Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Dog Named Dancer

A little over nine years ago, my father died. He and my mother had been together from their teens. During their entire marriage, my mother had never spent a night alone--if Daddy was away on business, he left behind a household of kids.

From the time I arrived home for the funeral, my mother followed me around. At night she climbed into bed with me.

Two weeks later, things weren't any better. I'd started sleeping on the couch in order to get Mom used to being alone in the bed. I asked her if she'd like to get a dog or cat. She refused. She started talking about moving to Dallas to be with me--despite the fact that two of my brothers and her youngest granddaughter lived near her home.

One morning in the middle of the third week, I got up and told her we were going out. When we were in the car, she asked where we were headed. I said, "The SPCA to get you a dog."

We argued all the way to the shelter. When we arrived, I got out of the car, but Mom refused to budge. I left her there and walked into the shelter, hoping she'd follow.

I headed to the small dogs room, looking for a toy poodle, Chihuahua or Yorkie. I found a small white poodle that I thought might work. Picking it up, I headed toward the front of the shelter. As I walked past the larger dog room, I heard a familiar voice.

Most of the dogs were two and three to a run. My mother was standing in front of a run with a single dog in it. She was cooing to a trembling, slender, black dog. I walked to her and held out the poodle. She never even looked at me.

I asked, "What do you have there?"

She replied, "His name is Dancer."

I looked around for a name tag. There wasn't one. "How do you know his name?" I asked.

"I just named him," she answered. "He looks like a reindeer."

Although I saw no resemblance between the nervy whippet and a reindeer, I was too grateful to argue.

Since that day, Dancer and my mother have rarely been apart. He gave her the courage to face the world as a single woman. She's had nine good years. As she has aged and begun to forget things, Dancer has taken up the slack. He's the reason Mom gets out of bed in the morning, and he nudges her toward bed a little before nine every night. They adhere to his schedule.

During my most recent visit, I watched her make dinner for them in the microwave--two Lean Cuisines. They ate dinner, and she discarded the trays. About ten minutes later, the now seriously overweight whippet rested his head on her knee and began whining.

"Oh, sweetie," she cried. "Are you ready for dinner?" Before I could stop her, she went to the freezer and took out a new Lean Cuisine. I was hard put to convince her he'd already eaten. Dancer may only have a brain the size of an egg, but he'd obviously figured out how to scam my mother.

It's no longer safe for Mom to live alone at home. We've taken away her car and given her a choice: allow someone to come to the house each day, move into a supervised retirement home or move in with one of the four of us. It's indicative of her situation that my feisty little mother did not argue. She wants to live with me, but has agreed to move in with my youngest brother until winter ends.

My brother is a sports columnist. The Dallas Cowboys are playing the Giants this Sunday at 4:30. If the Cowboys win their game, my brother will be coming to Dallas to cover the Conference Championship on January 20.

My sister-in-law (a saint) is happy to take Mom, but is not thrilled at the idea of adding an elderly woman AND a geriatric whippet to a household including a manic four-year-old, a neurotic cocker spaniel and a fifteen-year-old daughter. My brother has announced, if he comes to Dallas that Sunday, he's bringing Dancer with him on the plane to leave with me.

They've agreed to keep Mom for the next three months. I can't refuse to take the dog, but I hate the idea of separating Mom and Dancer.

I can, however, secretly hope that Dallas doesn't make it to the Championship game.

Shhh. Don't say anything to anyone. I'd be run out of Dallas on a rail.


The Anti-Wife said...

Does your mom know that she and Dancer are to be separated? I work in the senior care industry and pets are incredibly important to seniors - even those whose memories are starting to become impaired. Losing her dog and moving into an environment with a manic 4 year old and neurotic cocker spaniel may be very difficult and confusing for her. I'm not saying this is a wrong decision, just that you might want to rethink it a bit.

Maya Reynolds said...

AW: Thanks so much for your concern.

Both my brother and I thought she would opt to stay at home with Dancer with care coming in daily to be with her until spring when she could come live with me.

Mom has never cared for strangers and said she would prefer to go live with my brother. He said when he asked about Dancer, she said, "Oh, he can go to Dallas now."

I'm just not sure she understood that would mean she wouldn't see him until spring. We need to talk about it more between now and 1/20.

The Anti-Wife said...

It would be especially prudent if she's becoming forgetful to try and make sure she really understands. Having the dog with her could provide a lot of stability and comfort. Don't mean to pry but we see lots of this and the animals really do help the seniors adjust.

Maya Reynolds said...

AW: Thanks for confirming my concern. I'll talk to my brothers some more.

I think the chief concern is the two dogs not getting along and Dancer biting the four-year-old, but Mom's easy acquiesence worried me.

John Arkwright said...

Mom was diagnosed with advanced multiple myloma in August of 2005. Her dog, Fancy, had died a month or so before, leaving behind two puppies, Rascal and Rosie (I hate mom's dog names).

She spent most of the next 9 months sitting in a recliner with Rascal. She trained him very well. She could eat with him sitting beside her. He would not try to take any food unless she gave it.

After mom died, Rascal was so devastated that he nearly starved himself. We paid a lot of attention to Rascal and ended up with him. He is a really snuggly, gentle, dog who prefers women.

He is from dad's kennels

Maya Reynolds said...

John: Thanks for commenting. Our pets are such blessings.