On Christmas Day I Saw Three Dogs a Snoozing

A dusky morning in Michigan, Ziva and Cabela, December 25, 2022

Christmas morning used to be about the children. I would hope they’d sleep in longer than they did on school mornings, but they’d wake up and be ready to open their presents before any school-morning alarm clock would’ve rung.

This Christmas morning it was my two dogs, Cabela and Ziva, who woke me up around six o’clock. They weren’t interested in presents–they wanted to go outside in the windy, windy snowstorm and pee. After we came back inside, my mother’s dog, Bogey, wanted to go outside, so back out I went, but I left Cabela and Ziva in the house.

I never take all three dogs outside at the same time. Doesn’t matter what the weather is like or what time of day it is. Bogey tries to run down the back hill through some bushes, hoping to reach the golf course and look for golf balls. He’s not put off by the snow. He plants his nose into the white fluff and comes up with a golf ball. He can smell them under the snow. And Cabela tries to exit the front yard and trot down the road. I have no idea where she thinks she’s going, but something wild in the air calls to her. I can’t chase Bogey and Cabela at the same time in different directions. Bogey won’t listen unless I’m right next to him, saying, “Stay here.” Cabela can’t listen because she’s mostly deaf. Ziva never tries to leave the yard. She keeps her eye on me.

After the dogs had a chance to make yellow snow, I decided to do some writing. The other humans were still sleeping and Bogey went back to bed. I turned on my computer and sat at the kitchen table. My dogs began pacing around the kitchen on the hardwood floors, clickity clack, clickity clack. It’s amazing how loud dog nails clicking on a wooden floor sound when a house is predawn silent. While pacing, both dogs stopped periodically and looked at me, as if to say, “Let’s go back to bed.” I tried to ignore them, but they can be relentless. They wanted to be with me, but they didn’t want to lay on the hardwood floor, not when there were couches to sleep on.

I gave up on writing and joined the dogs in the living room. I curled up on a large stuffed chair with a soft ottoman. Cabela and Ziva commandeered opposite ends of the couch, and we all went back to sleep for an hour. Then I got up, but my dogs kept sleeping.

I gave Bogey his Christmas present, a colorful stuffed octopus. He played with it for a bit, then napped with it on the kitchen floor. With all three dogs in the house fast asleep, I made coffee.

Bogey with his new toy, Christmas Day 2022

A Two-Day Bluster and Counting

My writing perch, Christmas Eve

I’m in Petoskey, Michigan, just thirty miles south of the Mackinac Bridge. We came over on Wednesday, threading the needle between stormy weather in northern Wisconsin and stormy weather across the Upper Peninsula. It was a smart choice. We had nice driving weather for our nine-and-a-half-hour trip. It was, however, bitter cold, which my dogs didn’t appreciate during their potty breaks.

On Thursday the temperature in Petoskey rose to 35°, the sun shone, and the Lake Michigan winds kept their breezy nature tucked away. My husband and I took my mom out for a drive in the morning because she wanted to do some shopping. After we dropped her off, my husband and I went to lunch and did some shopping, buying gifts for her, a bread pan for me, and caramel corn for him. Although a winter’s day, it was beautiful for walking in and out of shops in downtown Petoskey. I reminded my husband about the last time we had such beautiful weather for pre-Christmas shopping in Petoskey. Shortly after nightfall, temperatures sank; thick, wet snow blanketed trees, power lines, and the ground; and winds whipped into gale force strength. We lost power at 2:30 in the morning.

Cabela

Once again, the nice weather we had on Thursday was the calm before the storm. By 7:00 p.m., the wind revved up its motor, the temperature dipped fifteen degrees, and the snow flew in horizontally off Lake Michigan. Fortunately, we haven’t lost power, but the water in the toilets sloshes back and forth and side to side like we’re on a ship in rough seas.

Each time I take the dogs outside, including walking my mom’s poodle, Bogey, I bundle up from head to toe–hat, goggles, down coat, long underwear, and boots. Yesterday morning I walked Bogey, and we had to trudge through knee-high snowdrifts. He likes to walk to the cul-de-sac to poo. He has a favorite spot. Sometimes as we walked the wind would gust, stopping me in my tracks and shoving me a step or two backwards. Later in the evening after dark, we repeated our trek through knee-high snow drifts, the wind pushing us around again. I thought about Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire.” I have a fine sense of the dramatic. But mostly, I wondered why anyone would set out for a long walk in subzero temperatures or blowing blizzards. I wasn’t going any place where I couldn’t see house lights.

Ziva

The snowstorm bellowed all through the night, and the winds blew harder. This morning the snow is lighter, but the winds continue to roar off Lake Michigan. This weather front isn’t forecasted to loosen its grip until after Christmas Day.

So, it’s inside entertainment. I’ve watched a little bit of football, lost two games of cribbage, finished a five-hundred piece jigsaw puzzle, and I’ve done some reading and writing. Last night my mom and I watched Flawless, a movie starring Demi Moore and Michael Caine, which we both liked a lot. Today I wrote this blog while sitting in a second-story window seat, watching the white caps on Lake Michigan, listening to the whooshing winds, and being chilled by the cold air leaking through the windows. The winds are gusting at 45 mph. The snow is still falling. And because I’m very cold now, this blog must be done. I need a cup of hot cocoa with whipped cream.

Bogey, just back from our morning walk on Friday

The First Real Snow of the Season

Ziva, November 29, 2022, home after our evening walk

Snow began falling around 8:00 a.m. today. The forecast predicted a trace to one inch, but it snowed all day, and four fluffy inches covered the ground, roads, trees, and cars. Snow can be that way, making weather forecasters look foolish.

This isn’t the first snow of the year, but today’s snow has a good chance of staying on the ground, making it a white Christmas. That’s why I call it the first real snow of the year.

I loved snow as a child, and I haven’t grown old enough yet to resent or fear it. The first real snowfall of the year evokes childhood memories of snowballs, snowmen, snow forts, and sledding. Swaddled in snow pants, jackets, hats, scarves, and mittens, our joyful shouts, squeals, and laughter bounced off the trees and houses.

I love to walk my dogs, Ziva and Cabela, in the evening after a fresh snowfall when the air is still. My dogs love the first real snow too. They prance. They stuff their noses in the snow, tossing it in the air or eating it. Sometimes the snow tickles their noses, and they sneeze. Even Cabela, who’s now fourteen-and-a-half, becomes youthful. When they were puppies, the first snowfall of the year gave them the crazies. They pounced and dashed and rolled in it, creating doggie snow angels. They reminded me of a gaggle of children unleashed into the first good snow of the year.

Perhaps snow sparks something primal in my dogs and myself, something that lights up ancient places in our brains, something that is more complex than our happy memories of youthful frolics in the snow.

Ziva, a blur in the snow

Something Published: “Fritz Warms Up Our New Neighbors”

[This essay was published in Red Cedar Review, Volume XXIV in the fall of 2022. Red Cedar Review is published by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire through its Barron County Campus. It’s a print- only journal, and its editors and staff consider art, prose, and poetry from northern Wisconsin residents. I decided to post this essay in honor of Thanksgiving because when I reflect on my childhood, I’m very thankful for our old farmhouse and our wonderful neighbors.]

The Old Farmhouse, late 1960s or early 70s

Wrapped in thin white clapboard, the two-story farmhouse built in 1907 was 57 years old when my parents, my two sisters, and I came to live there in October 1964. It looked older to my five-year-old mind, much older, in the way a person of thirty or forty seems very old to a small child. My parents sold their duplex in Milwaukee where rows of houses sat a handshake apart, fronted by sidewalks and busy streets lined with parked cars. They moved their dysfunctional marriage and children to a country road with a smattering of houses fronted by rural mailboxes and a narrow road, on which no one parked. From age five to seventeen, I lived there with my parents, two sisters, and a brother, born in 1967.

A week after we moved into our farmhouse, a knock rattled the front door that opened into our large kitchen, the kind where a farmer’s wife could cook a hearty meal to feed her husband, their children, and the farmhands all in one shift. Mom was working in the kitchen while my sisters and I played on the floor. She was twenty-four. Her face, scrubbed clean of makeup and her chestnut-brown hair pulled up into a pony tail, made her look far too young to be the mother of three small girls. She gave birth to me, the oldest, when she was eighteen.

Mom opened the old wooden door and on the other side of a modern aluminum screen door stood John Giese, Sr., whom we’d soon come to refer to as “Old Man Giese,” distinguishing him from his son, John Giese, Jr.

The Giese barn

Old Man Giese stood on our front stoop, clutching two dead chickens by their feet, one in each hand. He and his three grown children, John Jr., Mildred, and Leona, lived across the street in a white farmhouse as ordinary as ours. But the Giese farmhouse, surrounded by fields to be planted and harvested; by cows and chickens to be fed and tended; by cherry trees, blackberry bushes, and current bushes bearing fruit to be picked and preserved, appeared grand. Our farmhouse, surrounded by two acres of mowed grass then acres of overgrown farmland, looked tired. Giese’s bright red barn stood proud in contrast to our barn layered with various shades of washed out red, which made it appear mostly pink.

“Ma’am,” began the old gentleman, for although he wore a frayed cap and shabby blue denim overalls, he exuded a dignity the two dead chickens and his working clothes couldn’t erase. Old Man Giese was the first real farmer I ever met. My previous knowledge of farmers came from watching Mr. Green Jeans on Capitan Kangaroo, and in my five-year-old mind, Old Man Giese was the opposite of Mr. Green Jeans in every way.

Mom, a city girl, gawked at his welcoming gift of two dead chickens. She knew nothing about cleaning them.

Fritz sitting by our pinkish-colored barn, early 1970s, a couple of years before he passed away

“Your dog,” Old Man Giese continued, “killed my chickens.”

Fritz, our six-year-old German shepherd, lay on the family room floor and made no move to join the conversation.

“I’m so sorry,” Mom said. “Can I pay you for the chickens?”

“No, just keep the dog off my farm, ma’am.” Old Man Giese put his back to us. A lifeless chicken in each hand, he descended our front stairs and returned to his farm. He never called on us again, and a few years later he, too, would be dead, gone to join his wife who died before we arrived.

Mom, relieved she wouldn’t have to clean chickens but mortified Fritz might have killed them, shut the door and strode into the family room. “No chickens,” she yelled at Fritz. “Never again.” He understood and stayed away from the Giese farm, but he still ran loose, up and down the country roads, chasing female dogs in heat.

That evening at dinner, she told Dad, “At first I thought the chickens were an apology for his cows chomping on our lawn the morning after we moved in.” But the chickens had been an indictment, not an apology.

In our new neighborhood, Fritz had committed the first faux pas, setting the standard by which my family’s behavior could be explained. When my parents fought in the middle of warm summer nights, their shouts crawling in and out of open windows, the neighbors could say, What do you expect? Their dog kills chickens. When my sisters and I threw apples at passing cars, but the parents of two older, well-behaved children, from down the road got a visit from the police, their parents could say, They can’t control their dog either. When Dad sped down the country road or set off cherry bombs in our yard, the neighbors could say, What do you expect from a man who lets his dog ignore good-neighbor etiquette?

Our existence in the neighborhood was like a hoppy beer—an acquired taste. Some people come to love the taste of hops, but others can’t force it past their taste buds. Most of the families up and down our sparsely populated road came to accept us, and we were welcomed into their homes and yards. Only two families never warmed to us, not bad considering our parents’ occasional nocturnal fights, dad’s shenanigans, and our string of dogs that never stayed home.

Dad, despite his bad-boy-James-Dean manner, was handsome and charming. An excellent mechanic, he was always willing to lend a hand to neighbors and offer them a beer. Mom was hard-working and friendly, and if she borrowed a cup of sugar or a roll of toilet paper, she always repaid her debt. My siblings and I stopped throwing apples at cars, and we behaved ourselves so no one had to call the police on us again. We were polite or Mom would’ve walloped us or grounded us for life, depending on the prevailing winds of her mood that day. Most of the neighbors decided we were okay.

And the Gieses? They didn’t hold Fritz’s chicken incident against us. After all, their cows had grazed in our front yard the day after we’d moved in. Old Man Giese and his son fixed their fence, and the cows stayed home. Fritz defied fences, but he obeyed Mom’s command and stayed out of their yard and away from the chickens, easy for him because they didn’t own dogs. To prove there were no hard feelings, when my siblings and I were old enough to cross the road, the Gieses gave us an open invitation to play in their yard, to eat fruit from specific trees and bushes, and to cross their fields in winter to ice skate on the frozen river running through their property.

None of Old Man Giese’s children had youngsters of their own. Looking back, I believe they enjoyed seeing us run through their yard, roll down the hill by their barn, and eat the fruit they grew. I believe they smiled when they heard our voices on the winter wind, echoing through the trees as we skated on the frozen waters just behind their fields. And I wonder what they thought, when as a teenager, I sat on a large tree stump near the barn and talked to their cows, who gathered by the fence, eager for gossip about my teenage troubles.

[I want to thank the editors and staff of Red Cedar Review for selecting my essay for their Fall 2022 issue. The ending of this essay is slightly different from the version that appears in their 2022 issue. I added the last two sentences because I felt the ending was too abrupt. As a writer, I often see ways to improve something I’ve written, even after it has gone to press.]

Campy Halloween Skeletons Settle in Harbor Springs, Michigan

Bogey

Bogey, my mother’s dog, loves Lake Michigan, so this afternoon I took him to Harbor Springs, a small summer town snuggled up along the eastern shore of the lake. It’s Bogey’s favorite place to walk. He knows when he is going to Harbor. The only place he loves more is a pet store, where he tries to shoplift anything he can fit into his mouth.

First, we stopped at his favorite clothing store. He got lots of hugs from a woman who works there, but she was out of dog treats. He kept holding up his paw and pleading, but only received another hug and another apology. He was clearly disappointed, reminding me of a little boy who tells his great-aunt, “But I wanted a toy train, not fuzzy footie pajamas.”

After we left the store, Bogey enjoyed his water-view walk. He sniffed the grass, did his business, and watched a pair of ducks swim along a beach. Dogs get over disappointment quickly.

My favorite! The headstone reads: RIP Summer 2022

Next, we headed back to Main Street, where I noticed boney visitors who’d stopped by Harbor Springs dressed for Halloween. Bogey had to wait for me while I walked up and down the sidewalks and photographed twenty-seven snappily-dressed skeletons. I know I didn’t get pictures of all the skeletons, but I had fun trying to find as many as I could. Excitement lurked on every block and around every corner. Costumed skeletons have become a Harbor Springs Halloween tradition. And this year there are seventy-five skeletons creaking about.

Tonight the wind howls off Lake Michigan, and it’s raining in spurts. In the hours before dawn, snow is expected before turning back to rain. The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory. And I wonder how the skeletons will stay warm in all this weather–they don’t have any meat on their bones.

Walking in the Wind with the Dogs

The view as we started our morning walk

Yesterday, Ziva, Bogey, and I went for our first walk at 8:00 a.m., our second walk at 1:30 p.m., and our last walk at 4:30. We let the 20-mph winds off Lake Michigan push us down the road, until we had to turn around, then we leaned into the wind and pretended we were walking to school, uphill, in a snowstorm, for five miles. A bit histrionic but fun.

Ziva’s and Bogey’s ears flapped and fluttered in the wind, but my ears were tucked under my stocking cap. I liked stocking caps when I was a girl who played in the snow, but when I turned thirteen, I wouldn’t wear a hat in winter, no matter how cold it was. I wasn’t going to mess up my hair. Instead, I arranged my long, not-so-thick hair over my ears, trying to keep them warm.

Now I have four favorite knit stocking caps, and when it’s cold, I wear one. I even have a knit hat with earflaps that ties under my chin. I’m not letting my head or ears freeze. My nana always told me, “Keep your head and your feet warm, and the rest of you will follow.” I think about her when I put on a stocking cap and a pair of wool socks. Nana repeated her “warm head, warm feet” advice to me a lot when I was a foolish, hatless teenager, dashing through cold winter days.

One of my granddaughter’s leaf creations, October 2020

Yesterday’s picture theme: autumn-colored leaves. I took oodles of photos of newly fallen leaves because I could see that each one was unique, deserving to be photographed. If my granddaughter had been with me, she would’ve collected the leaves, oohing over each one, handing them to me to hold as she collected more to use in art projects.

Around 9:00 p.m., I took the dogs out in the yard for their last potty break of the day. The swirling wind whipped up a smorgasbord of scents, stirring something primal in Ziva and Bogey. They sniffed the air and the ground, weaving in and out of bushes, looking for little critters. Under the full moon, they chased each other, zooming in circles, like a couple of young pups with the crazies. Autumn makes me feel that way too.

Overlooking Lake Michigan on our morning walk
Moonlight in Michigan
(The sky around the moon was much darker, but this is how my phone camera interpreted the light.)

An Early Morning Walk with Ziva and Bogey

The morning rainbow

When I walked Ziva and Bogey this morning shortly after sunrise, the sky was a jumble of dark clouds and bright blue patches. The sun illuminated gold, orange, and red leaves, giving the impression they were lit from within. Of course, the dogs had to wait while I snapped pictures, and I never tire of taking pictures of trees dressed in fashionable autumn colors. When the dogs became impatient, I reminded them that I spend lots of time waiting for them while they smell blades of grass, tree trunks, and mailbox posts.

Finally, we turned down another road, and I spotted part of a rainbow. Out came my camera phone, again. As I alternated between walking and taking pictures, the rainbow became an arch, one end appearing to dip into Lake Michigan and the other end appearing to stand in a field about a half-mile away, giving the impression that if the dogs and I set off across the field, we would find the end of the rainbow with a leprechaun and a pot of gold.

As a child, I knew about leprechauns who guarded their gold at the end of the rainbow from people who tried to steal it. My sisters and I fantasized about finding the rainbow’s end and the leprechaun with his riches, but we knew it was a folktale.

If the tale had been true, I’d have picked the leprechaun over the gold, which I knew meant wealth, but only in the way a six- or seven-year-old understands wealth. Besides, I lived in a comfortable home with plenty of food in the cupboard. But a leprechaun was a magical two-foot-high man with orange hair, dressed in green, smoking a pipe, and speaking with an Irish brogue. According to folklore, if we would’ve caught a leprechaun, he would’ve granted us three wishes in exchange for his freedom.

This morning while walking on the country road, watching the rainbow form a half circle through the sky, I wished that the fields and trees in this enchanted place would stop disappearing. In the eight years I have been visiting my mom, ten new homes have been built, and each one stands on an acre of land. Each new house means a loss of trees and fields. A loss of habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and small critters that I don’t see, but the hawks who perch in the trees are evidence of their existence.

Today, looking at the rainbow arching over the still undeveloped fields, I don’t wish for gold or to meet a magical leprechaun protecting his stash. I imagine a leprechaun at the end of today’s rainbow protecting a field, keeping it safe for insects, birds, and small critters, and I wish that each homeowner in this neighborhood would leave a strip of field along their lot lines.

An Autumn Stroll with Ziva and Bogey

Ziva (my dog) and Bogey (my mom’s dog)

Crisp autumn days are my favorite time to walk my dogs. I watch the shifting scenes of autumn: trees turning shades of red, orange, and yellow; leaves dropping gently to the ground—then days of high melodrama when howling winds and heavy rains come to rip the once-vibrant leaves from their stems, stripping the trees bare.

As the rich autumn shades—all warm hues on the color wheel—replace the cool hues of green, autumn wraps me in nostalgia, carrying me back in time to my youth. I’m warmed by memories of raking leaves into circular paths resembling the yellow brick road; of walking through the woods with oak, hickory, and maple trees awash in fall colors; of gathering acorns and hickory nuts while a blanket of dried leaves crunched under my feet.

I’ve been in Petoskey, Michigan, since Tuesday, and I’ve been walking Ziva, my dog who came with me, and Bogey, my mother’s dog. Petoskey, nestled on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, is beautiful anytime of the year, but October is my favorite time to visit. The weather, scenery, and vegetation are a blend of southeast Wisconsin, where I grew up, and northwest Wisconsin, where I live by Lake Superior. Coming here is like returning to the fields and woods of my youth, while almost feeling like I haven’t left home because Lake Michigan keeps me from missing Lake Superior.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, sunshine, warm breezes, and fall colors filled the days, and the dogs, my sister, and I walked the country roads in my mother’s neighborhood. My sister went home yesterday, but I’m still here with my mom and the dogs. Today, the rain and wind arrived, pulling autumn-colored leaves from the trees. The dogs and I still walked, but we timed our strolls between shifts of rain. Bogey has a raincoat, but Ziva would rather get wet than wear one. I could’ve carried an umbrella, but the strong winds would have turned it inside out.

On our second walk of the day, I had the dogs pose by a vignette of pumpkins, squash, mums, and hay bales arranged by one of my mom’s neighbors. I’m going to have a 5 x 7-inch photo made and frame it, a reminder of a gray but lovely autumn day when two big-hearted dogs kindly let me take their picture on a blustery day.

Shetland Island Dreams versus Boxing Squirrels

Ziva Baby

The evening walk, once a sixteen-block jaunt with my dogs, has become a stroll around the block. That’s all fourteen-year-old Cabela can handle. Her hips and left rear leg slow her down; although, she occasionally dashes across the yard or gallops along the property line in moments that my father would’ve called, “Old enough to know better, but young enough to do it anyway.” My father lived by those words, with mixed results for the people around him.

For Ziva, our walks are too short. But she’s a go-along-to-get-along kind of dog. When she walks with her sister, she adopts Cabela’s slow pace, and like Cabela, she smells all the grass. The two of them have a favorite spot to sniff in the neighbor’s yard, a spot worthy of serious, laborious inspection each time we walk by it. The spot looks normal, but obviously it smells delightful and contains a message they are both hoping to decode. I understand because when lilacs are in bloom, I sometimes stop along other people’s yards and inhale their aroma. The scent of lilacs is my favorite flower smell. I muse about nature having assigned each flower its own perfume.

Some days, when Cabela is sound asleep and doesn’t hear us, Ziva and I sneak out of the house for a longer walk. I crook my finger at Ziva in a follow-me motion as I whisper, “Want to go for a walk?” She always does. Without Cabela, she poodle prances swiftly along the road, her butt sashaying like she’s a model in high heels striding down a runway. Sometimes I ask, “Ziva Baby, do you have a hamburger to go with that shake?” She ignores the question, and tells me to keep up. When we return, Cabela is usually sleeping in the same spot she was before we left and has no idea we’ve been gone. I’m thankful because I don’t want her to feel like a junior high dog whose friends ditched her.

A few nights ago, when we returned from our around-the-block walk, which turned into a twice-around-the-block walk to avoid some people with a dog, Cabela was tired. I let go of Ziva’s leash so she could trot up the stairs along side the house, and I walked with Cabela, letting her take her time.

Ziva reached the last landing and spotted three squirrels and a bunny in the back yard. She took off like a middling horse out of the starting gate. (Ziva might walk fast, but she’s a jogger not a sprinter.) She treed the squirrels and sent the bunny scurrying into the neighbor’s yard. She came within inches of one of the squirrels but made no attempt to grab it. She has come close to catching squirrels before, but she doesn’t want one. She enjoys harassing them. She stretched up along the tree trunk and gave a couple of quick barks.

If Ziva caught a squirrel, I picture it curling its front paw into a fist and pummeling her on the nose. She would cry and run to hide behind my legs. Ziva is a brave knight in the face of danger that she believes won’t come to pass. For all other occasions, she’s a damsel in distress hiding behind my skirts. If you invited Ziva to go bungy jumping, she’d tag along—but only to watch you jump. And I would be standing next to Ziva. Neither of us are too adventurous.

But next year I’m going to the Shetland Islands. This is an adventure for me. The Shetland Islands are so far north of Scotland that on most maps, the Islands are denoted with their name and an arrow pointing north—as in “Yeah, they’re up there somewhere.” I fell in love with their stark, stunning scenery while watching Shetland, a mystery series named after the Islands. My desire to visit the Islands became so strong that I thought about it every night before I drifted off to sleep and ever morning when I woke. Then COVID hit, and my dream drifted away. But the yearning is back, so I’m making concrete plans.

I’m nervous about going, about being so far away from home, about travel arrangements being garbled. But, when I start thinking this way, I’ll remind myself that being punched in the nose by squirrel can’t hurt worse than giving up on a dream.

The Yearly Teeth Cleaning: A Reflection on the Passing of Time

Cabela and Ziva stand by the door of the vet’s exam room. Tired, they sway on their feet like a couple of soldiers who’ve just returned from a lengthy skirmish at the front. Cabela has been through more, and she struggles to keep her butt in the air and her back paws planted on the smooth, slick floor. They look at me, their superior officer, and wait to be told, “At ease, girls, dismissed.” I look at the vet, this is her briefing, so my dogs and I wait.

They haven’t really come from a battle, but from having their teeth cleaned. They were anesthetized and x-rayed. Neither of them had to have teeth pulled.

Cabela in shorts

My dogs watch me watching the vet. We all seem to know the drill. Be quiet, listen, nod. The more efficiently we can do this, the quicker we can go home, Cabela and Ziva because they’re worn out, me because I want to cry. My dogs are 14 and 11½ years old. These days the sand trickles faster through the hourglass.

Cabela had a benign cyst, the size of a small rubber ball, removed from her left hindquarter. She has a two-and-a-half-inch incision and a dozen stitches. The vet says Cabela shouldn’t lick her incision. I head off any discussion of her having to wear a cone: “I have a pair of shorts she can wear.” Medical treatment with dignity.

I wonder if I’ll have Cabela, the oldest one, put under anesthesia for a nonemergency surgery again, or perhaps any surgery. The older she gets, the riskier surgical procedures become. Today I worried—more than in the past—that one of my dogs might not wake up. I chose the option to have the vet call after each dog’s teeth cleaning was done instead of waiting until they were both done.

The vet explains Ziva has bone loss in her jaw, but she still has enough bone to avoid having teeth pulled. This time. Cabela has bone loss too, but less than Ziva’s.

The vet relays all this to me and shows me x-rays from this year and last year.

I trust the vet—I don’t need to see the pictures. But I don’t say this. I stand at attention, and pull myself up as tall as I can, perhaps to make up for my dogs who sag under the lingering effects of anesthesia.

The vet clicks an icon, and ghostly black-and-white images of Ziva’s teeth parade across the computer screen. I feign deep interest, but I want to go home. My dogs’ noses are nearly touching the exam room door, willing it to open.

The vet wants to explain the medical stuff—like a fourth root on one of Ziva’s molars that she hadn’t seen before. She sent the x-rays to a veterinary dentist for a consultation. I tell her that’s fine. I knew her before she was a vet, and she’s been our vet for over twenty years. She’s doing her job, taking time with us, treating us with respect.

She asks if I have any other questions, and I don’t. She can’t tell me how long Cabela and Ziva will live. She can’t tell me how long I have before I sit in front of doctors who explain age-related medical stuff to me.

I watch my dogs and see my future.