I know that every day AJ is with me is a gift. Today she turns 17.
She’s a different dog than she was even a year ago. Slower, sleeps more often, but is more affectionate. She uses stairs most of the time to get onto the bed. She usually needs a helping hand to get in and out of the Jeep. Mostly she walks behind me off or on leash, instead of running ahead out of sight.
I worry every time I have to leave her overnight. Before I do, I promise her that I will always come back. When I returned earlier this month from a few days in the United States, my pet sitter Pickle (that’s her surfer name) left me this note: “I have to tell you that this was a very special pet sit with AJ. From the minute I came in the gate, she was just so happy to see me. For the last 6 days, she stuck by my side … and kisses and putting her head into my chest when I was petting her. She broke my heart!!”
She seems to keep breaking my heart as well. Lately AJ has been climbing onto the bed where I’m reading or doing something on the computer. I put whatever it is aside after she places her paws or head on me. I pet her, talk to her, tell her how much I love her, what I’m thinking about our future, how I’ll always be there for her. We stay like that until she doesn’t want to be petted anymore. I won’t be able to get those moments back. Reading, writing, working, watching whatever – those things can wait.
I’ve never had a bond like this with a dog. I used to think Bailey, my black Lab who lived to 14, was the best dog. And she was awesome. But AJ has something I can’t quite describe. I’m sure it’s wrapped up in how I got her – which was when my friend Joy passed away in August 2012. AJ has also been with me through significant transitions in my life. It’s the first time a dog has been a friend, not just a pet or companion.
She is so much more mellow now that twice in the last two months we’ve stayed with friends who have cats. We both behaved. There was a time when I would say, “Get the kitty.” This would be on our walks. Off she would run, never successful in her pursuits, though. Now she can co-exist with felines indoors.
My heart aches when I think about the attack she survived last May and how much worse it could have been. We were both changed by it and not in good ways.
I’m not taking her on hikes in Baja anymore. Mostly because I don’t know how long any of them will be until they are over. We don’t walk in the neighborhood because of my lingering fear. Instead, we go to the beach. When it’s just us, we venture to the fresh water lagoon and back – about 1.5 miles round trip. She loves to drink and linger in the cool water. Other days we walk with Jill and her two pups. These are about 2 mile treks, with beach time always a component. The dogs are all friends, but not playmates. AJ is beyond that for the most part. On occasion she will playfully interact with another dog, but for that to happen I need to be secure and she needs to be in the mood.
While her vision is going, she stopped in her tracks the other day when a whale close to shore came out of the water. She didn’t bark like she used to at a bear; she just stared at the water. If only she could tell me what she was thinking.
I know she loves the climate of Baja so much better than the chill of Tahoe. She spends so much more time outside. She has the run of the yard, even when Airbnbers are staying below us. Often I find her on the front step; which necessitates guests walking around her. She can see what is going on on the street from there. The guests just mean more hands to pet her. Some even let her inside downstairs and give her human food. No wonder she stays downstairs.
Even though I bought birthday treats for her when I was in the U.S., today we’ll go get papas fritas – our favorite junk food. We’ll walk, we’ll talk and it will be all about her – just like what all birthdays should be.