When Wolfie expired quietly next to his water bowl last month, I asked the vet to wait before taking his body away. I wanted Bisou to see him one last time. I thought she might want to say goodbye, or get a sense of closure or whatever it is a dog needs when her life's companion dies. But she didn't pay any more attention to that long, still body than if it had been a pile of laundry. Instead, all her focus was on the vet, whom she loves and who said, seeing my surprise, "I've seen this kind of reaction before. Dogs are really good at perceiving the difference between 'alive' and 'dead.' To her, Wolfie is no longer here."
In the following days, I watched Bisou carefully for signs of mourning, but there was nothing obvious. Then I went away for an overnight trip, leaving her with my husband, who fed her and threw balls for her and was around most of the time. When I walked in the house on my return, she became hysterical. She barked and yelped and moaned. She ran around in frantic circles and barked some more, and couldn't seem to stop. I finally had to throw balls for her to drain some of that energy and bring her back down to earth. My husband said, "Maybe she thought that the vet had taken you away like he did Wolfie...."
Wolfie was so much bigger than she that they didn't play together, unless you count as play Bisou's jumping up into his face to get him to yodel and open his mouth wide so she could stick her head inside. But the two of them would casually check on each other during the day, and sleep close together at night. I am sure that he was a steadying, reassuring presence in her life, as he was in mine.
Now people are asking if I plan to get another dog. One friend says, "You should always have at least two dogs. That way, when one of them dies, you're not left dogless." Another asks, "If dogs kept humans as pets, wouldn't you appreciate having another person in the house?"
They are right, of course. But...
Although I have almost always had two dogs (for a while I had three, but that was way too many), there is much to be said for the one-dog life. It's so much easier, especially if the dog is a reasonable, portable size. These days, when I go on errands, I often invite Bisou along. And if I have time after I've done my shopping, I let her out of the car and we go for a walk. There is just one collar, one leash to deal with. One "heeling" behavior to correct. One poop bag. True, in my two- dog days I sometimes left one at home, but oh, the guilt on my part, and the uncomprehending sorrow of the dog I left behind! Of course I would tell him over and over that it would be his turn next time, but he didn't know that, he was just a dog, and all he knew was that a terrible injustice was being perpetrated.
A single dog not only means less guilt, but less hair on the furniture, less poop to pick up, fewer nails to clip, fewer vet bills and visits. And it also means, for me, a more intense relationship with the dog. As with human marriage, there is something to be said for person/dog monogamy. Our capacity for love may be infinite, but our time, energy and attention are sadly limited, and it's so much easier when you don't have to worry that you're giving too much to one dog and depriving the other (yes, there goes the guilt issue again).
True, with a single dog there is the danger of neurotic over-involvement on the part of the human. Sometimes I worry that I've started down that road already. I find myself wishing that Bisou were half her size so I could take her on airplanes, to restaurants, stores, everywhere. Will I end up, twenty years from now, mumbling endearments to a Chihuahua in my purse?
I think I can stay vigilant enough to prevent my relationship with Bisou from degenerating into neurosis. As for her, as long as her nose keeps her attuned to that universe of smells into which I cannot follow, and as long as her love affair with the entire human race continues, she is in no danger of becoming pathologically attached to me.
Still, it would be nice to be able to leave her for a couple of hours without worrying that her little heart is breaking. Should I get her a cat?
(To be continued.)