Mom had a dog. This was my fault, because Exuberance was my dog first. I got her in the months before the split with my ex-husband under the mis-guided assumption that our existing dog was lonely. Springer Spaniels fall into two groups – bench bred and field bred. Bench bred are designed for Westminster. They are stockier and calmer. Field bred are the dogs you take hunting with you, water dogs to get the ducks all excited so you can shoot them as they fly away. Exuberance was a field bred springer with a rough start. She was always hungry, always willing to eat whatever her nose led her to, whether it was in the garbage, on the counter, or behind a cupboard door. She found her way to all of it.
In a way, she was a mistake. I was on a wait-list to get her from the shelter, she’d look at you from behind the gate with these deep brown eyes that inspired a visceral need to save her. Apparently, I’m not the only one it worked on, more or less. But I’m the only one who kept her. She was returned twice before me by well-meaning rescuers who weren’t prepared for, well, her exuberance. But then I had her, all 17 lbs of her. We crated her, but it was for hours that stretched too long when the commute was rotten. And then he left and it was just too much.
So my mom inherited her. They did well together. She gave mom something to complain about, an excuse to talk to her neighbors, a reason to get outside and walk, a companion, a schedule. Exuberance was allowed in a certain spot on the bed but only after 5 in the morning until mom woke up for real. Exuberance calmed down eventually, but then mom moved from Michigan to Florida and the neighbor who took custody of Exuberance during the day, well he had a grandson who was besotted with Exuberance. The grandson prayed for her every night, faithfully, and when mom moved, the grandson got the best thing ever: the grandson got Exuberance. To be fair, Exuberance got an acre to run on and a boy to play with.
Two weeks before she died, mom was talking about getting another dog. We talked at some length about this new dog business and I thought about how, were Exuberance still mom’s dog, I would have snuck her into the hospital so she could crawl in bed with mom and lick mom’s hand. Mom would have liked that. Mom really missed Exuberance, talked about how she wished she hadn’t let her go, cried a little.
Cleaning out mom’s house, we found a shock collar. I didn’t want to write that down because I can talk about mom’s other failings more or less without shame, but I’m ashamed of that shock collar. I had to go and look up the research – how awful is a shock collar on a dog that just can’t contain her joy? Well, the findings are mixed. The collar is no more effective at training a dog than consistent rewards. Still, trainers and behaviorists use them, people that adore their dogs use them to address entrenched issues like incessant barking, and how much worse can it be than yelling at a dog (like mine) when you catch her marking territory inside the house?
Still, it’s kind of like everything else when it comes to mom. These places where you can see the love on her, and not one of them is unmarred by *something.* I guess you can say the same of me too. In a quick tally of my accounts, there’s at least a little red in every column. In taking ownership of the undeniable, this question follows: how is it that I find her red marks so hard to reconcile when I have them too? The answer I’ve given over the years is that she never owned those debts, to keep the metaphor, and so the holes (to lose the metaphor) remained. Her daughters patched over them as necessary, but she carried on as if they didn’t exist. Miss Havisham admiring a rotten cake.
Nothing is simple here. Nothing is easy.