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Suds turns a cat person into a dog person

Christy Chalmers

I was going to write something amusing. Something about how mothers have an unspoken right to make comments that would otherwise be unforgiven by their daughters.

Comments like, “Better start watchin’ it, huh?” after the daughters gain a few pounds, or “You could be so pretty, if only…” you would smile, or wear makeup, or do whatever they think you ought to be doing.

But I haven’t felt amusing all week. I’ve mostly felt tired and shaky because I’m losing a good old dog, and I didn’t think it would hurt like this.

I don’t know when Suds McKenzie became my dog. Technically, it was the middle of last June when I met my mother in Pahrump and picked up Suds. But I was only doing the right thing then.

Suds was born when I was in high school. Her name was a play on Anheuser-Busch’s canine pitchman of the time.

Her mother showed up, pregnant, positioned conveniently on our property line. My sister and the neighbor kids took turns feeding the expectant mom while our fathers half-jokingly encouraged them to move the dog into the other’s yard.

The neighbors relented first and when the puppies were born, my sister picked Suds.

Suds soon proved herself a champion ball player. She had the best moves on the block for snatching a tennis ball out of the air. She was even better at soccer and would block kicked balls with her stocky body, then dribble them back to the kicker.

She initially feared the pool, but eventually my sister taught her to swim and use the pool steps. After that, Suds would toss her ball in the pool on blazing hot Sacramento Valley days, let it float a few feet and leap in after it. She’d give a grinning, “Well, somebody had to get it” look to anyone who disapproved.

I liked Suds, but didn’t go out of my way to give her treats or dote on her as I did with my cat. I regarded her as a mobile yard ornament, my sister’s dog, and didn’t give it much more thought.

Years passed. We grew up, moved on. Suds was always at the gate on visits home, tail wagging, holding a tennis ball. I’d give her a polite nod, maybe a pat on the head. She was my sister’s dog, after all.

Then things changed. Mom moved to Arizona. She expressed some concern about taking Suds, because they would be living on a golf course and the yards weren’t fenced.

I offered to take Suds without really meaning it, thinking of my two cats and busy schedule. Mom declined. Maybe Suds wouldn’t have a big yard to roam, but she could at least be walked and allowed to lounge on the patio, if she was tethered.

That was in March. Reality soon set in. The area surrounding the Arizona golf course was home to packs of brazen coyotes, and they would pick off any pet they could get. Suds had to stay inside all the time, and even her business breaks were sometimes disrupted with threatening looks by coyotes.

Mom was distraught. The dog was gaining weight and acting depressed. Maybe she should post a free pet ad and see if some local family would take a 12-year-old, partly blind, slightly arthritic corgi mix.

I decided the right thing was to take Suds. She probably wouldn’t last very long, anyway, I thought coldly as we loaded Suds’ effects into the trunk of my car on that hot June morning in Pahrump.

The first few weeks in Carson City did little to change my opinion that Suds was just biding time. Suds howled, a low, mournful cry at night and whenever I retreated after spending time with her. I apologized to the neighbors for the noise, explaining that an old family pet was having trouble adjusting. They were very understanding.

But somewhere along the line, she stopped being an old family pet and became mine. I didn’t know it until a couple weeks ago, when I woke her up from a nap and her head tilted unnaturally right and her right legs splayed out instead of forward and she could barely stand up.

Maybe it was a stroke or maybe a tumor. Chest X-rays revealed ominous congestion in her lungs. The prescription has helped and the herbs seem to be working, but not enough to totally erase the head tilt or keep Suds from wandering stiffly around the yard, sometimes lost yet only a dozen feet from the door.

I have a feeling I will have to make a painful decision, maybe not this week, but soon.

She wags her tail every time she senses me. She still wants to walk, even though she has to catch her breath after a couple hundred yards. She’s forgotten all those years when I treated her like a yard ornament.

I’ll never forget her. I just wish letting go didn’t hurt like this.