“Love you more!”
From the time my daughter was in elementary school, we’ve occasionally engaged in this contest that turns into call and response—“No, I love you more”—until one of us is exhausted and gives up.
I thought of this yesterday when I got home from work and heard the dog barking excitedly on the other side of the door. Our sheltie Beckley had had a tough day. My husband took him to the vet for his last round of annual vaccinations, a follow-up check on an ulcer in his eye, and a first check on an issue with his teeth that has made me shy away from the dead animal smell emanating from his mouth for the past several days.
My husband phoned me from the car after they left the doctor’s office: Vaccinations, check. Eye, better. Teeth, smiling and odorless.
I felt a mother’s guilt—something I rarely feel now that my daughter is an adult and living on her own—as my husband gave me the gory details of the examination of Beckley’s teeth. We seldom brush them, though we had good intentions after we had him anesthetized to get them cleaned a couple of years ago.
I cringed as my husband described the vet’s matter-of-fact lesson in how to avoid surgery again.
“Got any needle-nosed pliers?” the vet asked him, reaching for his own pair.
“Yes,” my husband answered.
“Then you see this plaque?” he asked, prying open the dog’s mouth in that skillful way that vets do, thumb against the inside of the dog’s bottom teeth. “You just do this.” And he demonstrated how to clip off what looked like plastic collected around the dog’s gum line. By the time he finished, the dog’s teeth looked almost as good as my daughter’s when she came home from the orthodontist during those years she had braces.
When my husband finished the report, I hung up the phone and lowered my head, whispering an inner, I’m so sorry, Beckley.
If my daughter had an ulcer in her eye, I would have been on the phone with the ophthalmologist before she finished complaining about it. If she fell asleep in her car seat as we were driving home after dark, I’d wake her from a dead sleep to brush her teeth before I put her into bed.
(Note to horrified parents who use the drive-around-the-block method to get their toddlers to sleep and wouldn’t wake them for any reason: I don’t say this to appear virtuous. My daughter never protested falling asleep at night, or I would not have disturbed her either.)
Not so with the dog. He doesn’t like having his teeth brushed, and my husband and I don’t like brushing them. We’ve tried every gimmick advertised at the pet store to keep canine teeth clean, and none of them work. So we ignore him until smelling his breath is more of a struggle than brushing his teeth.
I did brush them yesterday morning, though. His mouth smelled like the dead seagull that had crashed into the woods near our beach condo after the hurricane. No, I’m not exaggerating. And besides, he had an appointment with the vet. Brushing his teeth first is my own equivalent of my mother’s making sure my siblings and I had on clean underwear when we left for school in case we were in some sort of accident that might send us to the ER.
As I drove home, I gave myself a good talking-to. I will brush his teeth, I will I will brush his teeth, I will brush his teeth!
When I got there, I stood on the other side of the door to the mudroom, listening to that familiar yap, and offered a silent plea: Please don’t hate me, buddy.
I opened the door, and as Beckley always does, he ran turbo-dog style, back and forth from me to my husband, who was on the other side of the house, announcing that I was home. He persists until either my husband puts down whatever he’s doing and meets me halfway with a kiss of greeting or until I drop my books to scratch the dog’s head and receive his doggie kisses on my outstretched hand.
I dropped my bags and reached forth both hands to scratch behind his ears. He indulged me for a moment and then, teasing, ducked my hands and ran to bark at my husband.
Later last night, I brushed my dog’s teeth. And then, as I walked toward our bedroom, exhausted, to brush my own teeth and go to bed, I expected Beckley to stay with my husband. The dog usually protests that the herd is out of control when we don’t go to bed at the same time.
But instead of barking and herding me as he usually does, he followed me into the bedroom and got into his bed. And when I came out of the bathroom and got into bed, he crept from his doggie bed and lay down on the floor beside me.
I leaned over the bed and felt his breath on my face a moment before he licked my nose.
I love my dog. But he loves me more. No contest.
So don’t judge me. I know I’m not the best doggie mom. Just tell me your stories of pet love.