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Chloe Chronicles Part X
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Another new phase: it used to be that when I came home, Chloe was there to greet me at the door. We all know the drill—the happy dance, the joyful barks, the whines of relief. Chloe’s specialty was to grab a toy or a shoe and carry it around in her mouth, enticing me to chase her. These days, Chloe isn’t always there to greet me. She sleeps so soundly that she doesn’t hear me come home.

I must confess I have moments of panic when this happens. I rush through the house, searching for her (because I never know which bed she’ll choose). Seconds might go by, minutes, in which my heart beats more rapidly and I imagine the worst. But then I hear her footsteps and the clicking toenails and there she will be, at the top of the steps, wagging her tail slowly, her lips askew and her face all puffy from sleep, too lazy to come downstairs to say hello.

I rush up the steps to hug her. Her body is warm with safety and trust and comfort; mine is flush with relief. She licks my face and wags her tail, and I get the sense that she is trying to reassure me somehow. Don’t worry so much, she says to me telepathically. But I do worry. My dog is aging. That’s a fact. Her health might very well decline. Maybe someday, she won’t be able to walk at all. And I won’t be able to lift her. But you are here with me, now, Chloe says. We are together now. That’s all that matters. And when the time comes, you will still be with me. And I will be with you.

Then she goes back to sleep. And I go back to my work. Each is its own cure.

One of my favorite parts of my day is the end of it. (I don’t mean that sarcastically, despite my fluency in sarcasm.) What I mean is, I love to read in bed and I love my own thermopedic mattress. Late in the evening, after our final short peewalk, I’ll say to Chloe: “Time to go up to the Master Bed!” At that, she leaps up from her living-room bed and runs up the stairs as enthusiastically as she used to splash through rivers and tide pools. She’ll go straight to her bed, circling a few times and settling herself down with a contented sigh.

Before I get into bed myself, I lie on the floor next to her to say goodnight. I place my face right in front of hers, nose to nose, and whisper some endearment about how pretty she is. She sighs, not really liking such close proximity but tolerating it for my sake. I breathe in her breath. Sometimes she’ll thump her tail a few times, the sound muffled by the bed. Sometimes she’ll hook one paw over my arm and just hold it there. It feels like reassurance. And solidarity. We’ll stay like that for a long while, until I feel her pulse and she feels mine. Until the two of us are aligned.

Thank you, I say. Even though my life is chaotic and rushed and very often unsatisfying—even though it sometimes feels like a puzzle I can’t quite solve—I look at Chloe resting so contentedly and know that here is something I am doing right. Something about me gives this dog comfort. “If you want to feel safe,” the Dalai Lama once said, “help another being feel safe.” She falls asleep within minutes.

I personally don’t know any humans who sleep so well. There she is, snoring lightly, her chest rising and falling and her brown snout smooshed against a pillow. There she is, smelling faintly of sunshine and earth, with a mind uncomplicated by thoughts. Dogs don’t agonize over what they have or have not accomplished on any given day; they don’t worry about the additional tasks, hopes or goals they will not accomplish during the day that follows. No, they simply sleep, breathing in the oneness, breathing it out.

Chloe starts to dream, woofing and flexing her paws. I watch her with such love and tenderness I feel I might burst. Sometimes I wonder if she remembers her life at the shelter and all the nights she slept on a concrete floor. I wonder if those memories help her appreciate the marvelous fact that she now has six beds. But maybe it’s not about remembering or forgetting. We can forget and move on, or we can remember and move on. The trick is to not let those things plague us. We need only keep leaping through the meadows, running forever forward toward the next great thing.

Yes, my old girl is slowing down. So I will just try to slow down with her.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 76: Winter 2013
Lee Harrington is the author of the best-selling memoir, Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog (Random House, 2006), and of the forthcoming novel, Nothing Keeps a Frenchman from His Lunch. emharrington.com

Photograph by Maja Paskaš

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Submitted by Michelle | January 31 2014 |

So beautifully written. Reminds me of the slowing down days of my lab. It seemed like she went from puppy 0-8 years old to slowed down to very very slow. Take the time, every single moment to slow down with her. Enjoy it, it can be meditation in and of itself. Love your blog.

Submitted by Lee Harrington | February 1 2014 |

Thank you for your kind words, Michelle. Big hugs to you and your loved ones. Lee

Submitted by Kacy | February 12 2014 |

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful written piece. Coincidentally, my 12 yr. old golden is getting his therapeutic mattress in the mail tomorrow. I look forward to reading more of your work!

Submitted by Lee Harrington | March 5 2014 |

I hope your golden is enjoying his new mattress, Katy. What a lucky boy! Thank you for your kind words. xoxox Lee

Submitted by Karin | April 16 2014 |

Very touching and heart felt story .. I lost my senior dog one month ago and while i was reading your blog i felt like you were describing my beloved Cleo, she was 13 years when she crossed the rainbow bridge, and had her since she was 4 months..She gifted me with 13 years of unconditional love and loyalty..miss her dearly...

Submitted by Lee Harrington | April 18 2014 |

Thank you for sharing these kind words, and I am sorry for the loss of your Cleo. She was lucky to have your friendship for thirteen years! xoxo

Submitted by Rhonda Koch | April 16 2014 |

I'm experiencing this now with my Vienna. She has slowed way down due to heart issues, IVDD and now Sudden Acute Retinal Degeneration that caused her to go blind in about 7 days. She seems confused, cautious yet happy. I know her life is most likely coming to an end but I plan to make every minute with her comfortable and knowing she is completely loved.

Submitted by Lee Harrington | April 18 2014 |

Thanks for writing, Rhonda. It sounds as though Vienna is in the best possible hands. It's really such an honor to get to care for our beloved dogs in their finals years/weeks/days. I wish for you both a gentle journey. xoxo

Submitted by Kate Strouse | April 16 2014 |

This is a wonderful article, Lee. I was introduced to your work through Susie's Senior Dogs today, and like so many others, related to your experience. I am so sorry to hear of Cloe's loss. I have two seniors myself and dread the day that I have to say goodbye. But the slowing down, and arriving home to no greeting-- all too familiar-- and I savor everyday that I realize my babies are just sleeping soundly. My Josie is a Brittany mix who is about 8-9 years old and although she isn't slowing down as quickly as her 14 year old brother, she is growing very white in the face to remind me that she is getting into her golden years. I see many similarities between her and Chloe (besides their looks)-- she also grabs a toy as part of her daily greeting and isn't much of a snuggler. I like to think it's more of the breed and personality than any experiences before she and I found each other. I hope the same was true for Chloe.

One more thing-- it sounds like Chloe had the loveliest kind of life and you should take pride in the happiness you brought her. I'm sure she deserved all those beds and those wonderful romps on the beach but many of the most loved dogs don't even get that kind of pampering. I hope when you are ready that you'll consider doing it again.

Good luck with your healing. I know it must be a lonely road without her.

Submitted by Lee Harrington | April 18 2014 |

Thank you for writing, Kate. Your kind words really moved me. I miss Chloe terribly, but she is still with me everywhere, and I know she'll have a toy in her mouth waiting for me to chase her when we meet again. Enjoy your precious animal friends....xoxo

Submitted by LJ Evans | April 16 2014 |

I am having this same experience with my cat Mattie. We are very close. My wonderful vet tells me she must have been taken from her mom too young as some of her behavior patterns are typical to cats like that. I bought her at a feed store for $7 about 18.5 years ago. She is the most affectionate cat I have ever met. She has four beds plus mine, where she sleeps tucked into my armpit, with her head on my shoulder. I added a stool at the foot of the bed so she can make it up and down more easily. I bought a lower bookshelf for the bathroom to make it easier for her to make her way to the faucet, her favorite place to drink, which I turn on for her at a trickle. I keep telling her it's her job to turn it off when she's done but she never seems to get it. I start a small fire in the evening in the woodstove when maybe it's warm enough I don't really need to, but she really loves to curl up in the bed next to the stove and bask in the warmth. When I'm working at my computer sometimes she wants me to hold her, which is tricky, so I have an old grey sweatshirt and when that's what she needs, I pick her up and tuck her in the front and zip it up. I look very pregnant; she'll stay in there for hours. Sometimes she snores, which is very sweet. I stay very still to listen when she does that because it doesn't happen very often.

I saw your story in Susie's Senior Dogs. The piece you wrote about Chloe is just lovely, thank you for sharing so much about your life with her. So sorry Chloe went on to her next existance! That must have been very hard and I'm sure you still miss her terribly. How lucky we are to have the trust and love of these creatures.

Submitted by Lee Harrington | April 18 2014 |

Thank you so much, LJ. Your cat sounds very special indeed! Enjoy your time together and thank you for writing.

Submitted by Michelle | April 16 2014 |

What a beautifully written piece. I read it with a knot in my throat and tears in my eyes knowing Chloe passed on. I am giving my babies Riley and Candy and extra hug and snuggle tonight. Love to you!

Submitted by Lee Harrington | April 18 2014 |

Thank you for writing, Michelle. Yes, it's hard to re-read this piece, knowing now that she would die so shortly after I submitted it. But Chloe lives on in so many magical ways. Please give Riley and Candy a big smooch from me. xoxox

Submitted by Terrie | April 16 2014 |

Saw an excerpt of this on Instagram by @susieseniordogs & HAD TO READ IT...I feel the love that you have for your fur baby thru your words...This is an amazing piece of work...Enjoy every blessed moment that you have with her, for she is truly loved & knows it very well...

Submitted by Dani | April 17 2014 |

Beautifully written! It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your journey, I am currently on a similar one with my 11 yr. old black lab mix. I am so very sorry for your loss.

Submitted by Lee Harrington | April 18 2014 |

Thank you, Dani, for your kind words. Enjoy your days with your senior :)
xoxo

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