We have often joked that Atticus is a grumpy old man. It’s true: he’s an old soul and has been an old man at heart since he left puppyhood at 18 months old. There’s a cliche that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and we learned that the hardest way this week.
My twenties were made up of some good years (I married my life partner, I completed a master’s program I really liked) and some lost, aimless ones. When I left university I was often un-or-underemployed, depressed and not sure what I was meant to be doing. Atticus would sit with me when I was home alone crying in my bed, sit his fat rump right up against me and just be there with me. I was often living far away from my family, and if Callum was at work or school, Atticus was the constant presence by my side.
I didn’t grow up with pets, so I didn’t know what it meant to have an animal be your best friend until I was an adult in my twenties. It was a sudden realization for me: as soon as I held this little pup with giant soft ears, I was hooked.
Atticus had us to himself for a full decade before we had a baby. He has always had separation anxiety – Callum and I were his pack and he loved us so much he couldn’t bear to have us leave. Due to my up and down employment and schooling, I was often home with him for months at a time.
He’s been getting more anxious and weird as he gets older. We tried so hard to have patience with his weirdness – I always remind myself of those times he sat silently and concerned beside me, cuddled up as I cried. A few times this past summer he even sat on my head while the fireworks went off up at the lake, while I was laying there trying to sleep. I was so frustrated with him then, because all I could think about was how I needed to sleep for the baby, and how I was worried the baby would wake up. But still, I held him while he shook. He smelled terrible. His fear panting made his stinky breath fill the room.
We never did figure out how to soothe his fear and his anxiety. We recently tried medication, and it didn’t work. We’ve tried so much over the years: thunder shirts, scents, training, medication.
One of the hardest parts of this for me (and there are so many hard parts) is that I don’t know if he knows how much I love him. All he does is show us how much he loves us, as annoying as it can be sometimes. He lives to love us, love food, and other adults he meets. He could never find a way to love other dogs and little humans. He liked the other dogs in our family, but he didn’t have that insane, howling love for them that he had for his people. We had hoped he’d learn to love Malcolm. Malcolm loves him so much. The first thing he asks for when he’s getting ready to leave daycare is “Atty? Atty?”
I’ll miss his loud snoring. I’ll miss even his most vile farts. I’ll miss his ridiculous reverse sneezing/snorting.
Atticus, I hope wherever you’re going you’ll have all the blankets, the comfiest beds, the best treats; I just wish you didn’t have to go there without us.