Monday, March 30, 2009

The Part-time Dog

There are many merits to traveling the world as a senior citizen. After slaving away for decades, exciting adventures await in such places as Angkor Wat, Siberia, and the North Pole. I miss my mom and stepdad when they are away, but they've earned their fun. They have such a simple life that when they want to pick up and go basically all they have to do is fill a suitcase and lock the doors. They have no attachments to pets at home, so Max is their welcome addition when it's my family's turn to leave town. When the timing of our little trips (never so far away), and their short stints at home line up, "Grammie and Chuck" get to serve as volunteer dog-sitters. It saves us hundreds on kennel bills, and Max loves all the extra attention plus more generous portions of kibble than he normally gets in his bowl.

Last week when we left our codependent shepherd, I was happy to be free of him for the drive. Eight hundred miles of shedding and panting tends to wear out my patience for our family mascot. Every time we leave, the biggest dilemma we have for the trip is, "What will we do with Max?" During the holidays, he displaced my daughter's cat and took over her apartment. Last summer, we had a neighbor check on him at home twice a day--turns out it wasn't quite enough. Max has even determined where we would live, as he didn't get along with a former neighbor's dog so we had to move. Obviously, the dog is a high priority for our family.

While taking a break last week from the dog who follows my every move, Sheridan talked me into seeing the movie, "Marley and Me," to which I reluctantly agreed. I grabbed a pile of napkins from the popcorn counter because I'd heard it's a bawl-fest. The film really is a sweet story of how the retriever's mischief becomes family lore, and no matter what he does he will always be an integral part of the clan. At the end of the story when Marley is old and in failing health, I looked at Sheridan and realized that this too could happen to Max! For as much hassle and extra vacuuming he's caused, the idea of the pooch not being around is impossible to imagine.

I "wished Max away" one time a few years ago when we had recently moved from a more rural location in Utah and I realized how much he was shedding indoors. I told the girls quite emphatically that if they couldn't help keep the dog hair off the floors, we'd have to get rid of him. In my frustration I started to clean late that night and then Max escorted me out to the garbage dumpster. I grumbled out loud about being too tired to deal with this, turned around to walk back inside and he was gone. He decided to go back home. I found out at 2:00 a.m. that he had trotted along Highway 101 Southbound (in the right direction!), right up to a Highway Patrol car helping a stranded motorist. When the officer tracked me down that night and returned our family pet, he complimented me on Max's looks and appeared to understand how generally exhausted I was. Tired or not, I decided not to complain and just appreciate all the warmth he brought to our home.

When we picked Max up from Grammie's last night, we could tell he had been sufficiently spoiled by his nurturing part-time dog sitters. He is easy to love, but lots of work of course. If was a relief to have him taken care of by loving family members and not to have him locked up in the house or a kennel. Now I'm back to "the shadow" following me around all day and night, and more cleaning up. After watching the senior citizens have so much fun with him, and seeing the way Marley became a family's historical centerpiece, I am more appreciative of the joy of pets. I'm especially thankful to those who help us take care of our dog when I need a break.

Cool volunteering tips:
  • Adopt a part-time pet! Once a week, once a month, or anytime, you can offer to take care of a pet for a friend, neighbor, or a relative. They'll appreciate the help, and the pet will love the extra attention.
  • Check out this fantastic website to help collect blankets for abandoned animals:
  • For a regular gig working with animals: Contact your local animal shelter, homeless pet organization, or the local humane society.
  • Every organization benefiting animals is in need of cash: consider raising donations.

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