Life After Dogs: Is There?

I’ll have to get back to you on that one. This is a new phase for us.

As a couple, The Mate and I have never been without at least one dog or cat, if not two of each. As an individual, I have not been without a pet for 33 years, and then only for a couple of years in college when I was still going home to my parents’ farm during breaks.

Our sweet malamute Juniper left us Saturday morning, exactly the way we were hoping she would: she went to sleep under a tree. Since she had been diagnosed with cancer several months ago, and since she had stopped eating a week and a half ago, we had many goodbyes. I am still very sad and will be for a while yet. Juni was only ten, and I thought we’d have more time together.

J

I used to describe Juni as a mix between a malamute and a Persian cat, that’s how soft and fluffy she was. Especially the fur around her face. “Stroke her there,” I used to tell kids we’d meet on our walks, kids nervous of such a LARGE-seeming dog (how could they know it was mostly hair?). “Her cheeks are soft as a bunny.” And their eyes would light up when they discovered this was true.

Juni 2

In temperament, too, Juni was more cat than dog, preferring to curl up on my feet –literally–than to go for walks. She was pretty darn lazy, really. Sometimes in response to people’s questions, “What IS she?” I’d throw “part Yak” into the mix, or “Snuffleupagus.” That seemed to capture her table-wide, fluffy profile and her badger-like gait. Our older son called her “Trundle-Bear.”

Besides her fluff, Juni’s main striking point of uniqueness was her vocalization. Malamutes don’t bark, people say, they talk. In Juni’s case, when she was excited to see you, or to eat dinner, it was more of a roar: “Rrrrooooohhhhh!” My friends Dia and Bert would sing trios with her. “Rrrrooooooooooo!”

Damn, I miss her.

Junifur

 

But we are not talking about getting another dog. In fact, we are talking about NOT getting another dog.

Four years ago, our youngest child headed off to college. We moved away from our suburban house with its enormous garden and started our new lives on this small island. No children. And no garden: I decided to take a break and let the island’s many farmers grow my veggies for me, and I’m still okay with that decision. But we still had our dogs.

The similarities between the three have always struck me. Gardens, like children and animals, have their seasons of neediness, where you can get pretty cranky with their demands. They have their time of independence where you sit back and watch them romp and grow. And then there are those wonderful harvests: armloads or moments of pure, delicious joy that you gather and hold onto, savorable months and even years later.

Freedom is not a word that you use with kids, nor gardens, nor pets. The Mate and I have grown used to our freedom to come and go as we please during the day, and not to have to worry about watering or weeding when we take a trip. But we’ve always had to find a dogsitter. Now…we look at each other and say in slow disbelief: “We could go camping if we felt like it. Whenever we wanted.”

A young friend of mine, like me, bred to think that life without dogs is no life at all, insists, “You could get a small dog and take it with you whenever you go somewhere!”  Maybe. But I’ve always been a large-dog girl. That’s a switch I don’t think I want to make.

Juni3

I used to think I knew exactly what I’d do when our older malamute, Molly, passed away a year ago: we’d get another older dog as a companion to Juni. But Juni didn’t seem to want a companion; she wasn’t interested in other dogs. Part cat, remember? So then I thought, okay, when Juni passes, I’ll go to the shelter and find another dog who needs us. I even had a great name picked out: Skagit (the name of the closest county on the mainland, and a beautiful agricultural valley–but also a great sound: “Here, Skagit!”)

Now, though? We’re thinking we will let someone else adopt that potential “Skagit” and name him/her whatever they want. We are going to investigate the question of Life After Dogs.

I’ll keep you posted.

But I’d also like to hear from you about your pet/no-pet lives. Have you made the transition from one to another? Have you lived long with, or without? What’s it like out there?