My dog Josie sat in my lap while we waited in the kayak for my younger daughter to join us. To my surprise, she rose, stepped to the front of the kayak, jumped off into the shallow water, and headed for the woods. What was up with her lately? I called her, but she didn’t come. Josie turns 13 this year, 91 in human years, and has lost hearing. Calling her didn’t work. I’ve started to teach her hand signals, but she’d have to be looking at me, of course, so they weren’t helpful. She finally did come back, and I comforted myself by rationalizing that she just needed to go potty. Still, as she painfully climbed back aboard, I felt a tug in my heart. She wasn’t going to live forever.
It’s hard to see people and pets we love struggle and deal with aging. She no longer hurries to my husband in the morning for a belly rub since it takes a while for her daily pain pill to kick in. Her personality has changed as well and, like our future together, is unpredictable.
Yesterday, the family boated to an adjoining lake that has a nice beach area. After my son threw out the anchor, I lifted her off the boat and waded until the water was shallow before setting her in the lake. (She has never been a strong swimmer.) The water was refreshing, not cold, and she dog paddled the short distance to shore. I waited for her to joyously dig rocks out of the sand and sniff for animal scents like she normally did, but she tore off toward an unoccupied cabin instead. When I called to her she made eye contact, but my usually obedient Josie ignored me. If she kept going in the endless acres of woods, she’d be lost forever. My older daughter hurried after her. Adrenaline surged through me and even though I was barefoot, I was about to brave the sharp sticks, rocks, and briars when I heard, “Got her!” I let out a deep sigh.
Today, Josie, who has always sat in my lap in the kayak, moved to the back where I’d placed a soft towel. She stretched out and fell asleep in the warm sunshine.
My daughter and I paddled for a while and then stopped to visit a neighbor at his dock. We spent several minutes reliving the summer five years ago when my pet goose had greeted his friend Nancy, who had been stand-up paddle boarding. Nancy had been terrorized by the creature with a raucous quack-honk As faithful readers know, I love Gertie stories and while we were chuckling, it never occurred to me to check on Josie.
We waved goodbye and paddled through what we call the narrows into the adjoining lake. My daughter kept me entertained with stories and discussions. At the far end of the lake, we stopped to visit the rest of the family who were fishing. Finally, we paddled toward home. When a pontoon approached us and the driver called, “Did you lose someone?” my mouth dropped open. Josie’s wet face peered down at me. “We found her on shore.”
I didn’t know when she’d dropped off. Had it been while we’d been visiting or navigating through the two lakes? What an irresponsible pet owner I was!
“I bet she jumped off at the narrows,” the good Samaritan said.
For an agonizing minute, I imagined my horror if I’d realized Josie wasn’t still on the back of the kayak. I would have frantically paddled around visualizing her trying to make it to shore and failing. When the lifesaver lowered her into my arms, I wrapped her in my arms. With my drippy, shivering dog securely in my lap where I could see her, my daughter and I set off for home. I had an overwhelming urge to curl up with my old dog and hold her tight.