Fran Braga Meininger
Welcoming a New Dog Into the Winter of My Life
I’ve had the company of a dog through all the seasons of my life so far. They have been as much a part of my world as the people who have come and gone, and sometimes it seemed, the dogs stayed longer and brought more joy.
My first dog wasn’t actually mine. She belonged to the neighbor. I was three and she was my self-appointed guardian. Her name was Countess and as a hulking one hundred - twenty pound Great Dane, she was a formidable protector. She was gentle and patient with me and quite menacing to anyone she deemed a threat.
I have brief glimpses of memories from those days, walking with her along the sidewalk in front of my house, holding onto her collar to steady my wobbly toddler stride as she kept me safe from the cars. My mother told me many times over the years, how remarkable Countess was. How she would always position herself between me and the street to be sure I didn’t venture into harm’s way, and how she would gently turn me around at the mailbox and direct me back where I belonged.
Countess taught me early on how selfless and loyal a good dog can be.
There were many who followed. Bernardo was a feisty wired hair terrier, who my parents told me moved to a farm when in fact he was hit by a car at my grandmother’s house one Easter morning while I was at church. Tiny Tammy, a goat faced, shaggy haired mutt who followed me everywhere, accompanying me through my childhood, on hikes through the woods, and to the orchard to eat pears together. Then there was a sweet, but neurotic, golden retriever mix, named Honey, who disappeared one day from the yard of the first house I bought as an independent young woman, breaking my heart even worse than the man who walked out soon after.
And the last two, Sushi and Maddie, who as I matured and grew to understand the give and take and the complexity of seeing each other through whatever comes, both died after growing old with my guiding hand to steady their failing gait.
Maddie, died nine months ago at sixteen. She taught me more about growing old than any of the articles or podcasts I’ve turned to lately for guidance. She shared her truth so honestly and without shame. She showed me what it’s like to lose strength and agility but not your determination, to carry on with what gives you pleasure as long as you can and however you can, and to accept support from those who love you with gratitude and humility. I will hold those life lessons close through the decades to come.
And as I do, I will be accompanied by an energetic, whip smart poodle/terrier mix who just arrived a few days ago.
I found Poppy, my new three month old puppy, on a dog rescue site and just knew somehow she was meant for me.
I gave some careful thought to bringing another dog into my life at this age. Could I give her the life she deserved, affording the cost of medical care, a pet sitter to stay with her if I decide to travel, and the responsibility of training and adequate outdoor activities, realizing her potential lifespan would find me well into my eighties?
But honestly, when I saw those expressive eyes, her confident stance and that scruffy tuff of fur standing straight out of her forehead like a canine punker, I knew she had the right stuff and any sacrifice I would make would be well worth it. But, most importantly, I knew we would love each other.
Research has proven the health benefits of owning a dog as we age. Patients recover faster from surgeries when they need to get back home to care for their beloved pets. Dogs motivate us to exercise more regularly. We may not get out there for our own good, but we will bundle up and take them for their morning walk, even when it’s cold and rainy.
Petting a dog has been found to lower blood pressure and an intimate encounter with a therapy dog has even brought forth expressions of emotions from those who have been nonresponsive for years.
They influence us and support us in ways we don’t fully understand.
There is an unique joy in the rhythm of a tail wagging against the floor as you walk into the room, even though you were only gone a few minutes, to the sensation of their heart beating next to yours as your hold them close on a cold morning to warm you both and as they beckon you on, up a steep trail that now takes more effort than it did last year.
A dog is more than a companion, far more than a possession, they inspire us to live life in the moment and encourage us to carry on when times get hard.
So, even though I may not always be at my best as she and I travel through what is now the winter of my life, I am committed to doing my best for her.