Isn’t it funny how one tiny little incident will conjure a memory from the past and put a whole new perspective on a situation. Some friends sold their home and asked if I wanted their cat. My first thought was a definite “No!” but then I remembered some life lessons we learned a few years ago from dog-sitting some other friends’ little Sheltie.
They were going to Florida for a week and didn’t want to take their dog Mandy out of her environment because she was deaf. I remember that Jim and I both looked at each other, both thinking the same thing, "No way, no how! How would we possibly communicate with a deaf dog!"
So, we were agreed. We drove down to our friends to politely decline. Then we met Mandy and, after a half hour of not finding the right words to decline and having those big brown eyes stare at us, we both said, “What would you like us to do?”
They showed us the list of when and what she ate, when she took her thyroid medicine, her usual potty schedule, and her vet’s phone number, which by the way, was their brother-in-law who would also be out of town for the weekend. Yipes!
Since Jim had been the first to agree to the deal, and as he was retired, I told him that he could basically be the one to stay and I would spend a couple nights with him. Little did I know how rewarding the following week would be and that it would change the rest of our lives, with lessons we would learn from Mandy.
The first day, naturally, was the hardest trying to get in the routine. But Mandy seemed to know and “walked” us through the day. She would lie quietly and just watch us, whatever room we were in she would follow. I had heard horror stories about when owners went away and left their pets, they would feel so lonely they wouldn’t eat. I just knew that would be the case. I sure was wrong on that point!
When it was time for breakfast or supper she would bark twice and go to the kitchen. She licked her plate clean, including her pill, which I went to great lengths to conceal in her food. Sometimes she would even pick it out and leave it to last then look up at us and swallow her pill like she was saying, “I know what you did.” No, communication was definitely not a problem.
Then she would sit quietly and watch us eat. She never begged for a bite, not literally but those big brown eyes did. So, the rule became that she got the first bite and the last bite no matter if it was a tidbit of meat, breakfast cereal, or pretzels. Once I was peeling an orange and she wanted a bite. I told her she wouldn’t like it but she persisted until we gave it a try. She took a bite, gave us a weird look out of the corner of her eye and ate it. But she did walk away and not ask for more!
Pottying became a ritual too. We slept in their king-size bed, a real treat for us. Every morning at precisely 3 a.m., Mandy would paw my side of the bed. Jim either didn’t hear her or was very good at pretending he didn’t. It was the middle of winter so by the time I got my coat, boots, hat and gloves on she was definitely ready to go out. She knew she had to wait for the leash because she liked to chase whatever else was out roaming. By mid-week all three of us were pottying at this time, each of us taking turns taking her out.
I never thought I would be admitting this but, after a couple of nights, I actually looked forward to this time. At this time of night the moon and stars were so incredibly bright, the air was so crisp and it was so amazingly quiet. All this time I had been missing this wonderful, peaceful time. After she did her business, we always made a trip around the barns before going back inside. She loved to eat snow, and we would have been out there all night if she had her way. Back inside, snuggling under those warm covers and drifting back to dreamland was the most peaceful sleep I’d had in a long time.
Evenings became a relaxing routine that we hadn’t known in quite a while either. At home when we would sit down for the night, we would always jump up every few minutes because there was always a phone call to make or an unfinished project to do. We had forgotten how to relax and just enjoy each other’s company.
That didn’t happen in Mandy’s house. Each evening we would retire to the living room, make some popcorn and watch a movie, all three of us. Mandy especially liked the ones that had dogs in them, go figure! Her ears would perk and she’d tilt her head and watch every movement on the screen. Sometimes she would nudge each of us over and then lay down between us. Jim would rub her ears, I would pet her, and we would just sit and talk about our day. I couldn’t remember such relaxing evenings in a long time, and Mandy just seemed to lay there contentedly thinking, “This is how it’s supposed to be.”
Before we knew it, it was our last day there, and I realized I’d stayed every night. As we cleaned house and vacuumed with Mandy chasing and barking behind it, we realized how much we were going to miss her. But the lessons she taught us would be with us forever.
She taught us to slow down, to realize what was really important. It wouldn’t have been the same if she had been our own dog. We would have fed her, taken care of her and went on with our busy lives just like always. But being there we lived on Mandy’s schedule. She never whined, her eyes were always a little sad as she watched us leave, and she always greeted us with a hello bark. All she ever asked for was to be fed, to go out, and for a little attention. In return she loved us back with all her heart. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to always be?
Mandy is gone now but not her lessons. This evening as I sit down I notice those shelves that need dusted, the latch is still broken on the hutch door and yesterday’s newspaper still lays on the coffee table in disarray. Another night I would have jumped up and taken care of these things, but not tonight. I think I’ll make some popcorn, watch a movie and give some more thought to that cat … a lesson learned from Mandy.