A Dog Story by Ron Steinman
This is about identity, memory and loss. The three are not the same, but when woven together, they often form a single, unbreakable braid.
I live in a 39-story apartment building with three towers and upwards to a thousand residents. It is easy to get lost among those who live here and to rarely see the same person twice, unless you have a dog. The other day I ran into someone I had not talked to for more than a year. Startled on seeing me, she said, ” I haven’t seen you for a long time. I didn’t know you were still here.” Meaning, probably, that I was still alive. Without blinking, I responded that I am still here in every way but one. I said, “Lacey is long gone. ” There is a saying that you are known by the dog you keep. I never thought I “kept” Lacey. She in her way “kept” me. In doing so, she gave my life and my time with her special meaning.
Take a moment so I can tell you about Lacey.
Lacey, a pure bred Shih Tzu with a genealogy longer than mine, died March 21, 2014, more than fifteen months ago. At 18 years and four months, she had had a long, fruitful and mostly happy life. The two years before she died were difficult for her. Her hearing had been gone for years. She had lost most of her sight. From her best weight of about 13 pounds, she had pretty much stopped eating and at the time of her death, she weighed less than 8 pounds. Her hind legs were so weak that she could no longer jump on or off my couch. She slept most of the day on that couch in my living room and shared my bed at night, hardly ever moving from the spot where she first settled.
After cooking for her for many years – broiled chicken beast, fresh carrots, yams, sometimes a baked potato — in her declining years I switched her to a diet of special food to help her nutrition and to keep her alive. Never much for treats, toward the end she even declined those when offered. Usually not very demonstrative, she did not like pugs, big, longhaired dogs, and sometimes when meeting a stranger for the first time she showed her displeasure. That quickly dissipated after she accepted, in her way, the person in question.
People who knew Lacey, named because as a puppy she untied everyone’s shoelaces, loved her for her beauty, temperament, gentleness and loyalty. She had been my late wife Josephine’s best companion when we lived in Rockville Centre. After Josephine died in 2003, I moved into the city. Of course Lacey came with me. She settled nicely into my one bedroom apartment where she became my dearest companion. I could say anything I wanted to her and in return she licked my face and cuddled very close. I could not ask for anything more in our relationship.
As many apartment dwellers, I walked her three times a day, in good weather and bad. She hated rain, loved the snow and panted in extreme heat. At her best weight she was small. I could carry her to go from point A to point B. She loved being in my arms.
Lacey did not die suddenly. Her life ebbed away slowly, it’s quality severely diminished. After her death, my life changed. I was no longer the person I had been when Lacey was alive. For some, or perhaps many who knew her and me, she was out of sight, and, so, out of mind. I no longer existed in the eyes of the small world of dog owners in my building because Lacey, too, no longer was a presence. Once identified by the dog I shared a life with, almost no one in my neighborhood dog fraternity recognizes me for the person I am. That is okay with me. Just think: I have become a non-person without even trying. I can tell you this, though — I miss Lacey more than I do my fellow dog owners. I hardly recognize them, too. I can live with that.