By Julie Dye
Marley is my first pet. Sure, growing up I had goldfish and we even had a suicidal newt (another story), but since my sister suffered from severe allergies all my childhood, I waited until I was 26 before I finally brought my best friend home.
The summer in between my grad school years, I worked as a consultant assisting non-profits and start ups. I knew as soon as I received an assignment at the Boulder Valley Humane Society that I was going home with a dog. On the first day, I arrived to meet with the executive director and during a tour of the facilities, we visited a section of the rescue housing newly arrived pets. Marley, a 1 ½ year chocolate lab with little slivers of white on her front paws, came to me and from the first moment we were “introduced” (she peed on me), I knew she was marking me for her own and she was mine.
We’ve been through it all together—moved several times, gained a spouse, introduced two little girls into the family, been to the vet more times than I can count. When Marley was about 5, xrays showed Marley had nearly no cartilage remaining in her left back leg. The vet recommended surgery that would fuse the bone together, allowing her to continue her active lifestyle. In the years that have followed since, her leg remains her “Achilles tendon” and because I’ve worked in the natural pet industry for years, she has become a seasoned reviewer for nearly every natural joint support product on the market.
Marley is now about 13 years old. Though still a very present and beloved member of our family, she is slowing down. My old pup with a whitening muzzle is still playful, but sometimes her legs go out from under her and we have to lift up her mid-section. Other times, she struggles to get up from her more restful moments. We are aware her time is coming. Until recently, I thought that she would just die of old age one day. That I would come home and she would not find her way to me. I now realize that I am going to have to make the decision of when that “right” time is. Even to think about it is quite distressing. I hope I know. I hope she tells me and I listen to her when she’s ready.
Right now, though, I will give hugs and pets, call for her to lie down during storms or stop barking at that dog she clearly dislikes. I will focus on the dog who has loved me, sat in the hall between my daughter’s rooms to watch over them at night and who has hiked, run, swam and explored with us. As Bonnie Wilcox once wrote “Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a bit out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well.”