I know that when Bessie stands in her bowl and is dipped up to her ankles in chicken breast au jus, she is no longer the dog she used to be. This dog, who unconsciously wears his dinner like socks, is not the demanding friend who meticulously cleaned himself up like a cat.
I know that when I find her asleep with her chin resting in a piece of urine on one of the 10 small pads that line her puppy-safe area of the apartment, this is not the same dog that was house-trained so determined that I was having problems she had pad training initially.
I know that when she falls on her back from her foam bed and whirls around like Kafka's beetle, this is not the same dog that spontaneously jumped from the floor into my arms in shock (luckily my reflexes were up to the task).
I know that when she goes into a corner and is unable to find her way out, reduced to plaintive yelps, so piercing it makes my heart beat faster, this is not the same dog my mother so often called smart has that it became a family joke: "Bessie's a genius." Working nonchalantly through tidbits may not be considered a genius, but it showed a knack for solving problems that are decidedly more complex than securing them.
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Bessie is a 19-year-old Chihuahua mix that I adopted just before Thanksgiving 2006 when she was five years old (or about five). In the first few weeks I was confused about how quickly they connected, how their world revolved around me, before I got used to the neediness, the dependence of a dog. (I had two cats for 17 years and they watched me come and go without much concern.)
But Bessie's commitment, which was so intense at first, eventually became second nature. We have developed routines that are as easy as breathing. She stayed under the covers every morning until I came back from the shower, only bothering to come out when it was time for her walk and breakfast. I learned to understand what she needed through an unspoken line of communication that is still a mystery to me – it made me understand what was going on when she wasn't feeling well, often before the vet was sure. And when I traveled, I carried the uncomfortable feeling of absence with me, like Catherine O’Hara as Kate in Home Alone, on the plane to Paris and unable to shake the feeling that she had forgotten anything.
Bessie has cognitive dysfunction in dogs and I am aware that these will be my last days with her – though not how many there will be, as this is a disease that kills the brain before the body. Looking back, I see there were signs a few years ago, including a fear of travel that didn't even require an adjustment period, when I started stowing them in a porter for our train and air travel. But when she threw herself in her bag before a Thanksgiving flight and peed in the airport for Christmas when I took her out to straighten her legs – the first of many accidents – I knew she had made her last flight.
Even now I know that when Bessie is walking up and down, unsure what to do with herself, but is reassured by finding me in the room, this is the same dog that I spent 14 years with. I know that while she doesn't always want to stay next to me like before, the best way to keep her from circling the dining table is to hold her until she falls asleep in my lap while I sit on the sofa.
And I know that despite all these differences, I will love her as much as I always have while we're together.