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Old Dogs

Susan Estrich on

Old dogs teach you the meaning of love.

Judy couldn't get up this morning. She's 14, my oldest, and she's named after my best friend, who died. A brilliant idea, it seemed, at the time. I was missing her, and this would be a way to talk to her every day. The first Judy taught me not to be afraid of dogs. It sounds silly, but my mother raised me to fear them. She couldn't bear the thought of losing a dog, so we never had one; my mother was so afraid of life that sometimes it seemed she hardly dared to live.

My friend Judy's dog, who rode in the car for two hours to go to the door in the hospital parking lot where Judy would meet her in her wheelchair, was named Molly. My 12-year-old dog is Molly. Irving, 10 years old and the baby of the bunch, is named for my father, who died 40 years ago.

Three old dogs. I try not to think about it. Rosie helped me raise my children and now helps me take care of my dogs. The children are grown. The dogs are old. Rosie's dog, Sunshine, is Judy's sister. She beat cancer. How do you freeze time?

Just days ago, so smug was I, telling the woman who put in my garden that of course I would cover the cost of surgery for her dog, younger than any of mine; that I was happy to pay, happy so long as it was not my dog. When she came by today to pick up the check, my son was carrying Judy outside. How foolish to feel smug. Rosie left for Rome today on a church trip, something she has dreamed of all her life. I pushed her out the door. My son came and is staying with me.

So I didn't practice law today. I don't know what anyone wanted. I didn't write a brief or read a case. I sat with Judy. Our appointment was at 4:30. She didn't get up at 6 a.m., but I did. I stroked her head until it was time to take her to the vet. A lot of hours. I fed her from my hand. I watched her breathe. I kissed her and told her how much I loved her. I reminded her how, back when she was a little puppy, I told her that she would be bigger than all the big dogs she hid from. And she is.

And she is the sweetest girl in the world. Molly thinks Judy is her mother. Molly was sick when we brought her home -- abused, we assumed. Judy took her into her bed, and they have been together every night since. When we took Judy to the vet, Molly waited by the door. When we got home, she got in bed with her.

Our vet, Dr. Schlanger, is a wonderful man. I am a very good customer. My dogs get better care than most people on the planet: better care meaning more loving care, and not just more visits and pills. He just saw me a few weeks ago for Judy's arthritis. We talked about how well she was doing.

I was not supposed to be back today.

My son sat with me. They took an X-ray. "Not bad," Dr. Schlanger said. "She might get better." They found a harness, and we walked her outside. She went to the bathroom. I filled the prescriptions: some of the same meds I take.

By the time we left she was a little better -- almost standing on her own. She rode home in my lap. No miracles promised. But maybe. I'll take maybe.

My mother was wrong. Loving Judy is the best of me, loving dogs, loving my children: This is the best I can be. Even if I cannot freeze time. Especially so.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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