Old dogs

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION - SU­SAN ESTRICH is a columnist with Cre­ators Syn­di­cate. For more in­for­ma­tion about Cre­ators writ­ers and car toon­ists, visit www.cre­ators.com.

Old do gs teach you the mean­ing of love.

Judy couldn’ t get up this morn­ing. She’s 14, my old­est, and she’s named af­ter my best friend, who died. A bril­liant idea, it seemed, at the time. I was miss­ing her, and this would be a way to talk to her ev­ery day.

The first Judy taught me not to be afraid of dogs. It sounds silly, but my mother raised me to fear them. She couldn’t bear the thought of los­ing a dog, so we never had one; my mother was so afraid of life that some­times it seemed she hardly dared to live.

My friend Judy’s dog, who rode in the car for two hours to go to the door in the hospi­tal park­ing lot where Judy would meet her in her wheel­chair, was named Molly. My 12-yearold dog is Molly. Irv­ing, 10 years old and the baby of the bunch, is named for my fa­ther, who died 40 years ago.

Three old dogs. I try not to think about it. Rosie helped me raise my chil­dren and now helps me take care of my dogs. The chil­dren are grown. The dogs are old. Rosie’s dog, Sun­shine, is Judy’s sis­ter. She beat cancer. How do you freeze time?

Just days ago, so smug was I, telling the wo­man who put in my gar­den that of course I would cover the cost of surgery for her dog, younger than any of mine; that I was happy to pay, happy so long as it was not my dog. When she came by to­day to pick up the check, my son was car­ry­ing Judy out­side. How fool­ish to feel smug. Rosie left for Rome to­day on a church trip, some­thing she has dreamed of all her life. I pushed her out the door. My son came and is stay­ing with me.

So I didn’t prac­tice law to­day. I don’t know what any­one wanted. I didn’t write a brief or read a case. I sat with Judy. Our ap­point­ment was at 4:30. She didn’t get up at 6 a.m., but I did. I stroked her head un­til it was time to take her to the vet. A lot of hours. I fed her from my hand. I watched her breathe. I kissed her and told her how much I loved her. I re­minded her how, back when she was a lit­tle puppy, I told her that she would be big­ger than all the big dogs she hid from. And she is.

And­sheist he sweet­est girl in the world. Molly thinks Judy is her mother. Molly was sick when we brought her home — abused, we as­sumed. Judy took her into her bed, and they have been to­gether ev­ery night since. When we took Judy to the vet, Molly waited by the door. When we got home, she got in bed with her.

Our vet, Dr. Sch­langer, is a won­der­ful man. I am a very good cus­tomer. My dogs get bet­ter care than most peo­ple on the planet: bet­ter care mean­ing more lov­ing care, and not just more vis­its and pills. He just saw me a few weeks ago for Judy’s arthri­tis. We talked about how well she was do­ing.

I was not sup­posed to be back to­day. My son sat with me. They took an X-ray. “Not bad,” Dr. Sch­langer said. “She might get bet­ter.” They found a har­ness, and we walked her out­side. She went to the bath­room. I filled the pre­scrip­tions: some of the same meds I take.

By the time we left she was a lit­tle bet­ter — al­most stand­ing on her own. She rode home in my lap. No mir­a­cles promised. But maybe. I’ll take maybe.

My mother was wrong. Lov­ing Judy is the best of me, lov­ing dogs, lov­ing my chil­dren: This is the best I can be. Even if I can­not freeze time. Es­pe­cially so.


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