I had just left my dog at the vet’s office for surgery. I was walking down the aisle at the Fred Meyer store looking for chocolate chips when a familiar-looking woman saw me and yelled, “It’s Annie’s mom!”
I smiled. “Yes, it is.” Let the other people shopping around us think what they would. Does it matter that our ‘kids’ are dogs?
Dog moms connect wherever they are. This woman had joined the crowd in the waiting room at Grove Veterinary Clinic while Annie and I were waiting to check in. Annie raced over to greet her. She just knew this was another dog mom, and ooh, she smelled good. As the dog mom waited for $200 worth of dog meds, she told me about her three pups, including a big Lab a lot like Annie. I never learned the woman’s name, but her Lab’s name is Walker.
Like Annie, I love dog moms. I don’t have much experience as a mother to people, but dogs I understand. I admit I can get a little obsessed. Catch Annie and me alone together and you’re likely to hear me tell her she’s the best dog in the world, that I love her soooo much. I’ll rub my face against her fur because it feels so good. This week, she has a cone-shaped collar blocking her movements and keeping her away from her stitches. The tumor she had removed may or may not be cancer, so I’m worried.
When a friend was visiting the other day, I realized that I was being just as distracted and disgusting as human baby moms can be. I kept watching the dog, interrupting the people-talk to ask Annie, “Does it hurt? Are you thirsty? Want to go out? Did you fart?” Call it mothering. Call it taking care of a friend recovering from surgery, but my first thought these days is always “Where’s Annie?” and “Is she okay?”
Friends who have been watching her while I’m working report that she worries every minute until she sees me again. What if I never come back?
Although the typical household contains at least two humans, there are a lot of single women whose life partners are big dogs. I think of Episcopal priest-friend Susan Church, who is rarely seen without her two big hounds; my late friend Jill Baker, whose dogs were her constant companions, and my friend Orpha Barry, who for years traveled with a massive Akita named Sgt. Pepper.
It’s different with little dogs, which remain like babies. I met a friend with her four-pound pom-poodle mix at the vet’s office yesterday. She obsesses about that dog, talks baby talk, buys it tiny clothes. That’s fine, but I prefer big dogs you can hug hard without hurting them or spoon on the sofa when you’re both weary.
Big dogs provide protection as well as wonderful companionship. With their superior hearing, they detect invaders before you do, and with their big teeth, they scare them off. Annie would probably invite a burglar in and give him big kisses, but a criminal can’t tell that by looking through the window at her 75-pound hulk while she’s barking and growling.
Annie, 11, is considered old. People keep telling me she won’t be around much longer. I’m trying to enjoy every minute with her. Annie follows three other big dogs I loved, Heidi, Belle, and Sadie. When she goes, I’m not planning to get another big dog. My aging body can no longer handle such a large creature. If I get another dog, it will have to be small enough for me to lift in and out of the car. I’m thinking once Annie is gone, I’ll need to move to someplace where I’m surrounded by people who can help me when trouble arises—like this weekend when I had to go to urgent care and was told I should not drive myself. Annie doesn’t drive. I called the neighbors. The childless widow thing gets tricky sometimes. But for now, it’s Annie and me in the woods.
I’m drawn to stories about women with dog partners. A few suggestions: A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, Part Wild by Ceiridwen Terrill, and Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness by Anne LaBastille.
Also try Dogs and the Women Who Love Them by Allen and Linda Anderson. I haven’t read it, but it sounds good.
If you know of other good books—or movies—about women and their big dogs, please share in the comments. Are you a dog mom with fur clinging to your clothes and saliva smears on your car windows? Tell us about it.
Men, don’t feel left out. You can tell us about your dog bond, too.