Thursday, November 7, 2013

When Joy Came In

What’s for dinner?

As the weather hurries on into winter mode, I think of the time Joy, the dog, finally decided life would be better inside. At least, probably not worse.
In piecing together her story, I believe Joy had several lives.

Before she was enticed into my daughter’s house with sliced bologna, she had clearly been living out in nature. Her coat was rough and her feet were sore. She was thin and patches of skin showed through. But it was autumn, and the weather was getting colder. A dog needs warmth, and food, and—even if she didn’t want to admit it—a human being to care for her.
We suspect she had a home and a family, at one time. As we got to know her better, it became clear Joy understood a lot of people words and didn’t like children or men. Had she run away from a home where she wasn’t happy? Had she been left by the side of the road by people who couldn’t keep her? Or, as we got to know her tendency to run off when she slipped her leash, had she merely gone adventuring and gotten lost?

We’ll probably never know.
We do know she had a home of some sort. That she had learned some commands and phrases. That she lived a rough life in the wild. And that she finally sought help at my daughter’s house in the country.

As an aside: Two of my daughters have lived in the country and somewhere on the premises of both places is an invisible sign, obviously erected by animals who’ve been fed there. The sign reads—GOOD FOOD AND LOVE HERE! Stray cats and dog, down on their luck, show up for a quick meal and a sleep before going on. Yet somehow, they never leave. The love gets them every time.
Back to the Odyssey of Joy.

Her third life began when she ate the bologna and came inside. That one lasted a good long nine years in the country. Dog house of her own, plenty of good food, veterinary care. Chickens squawking around the yard for entertainment. Cats who came and went.
In winter, Joy came inside—slept in the garage at night, spent days in the house with my son-in-law and the television. And cats.

If you’re not a cat person, you may not know some of a cat’s habits, such as:
  • Sleeping on the back of the sofa in the sun
  • Stealing food out of the other animals’ bowls
  • Lying on its back and sometimes sleeping in that position
  • Stretching—first the back legs, then the front legs
Joy observed all these and tried them out, liked them, except for stealing the other guys’ food, and became—yes, you guessed it. She became a cat. In all but appearance.

Dogs like window gazing, too.
 She still loves cats (though she disapproves of those who steal food). Some of her best friends are cats. They don’t know that, of course, and hiss and spit at her when she tries to play with them outside.

Joy’s fourth life began when she and her “mom” came to live with me in 2007, along with Abby the Cat. Then Joy had a big adjustment. Here were two adults, one cat. Where were the rest of the felines? Where were the chickens? Why were there so many roads? And houses? And…kids!

That fourth life, well-regulated by the aforesaid adults, has brought Joy to acceptance of city living. Lots of daily walks, backyard sunbathing in summer, kids to bark at as they run and bike down the alley, other dogs to bark at when they dare to walk by our picture window.
Recently I began to wonder if Joy was going to live to enjoy her old age. Three years ago she began having problems with vertigo—I thought she was having a seizure. Medication got her back on her paws. It happened again the next year, and we discovered she can’t tolerate steroids (for allergies). This fall she began ignoring her dry food, drank only water, peed whenever and wherever the spirit moved. Another traumatic trip to the vet for me;  Joy's blood tests showed she had kidney problems. Back on antibiotics, new food, and—ta-da! New Dog!

I count seven lives, so far. Did she assume the nine-lives-of-cathood when she learned to live with cats? And live like a cat? Was there some arcane ceremony, a bestowing of Honorary Cathood on this Friend of Felines? This reads like a science fiction synopsis, but really, what do we know about our animals?

If she is part cat—or honorary cat—Joy doesn’t shed like some cats do. She doesn’t meow. She doesn’t climb curtains or refuse to use her litter box. She doesn’t even have a litter box.

I don’t know…maybe the nine lives are a myth. Joy is 16 years and 8 months old. We celebrate her birthday on March 1 each year with little muffins and a lot of hugs. We talk to her as if she were an adult person, and by gum, we’re certain she understands.
Everyone who meets her likes her, and she mostly likes them. Even if they don’t offer treats. But if you really want to make her day, stick a few nibbles in your pocket when you visit. Talk to her about life and what a great dog she is. You won’t be forgotten.

Joy received her name because, as my daughter says, “Everybody needs a little joy in their life.”
Joy, at 25.3 pounds, is both a little joy and a great big joy in my life.