She was a little old lady, short and round as a dumpling. She energetically grabbed her dog from the exam table and tipped him onto his paws. You’d never have guessed her age except for the grey hair. Her dog found his footing and waited expectantly by her feet. “I’ve got to go”, she declared, “I have to decorate the Hall for my sister’s 50th wedding anniversary.” Wow, I marveled, that’s something! A blaze of blue eyes flashed at me. “It’s a pain in the-you-know-what” she said. “My 50th was 2 years ago and every day I wake up and wonder if we’re going to make it.” She gave me a saucy grin and danced out the door, her dog following her in adoration. I stared after them open-mouthed. Awesome woman.
People and pets share their lives with me. It’s a jumble and a jungle out there, and hanging on to these moments builds a life. On a long work day, I spend more awake time with fellow staff than I do with my family.
When I’d first started out in town I struggled to put my textbook medical knowledge together with my patient’s needs. My focus was on the animals and I learned their names first. This fact appalled me the day I rounded a clothing carousel at a local store and came face to face with a client. The woman looked up, a smile starting and then fading as I blurted out “Beau!” – not her name at all, but her dogs. Good grief! I worked harder to learn BOTH their names in future but don’t test me on that one. Over the years my brain often refuses to let go of the first impression, the pet we bonded over who is now deceased, so that I continue to call the next dog, or worse, the third or fourth pet that follows, by the original dog’s name. My staff cringes at these mistakes, occasionally alarmed as they search for other signs of dementia. There’s Zoie’s Mom. Oh, she has another dog now. Mrs. R is 87 years old. Last year she took a trip to China with her daughter. Next year they’re thinking of Australia. Zoie was a 10 pound black miniature poodle who had epilepsy and the sweetest disposition you could ask for. Her new dog is 3 years old, but she will always be the “new” dog. When we get together we talk more about Zoie. The new dog is very healthy and we don’t have twelve years of medical battles fought and won to look back upon with her.
And I have fond memories of the family matriarch, in her 90’s, who put out condensed milk for her cats every day. They were all terribly obese. She confided to me once that if they turned up their nose at a can of food she’d just open another flavor. Sometimes, she said, there would be as many as 7 cans lined up along her porch. I marveled at the ability of our pets to train us. She took in many neighborhood strays and it pleased her to spoil them. She laughed at my dietary advice. Condensed milk had seen her into her 90’s and I wasn’t going to convince her otherwise. She gave me a chocolate colored blanket she’d hand crocheted. I have it yet.
It was a little old lady who taught me about the bluing older woman used to take the grey out of their hair and make it lustrous white. True, sometimes it turned their hair a delicate blue. This invaluable knowledge helped me make white poodles whiter.
I’ll be a little old lady someday. I’ll hoard cats and keep too large of a dog and goodness knows what other kinds of critters. I plan to wear purple with a red hat and act up just like those women in the Red Hat Society, because I love the poem by Jenny Joseph. And to all the older women who have shared their pets and their lives with me, thank you for enriching my days and just for being you.
Christine B. McFadden, DVM