

I however, do need covers to keep warm. Also, I bought a king-sized bed to share, not so that you could hog it, extending your mass across the entire mattress. When you’ve spread yourself to roughly eighty inches square of surface area, that only allows you to be about ½” thick. No wonder you need covers.

Regardless, it is not nice to then ball yourself up in the center of the bed, taking all the covers with you as you form a dollop of taunting warmth I can only steal a corner of from time to time.

While I’ve learned to accommodate by hiding a small throw under my pillow to prevent late night hypothermia, it seems unfair, somehow, that you’ve got the comforter, the blanket and the sheet. The 1200 thread count, 100% brushed Egyptian cotton sheet.

Today I bought a fiber-fill twin sized comforter for your dog bed. I’d like you to know that I intend this to be for your use and not mine. Just to be clear.

Your Person

But she’s also the kind of dog every mother wants around her kids. Convincing Addie she isn’t one of the boys has always been a challenge. She loves them so, loves their stinky parties, their snack-filled backpacks left lying in reach. Always in the thick of it, greeting each new kid coming in like the long-lost friend they are. All babies and toddlers and teens and 20-somethings are to be celebrated, and the more kids the merrier, a wide smile on her face as she cruises around the heads (and dropped crumbs) of varying heights.

She’s also an excellent trainer, not only welcoming all new tenants and exchange students no matter what shape or color or nationality, but showing them the ropes. Last week a new guest said to me, “Can I ask you a question? Addie runs up and barks and greets me when I come home, and then she runs over to the counter and waits by the dog treats. I’ve been giving her three. Is that enough? Also, how much pizza am I supposed to give her?”

Dear Goddamned Dog,
Your brilliance is always lurking, but today I watched you train your Thing.

Yes, I have always rewarded you for looking at me the minute we step outside – the better to hamper your instinct to search for marauding Nazis and Werewolves in the bushes. Thing 1 did not remember this.

So I watched out my window as you refused to move from the porch. He pleaded, pulled, flapped his arms in frustration, yet you did not budge. Then you both looked through the window in my direction.

Thing 1: Jesus, what’s up with the dog?

Dog: Jesus, what’s up with the Thing?

I came out and explained, the Thing gave you your piece of cheese and together you walked happily away in the sunshine, Thing 1 looking forward, you giving just one glance back at me: “He’ll get it someday. Thanks for the assist. You’ve really got to fill him in better next time.”

My apologies, Goddamned Dog.

Your Person

Addie is also the bravest dog I’ve ever met. The fears and compulsive licking started kicking in around her 18 month mark and just got worse. Wind was terrifying. Storms, terrifying. Fireworks even worse, and the night one went off over our heads sent her into the storm door with such force that the metal panel bent inward, and the door had to be replaced. It was months before she’d venture outside again after dusk. Items falling off of counters, trash barrels being thrown by the garbage men, flapping bags and detritus in trees and power lines all cause for great concern, and sometimes hiding. No drugs, no training, no  behavior protocols changed any of that. But she’s always willing to try things, always game to go with me wherever I’m headed.

And then there are the illnesses. A mystery stomach ailment that almost killed her. Two bouts of mast cell cancer. Multiple slab fractures from teeth weakened by all the licking. Low thyroid. Cushing’s Disease. A complete disc extrusion at L-7 S-1. Spinal surgery lessened the pain, but her footing is now unsure, stairs treacherous, her Dozilla jumping up on things no longer possible. Her unique system makes her extremely hard to medicate and sedate, and so she’s come out of these things, sometimes just barely, sick and sore and freaked out from the drugs’ effects. But always walking toward me, staying by my side til she’s ready to move again.

Dear Goddamned Dog,
We have to talk about rain. And Christmas cookies, but rain first.

For almost 12 years now we’ve discussed this. I do not control the sky, and shooting me baleful looks really isn’t necessary when it’s pouring out for me to understand your displeasure. And it’s quite impressive how long you can hold your bladder, I’ll give you that.

But when things are just wet it should be a different story. It is NOT RAINING OUT. You can see this because I’m standing outside, holding the door for you, and I’m not wet. I’m not wearing any of the wet-stopping clothes you used to try to crawl under when you were younger. The birds and squirrels are all looking at you as you stop at the threshold unconvinced, like some Rain Truther, spending minutes looking for evidence of the hidden torrent you’re sure is just waiting for you to step outside. At this point they know you so well that they don’t even flee as you, the large predator, are not likely to chase them lest your feet get wet.

When you finally do make it all the way outside, relieving yourself and then rushing back to minimize your steps on the soggy ground, I am always out there with you to be sure the door to The Dry Place opens quickly. This is how I show my love.

The last several days, while I’ve been still outside picking up after you, you been frantically barking. Insistent. Urgent. Come quickly, Person, you are needed immediately! I admit to some concern the first time it happened, but I’ve come to learn what it means: there are Christmas cookies lying unattended on the mantle, or on the counter in the kitchen, or perhaps on a table somewhere.

The time it takes for me to wash my hands and find the source of your urgency is apparently way too long, and so you’ve taken to running back and forth between me and the neglected confections, eventually facing me head on to bark full volume, “buff” more quietly once and then walk away disgusted. This is how you show your love.
We will need to discuss this further over tea, Goddamned Dog. I’ll just have one of the crescent moon cookies while we’re talking, as I’m aware that the star-shaped ones are your favorite.

Your Person

Yet through it all she’s been my training partner and adventurer. Balancing things on her head has been particularly fun as I watch her expression change, depending on food or non-food, as she battles her super-ego in a clear “must not eat” struggle.

We’ve gone to countless seminars and workshops together, tried herding, competed in Rally and Obedience, graduated from the Karen Pryor Academy, with Addie helping me through a vicious flu on the final test day, my dizzy head and clouded brain no impediment for my brilliant, willing and able dog. We passed with flying colors. ‘Ad,” the one name I forgot to mention above, all I’ve ever needed to say for her to tune me in and join me in whatever we’re doing.

Dear Goddamned Dog,
You are Swiss. This means you like snow. Alps. Cheese. Cuckoo clocks. Really even grass trimmed with hand scissors. Edelweiss.

That means that it is completely unacceptable that you refuse to go outside with me while I shovel your private bathroom. It is also unacceptable that you bark insistently until I come back inside. And while I understand that you feel I possess great powers, refusing to walk at all while staring at me balefully helps neither your energy level nor my humor. Plus there are only so many Kongs a dog can have until she needs that bathroom area you’re refusing to use.

It’s times like this I regret having sent you to private school.

Your Person

And now we’re at another hill we have to climb together as cancer has returned, this time to her front foot.  With barely a back end, our options are limited. Maybe it’s just an outer toe, in which case I’ll give one more piece off of my dog in exchange for more time, more adventures, more trying, more goddamned dog with her pushy, serious, funny, exasperating, loving ways.

Dear Goddamned Dog,
I will try for you as long as I possibly can. I know someday, maybe soon, I’ll have to betray your trust and bring your deepest fear to bear, and I wish I could change that. But until then I will stand by you as you have stood by me, and I will try as hard as you do, and I will take your lead and try not to let fear stop us from finding the good things together.

Meantime, please don’t change a single thing you do, because I love you, my goddamned dog. You are magnificent.

Your Person


  1. Beautifully said. We can relate to the decisions and emotions as our beloved dogs age and face medical hurdles. Where did the time go?

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