Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Ghost of Christmas Past

It was a sunny, warm June day at the Bentley Farmer's Market in central Alberta. Among the fresh produce and homemade clothes were five tiny puppies in a cardboard box. Peter picked one of them up and immediately fell in love.

We were renting a house in Calgary and the landlord had stipulated NO PETS! But the lovesick look in Peter's eyes couldn't be easily dismissed. He talked about the puppies all afternoon. He brought one of his sisters to see the puppies. He begged. He pleaded. I said that he could phone our landlord and if he agreed, I would agree. This was full-proof. I knew our landlord would never allow this. It's not as if I didn't want the puppy, I love animals. But I was just not prepared to make a 12-year (or more) committment without even considering it. We had never even heard of a Basset Hound/American Eskimo cross before.

Peter phoned. Our landlord temporarily lost his mind.

There was a double rainbow in the sky that evening as we brought Pokey home. I didn't recognize it at the time but it was a clear sign of the blessing that was to come.

Pokey was scared of thunder and didn't like walking in the rain, but cold temperatures and snow? those she loved! She and her best friend Moxie, would run full-tilt through three-feet snow drifts, looking like dolphins as they jumped above the snow and disappeared under it again.

Pokey was smart and learned over 50 words and phrases. Sometimes I had whole conversations with her. She could read my moods and comforted me when I was distraught. She was a social butterfly and we soon got to know all the dogs (and their owners) in our neighbourhood. She enjoyed children and when we walked by the local daycare the kids would come out to pet her - 20 pairs of hands swarming around her like moths near a flame.

Pokey loved Christmas! My Mom sewed her a stocking which was filled with Milkbone treats and she received gifts from family and friends. Stuffed toys were essential and she had a long yellow banana that she carried around with her. Bones, balls and Rollover were some of her favorite presents and she needed little help from us to open them.

But she is getting close to 16 now. Our vet told us if she lived to be over 14, we should consider the rest of her life as "bonus time." So we are in the bonus years we didn't expect.

I don't want it to end.

It's hard to believe that I was so unprepared for a 12-year commitment and now can't bear the thought of life without Pokey.

She has a cyst on her chest and coughs a lot. She can't jump up on her chair very well and isn't even interested in eating Rollover anymore. She is almost deaf and I have to shout for her to hear me at all. Even then she mostly ignores me. This will likely be her last Christmas and her only present will be a turkey dinner.

She sleeps 23 hours a day and I often watch her body twitch, wondering what she dreams of. Every now and then she shows signs of the dog she was. Last night she tried to vault herself onto her chair but missed very badly. Her head and front paws made it but her torso slammed into the middle of the chair, the wind knocked out of her. She turned and gave me this basset-eyed look that said, "What just happened? Why can't I do this anymore?"

I ask those questions of myself a lot more often too. We're all getting older but Pokey is aging rapidly and soon it will be time to say goodbye to one of the best companions I ever had. I'm thankful I can prolong that moment for one more Christmas and treasure the cold winter walks and naps by the roaring fire we will have together. I can't bear to say goodbye just quite yet.


  1. We love you Pokey. I remember the first day you brought her home and she was in your front lawn. I thought she was soooo cute. Both Sparky and Yoshi considered her their best friend. Running through the hedge chasing each other was what they enjoyed most. Whenever we would babysit Pokey, I would play hide and seek with her and Yoshi. Pokey always sniffed me out and found me while Yoshi just barked until Pokey found me and I appeared again :) Merry Christmas, Pokey!

  2. My 12 year-old Blue Heeler just died. It's hard losing a friend that you've had for so long, but it's nice to have had that complete, happy memory. I'll think about him a lot, but I'll also enjoy getting another puppy and getting to have the experience all over again.

  3. Sandy - thank you for being such a great neighbour. Pokey has enjoyed staying at your house because of the games you play with her and because Yoshi is there. Thanks for taking her in and giving her another place to call home.

    Hanny - It is hard losing a friend who loves you as unconditionally as a dog does. That's why I am intentionally taking snapshots in my mind of these days with Pokey. I don't know how much time we will have left. I don't know if I could do what you will be doing and get another puppy again. It's too hard to think about right now.

  4. Dear Pokey... such a precious little dog. She's one of the few dogs that Malyka feels safe around. I remember when she went up to Pokey and laid on her back with her tummy exposed trusting that Pokey wouldn't hurt her... and she didn't... and they became friends.
    I can't imagine you without Pokey. She's been with you through so much. But I know... the time will come... and when it does remember you gave her the best life she could have... and that she loved you.
    I've lost several pets... I didn't do well with getting another pet right after. I needed time to grieve and another pet seemed like an invasion. But when the time is right you'll know... and all the extra room for love you have in your heart that Pokey 'grew' there will be ready for another little faithful friend... one that Pokey would also welcome and want you to have... and you will love him/her... both for your new little friend's sake... and in honor of Pokey...
    Hugs (and kisses from Malyka)

  5. love the pic of Pokey and sweet! you have indeed been blessed with a good buddy, sort of like Pooh and Piglet

  6. Joy - Peter and I had the pleasure of playing with a Bernese Mountain Puppy just before Christmas. At 10 weeks old she was almost as big as Pokey. But I found myself realizing I could fall in love with a puppy again. It was a good feeling.

    Jill - so glad you got to meet Pokey. Her and Cat are best buddies :)