Essay about a Dog and Love

My mom left me with a senile dog while she went on a last adventure.  I thought, "No big deal. A month is not so long to bear this yippy-yappy grandma of a dog."  It would only be a minor inconvenience.  I thought I was the babysitter, but Aji's taught me a lot about love in these past couple of weeks.

I didn't feel much affection for the dog.  She was loyal to the death to my mom even when Mom put her down all the time about being fat.  I suppose that her always being there was important to Aji.  I see now how crucial being there is.

The first night, I felt bad for Aji because I knew that she knew something was wrong.  That mom was going somewhere she couldn't go.  She begged please, please and slept on Mom's house slippers left by the door.  Aji waited days on those slippers.  I finally threw them out.  "Mom's not coming, " I said.  "It's just me now."

When I got home the first night from work, there was pee everywhere.  Chaos and frustration.  "Why?" I complained and angrily took her out even though it was apparent that whatever was left in her bladder was strewn all across the living room floor.

The next day was the same.  "She doesn't deserve freedom," I said and left her cornered in the bathroom until I returned.  "That's what you get."  Only to come home and find she had escaped and peed all over the carpet in my room as vengeance.  "I hate you," I said as I cleaned.

She escaped the next day too. I had underestimated her after all.  This grandma and her piss and poo.  "No more," I said and secured an unused frame to block the bathroom entrance.  Surely, this would do the trick.  The frame did not relent to her pushing or scratching.

I came home to find that after nine hours, her pee pad was dry.  She hadn't gone at all since her morning walk.  "Why is she doing this to herself?" I wondered and proceeded to take her out for a walk.  Aji peed in the hallway before we even got outside.  "Aji!" I yelled.  But this time, I knew it was my fault.

The next day was deja vu.  Days later, I noticed a firm bulge on her lower right underbelly.  "Was that always there?"  I hadn't even noticed.  "Aji, I didn't realize you were ill."  Pity and panic ensued.  "All right.  You can roam free in the apartment.  Your pee pad is right here."  I laid down two pads strategically around the apartment.  Just in case.

I expected to be busy when I came home cleaning Aji's pee puddles, but she surprised me by greeting me at the door.  Ready for her walk.  She hadn't peed all over the place.  She'd utilized the pads.  Now we were getting somewhere.

Aji and I go on like this.  I give her her freedom and feed and walk her.  Sometimes, I get home later than usual but I always talk her out for her walk.  "It's the least I can do, " I think.  Laps around a parking lot.  No leash.  Just us.  She keeps close.  Sometimes sniffs strangers but never strays far from me.  She used to huff and puff embarrassingly.  But she's getting healthier.  "One more lap?" I ask.  I go.  She follows.  Occasionally, she stops in her tracks making me turn around and look at her.  "Walk with me," she says with her eyes.  And we continue.  Step by step.

The walks started out as a way for me to prevent her from peeing wherever she wanted in the apartment.  Secondly, I wanted to exhaust her so that she'd fall into a stupor instead of keeping me up with her whining.  Which never happened.

Fortunately, it's not like that anymore.  Sometimes, she is quick and we could go back inside within five minutes.  But we don't.  She follows me while I look at the moon.  We've seen lightning together, a drizzly day, and a shooting star.  I'm not even sure whether her vision allowed her to witness such things but I'm glad to have her.  I wonder if she will utterly abandon me when mom returns.

Even as I fall more and more in love with her, I worry.  Because the bulge remains.  "Is she still stressed?"  Maybe it's something else entirely.  Then, I come home to find that her hind paws are moist.  I immediately think she is self-harming.  Gnawing on her paws because she has nothing better to do.  "Please stop.  I love you."

I take Aji to the vet.  She barks the whole way.  She never did like car rides.  When I walk in carrying her in my arms, everyone in the reception area turns around because Aji snorts like a pig whenever she finishes a tantrum.  "I didn't neglect her," I want to tell everyone.

Finally, the doctor sees us.  A mammogram later, I am told that Aji has a hernia.  An operation would cost $2k and it's risky because she's so small.  She is the size of a roll cake.  The doctor says I can think about it.  Her heartbeat is good and if her appetite is good and she has a good quality of life, we can let her be.  She's probably got two to three years left in her.

"Does Aji seem like she's in pain?" the doctor asks me.  And I feel stupid for not knowing.  I always thought we were happy.  When you whimpered, maybe it wasn't because you wanted me after all.  Were you hurting baby?

I feel so bad after the vet, I let Aji sleep in my bed.  She sleeps in her mini bed on my bed.  She never liked cuddling.  And it's okay if she rejects me.  I just want her near.  Mom is unreachable.

I start shampooing Aji with the special eczema shampoo I bought from the vet.  But she's losing hair anyway and patches of crusty dead skin invade her lower back and above her arms.  I apply the special lotion I bought with it and pray she gets well as I rub it gently into her wounds.  She doesn't resist me which can only mean that she really is unwell.  She would never tolerate medicine before. She used to be so spunky.  I also dunk her hind paws in a special solution I bought.  Three to five minutes for each paw.  She always winces when the blue solution touches her.  But then she lets go and stands limp.  Trusting me.

And I think this is what love must be like.  To want the other party to be well, even if you are not.  A mixture of sadness to know that your presence alone can't heal them, nor your thoughts or good intentions.  I keep texting Mom for Aji's sake.  "Your baby is hurt.  She needs you.  When will you come home?  I'm fine, but she needs you.  Please."

I wish I could be more like my dog when it comes to love.  To be vulnerable and communicate, "I need you."  "I like you."  "Please stay with me."  "Can we go out right now?"  All expressions that are so hard for me to utter come so easily to her.  And she's still a trooper when she is not feeling her greatest.

It scares and hurts me that I am failing her.  That in spite of everything, she seems to be getting worse.  Yet she doesn't hold that against me.  She always smiles and wags her tail when I come home.  I love when she naps near me while I journal or TV.  Because she seems the most peaceful then.  There is no fear.  We cling to each other and carry on the best we can.  Being there turns out to be really important after all.

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