“How Long do They Live?”

“Oh, aren’t they cute!” cries the little neighbor girl.IMG_3392

She is not talking and Ariel me.

The girl was referring, of course, to Greta and Marlowe, my little Papillon puppies. Their ears are the size of New England states, and they are bouncy, like kittens, which people sometimes mistake them for.

Since I’m working hard to socialize them— yesterday it was the dog park and strand—anyone expresses half an interest, and we are there in a flash. “You want to pet them? Hold them?”

Aww,” the two moms and dads and four little kids go all gooey, the way everyone does, as they chuck the puppies under the chin. I especially like to watch teen-age boys, high on testosterone, melt in the face of such adorableness.

“And don’t forget Molly and Axel.” Ariel’s Molly is also friendly and cute, her part Papillon-ness almost-but-not-quite holding her ears up.

IMG_2587And Axel, well it’s a triumph that he’s on the walk with us at all.

“Axel is 16 and ¾,” I say. “He’s mostly blind. Mostly deaf and has horrible arthritis. Other than that, he’s good.”

“How long,” asks the man, “do pugs live?”

I pause at the unusual directness of the question. “Sixteen.”

“Oh.”

But it’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. And so I looked it up again today, just now. Turns out I was wrong.

The Wikipedia entry says that pugs live, on average 12-15 years. PetMD gives them 11 years.

To the extent possible I’ve been trying to prepare myself. A few months ago Axel could hardly walk, especially in the evening and we had a long chat with the vet. But we added IMG_3386some more meds and now we carry him down the stairs at night.

He’s still cheerful and loves his food and being with us. He squawks if he on the wrong side of the puppy fence from us.

And I thought a lot about Axel before getting Greta and Marlowe.

“How will he do with the puppies?” asked a friend.

“We’ll just have to see,” I said.

That friend confessed to Ariel she thought that meant I was going to put him down if the puppy introduction didn’t go well.

photo“Oh no!” said Ariel. “I don’t even have to ask…Mama would never do that.”

She’s right. I wouldn’t. But still, I’m totally aware that at some point, unless something startling happens, I will have to make that decision.

Why is kindness to our beloved animals, different from kindness to our beloved humans?

It’s a triple hard decision, and I still remember the day I had to do that for Cadence. At least the timing was clear. Cadence weighed 120 pounds and, suddenly, she was not able to walk. I couldn’t even get her out of the car.

IMG_2586Axel, at 15 pounds, has a stiff little unstable gait. Since he can’t hear, I go up and touch him when it’s time to go. And although he fakes it well, most of the time, his eyes are clouded with cataracts and he can’t see.

He puts his face down slowly into the water bowl, until his hard dry nose hits the water. He stops at a crack in the sidewalk, a sidewalk he’s been down a thousand times, fearful that the crack is an obstacle. Axel bumps into walls or the puppy fence sometimes and often goes to the wrong corner of the door to ask to come in.

“We CANNOT let Axel on the patio anymore!” Ariel called me in a panic in Telluride very late one night. “He just fell into the hot tub!”

Even young pugs can’t swim, and 16 ¾ year old ones surely can’t. But he was sure trying. Ariel got to him just moments after he fell in.photo 1

Even with meds, Axel’s bladder has about a 2½ hour span and the patio is the closest relief spot. While Ariel was taking out the trash he had simply walked into the spa.

Both rescuer and rescuee were traumatized.

But the puppies are good for him.

They are overwhelming sometimes, and when they want to share his bed, he will shuffle away from their hyperactivity. But he likes them. Loves them, even I think.

Greta, in particular, is extra gentle with him. Last night she went up and gave him a light paw, then rolled over submissively showing her belly, trying to engage with him. He didn’t move much, except for the wagging tail.

At night he goes up to their crate and wags and sniffs good night before waddling off to his orthopedic bed.

Life is always too short. But the puppies have helped bring him back a bit from the brink. And he, in turn, has helped them to be more civilized.

And they all have helped us remember that every day is a gift.

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About Karen Ray

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