Since I was a little girl, there’s pretty much always been a dog in my life. To me, dogs make houses feel like homes. With their slobbering, barking, messy-pawed disorder, they make it impossible for anyone around them to take themselves too seriously, including (perhaps especially) me. All of our dogs and cats have been rescues; the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for a dog is just bizarre to me.
I also grew up in the “bush,” as we call it around here: forest on three sides and a lake on the fourth. Where I grew up, dogs had a purpose: they kept the bears away, ate the scraps, and provided company. They certainly weren’t groomed or cosseted. There were no veterinary heroics; annual vaccines and an occasional removal of porcupine quills was the extent of medical intervention. You got a new dog when a neighbor had puppies or when someone was giving a dog away.
Our current dog, Matzah (or Matzah Man as our kids prefer) is nearing 13 (or past it, we’re not really sure). He’s been a good dog. Always extremely energetic, he has continued to be mistaken for a puppy in spite of the grey around his muzzle. His bark could wake the dead, and indeed woke many a baby during the years that I was home on parental leave with my kids. He’s sat contentedly at my feet afternoons as I’ve been working on a thesis, or a blog post, or with a book in my lap, patiently waiting for his next romp. His name, originally coined because his coloring reminded us of shmurah matzah, became a bit of an inside joke, playing off his endless needs for affection and exercise (like avoiding leven, after 8 days, it’s enough already).
Until recently, his health has been impeccable and our vet would marvel at each checkup how well he was aging. But, sadly, this too has passed—and the great Matzah Man has finally started to fail. In the last three weeks he’s been losing weight, becoming lethargic, and needing encouragement to go outside. There is medication, there are things we can try, our vet would oblige any treatment plan we wanted to pursue… but I find myself torn about what to do down the line.
As Matzah and I were waiting for his most recent appointment, an acquaintance arrived at the vet’s office to pick up medication for her dog, who was recovering from knee replacement surgery. She regaled me with the details of his ordeal: surgery performed by an out-of-town specialist, subsequent infections, multiple medications, lost sleep, and future surgeries looming. She was $7,000 in debt because of her dog.
I must have looked at her with the expression a confused labrador adopts when being teased with a treat: head cocked to one side and a quizzical look on my face. I can’t imagine spending more than a few hundred dollars on our dog. Anything beyond that is unfathomable. Go into debt for what seems like extra misery inflicted on a dog? I think not.
As we near the moment when we’ll have to make a final decision about Matzah, I feel the pressure of the cultural norms that seem to have overtaken the collective pet-owning psyche; anything less than expensive veterinary miracles is taboo. You do love your dog, don’t you?!?
And we do adore him. But… he’s a dog. When he’s gone, I’ll miss him: his company, his enthusiastic greetings, especially his ability to clean a floor with his tongue. I won’t miss the drifts of fur on the floor or the heart-stopping barking whenever a cat dares to walk down our street. Still, I know there’ll be another dog in our future.
Maybe next time we’ll get one who’s a little calmer… with just enough of Matzah’s moxie to keep the bears at bay. In the meantime, I face his declining health with a mixture of affection, compassion, and yes—pragmatism, too.