The day after the Moderna booster was approved by the FDA and the CDC, I rolled up my sleeve to be finished with vaccinations for this year. I wanted to know that I’d done what I could do to protect myself and anyone around me. What happens next? Who knows? In an unprecedented time, you use your best judgement after assessing the data available. No one can predict what may happen, even a few months from now. But at that moment, I was finished. I had no reaction to the vaccine late that afternoon or evening or even the next morning. I was busy going through routine chores. While in the kitchen I noticed some bananas just this side of going rotten and decided I’d turn them into a banana bread. But I was short one banana. I called my son-in-law to see if he could spare one and when he confirmed that he did, I was grateful that my daughter and her family having chosen to live right across the street. I made a quick trip to get their spare, had a brief chat, and returned home. Within minutes I felt my temperature rise, developed a pounding headache and a withering fatigue which slammed me into my recliner. I spent the next twelve miserable hours there. I wasn’t really surprised. I’d had similar reactions to my two previous injections. Although I have no evidence to support my theory, I’m all but certain I had Covid in February, 2020. After a wretched week of a head-throbbing fevered state, painful rib-wracking cough and body aches, I’d noted in my journal that I’d lost my sense of taste and smell. No testing was available at the time I put all the pieces together. So I’ll never know if I had antibodies built up after that infection, perhaps making multiple vaccinations redundant. In the long run, it doesn’t much matter. But oh the places I go when my brain is boiling.
I’ve been without a pet since January when I had to euthanize my elderly rescue dog Violet. Violet wasn’t the dog I was looking for, just a few months after Michael died. She was at a shelter which primarily houses the smaller collie version, the shetland sheep dog, which I thought was a better match for someone in my age group. But there was poor Violet, a former show dog, aged 8 and 1/2, who’d been kicked to the curb after winning as many blue ribbons as she ever would. An animal who’d been debarked, lived most of her life crated and made no eye contact with humans, she was the perfect reclamation project for me, the caregiver with no one in my care at that point. We spent three and a half years together and by then, she’d become as close to a real pet as she was able. You actually can teach an old dog new tricks. Then she was gone. Since I was 17 years old, except for a few months, I’ve always had a dog. So this recent time with no patter of four paws has definitely been a big change for me. I’ve been thinking about what to do about it.
Look at this adorable dog. Last week, I randomly glanced through the available pups at my local shelter and this face, that of a bright, beautiful border collie was staring at me. You don’t often see them in shelters. The next day I drove over to the facility to be the first person to see him. He was pretty loud which is fairly typical for the breed. I had a border collie for 15 years. She was smart, a herder, a dog who stared into your eyes, trying to anticipate what you wanted, what you needed and what was the next assignment. I adored her.
Ribeye was loyal, loving and busy. I knew what I could expect from this breed. Bandit was three years old. The owners who’d relinquished him to the shelter had purchased him as one year old from someone on Craig’s List. After two years with him, they’d given him up. When I sat with him in a room to see what he was like, I noticed his alertness to all the action he heard going on just the other side of the door.
He responded to his name and to the “sit” command but he wasn’t able to focus. In addition, he was bald from his withers or shoulder area all the way back to his tail. When I inquired about the cause of this hairlessness, I was told that his previous owners said they’d been treating a non-specific skin flare without veterinary intervention. They also said he’d started nipping at them and their grandchildren. The shelter said they’d put him on an antibiotic for his skin and attributed his nipping to his herding instincts. Ribeye never nipped anyone in her life, even when she exhibited herding behavior. I suspected that Bandit had been crated for long hours and perhaps had started chewing at his body out of boredom and lack of exercise. I also thought he’d missed the early training these highly intelligent dogs pick up fast when they’re taught from puppyhood. I went by myself to look at Bandit. My family has been encouraging me to get a pet. I wanted the only voice in my head while weighing this choice to be mine. I filled out the application for adoption and was told I’d be contacted within two days about the shelter’s decision. Then I went home to think.
I’ve found it strange that ten months have gone by with me making only feeble attempts to find a dog. Ordinarily I’d be on a mission with no roadblocks that could possibly deter me from my goal. A part of me has been uncomfortable rattling around in my too-big house. My son has been here intermittently but I’ve been mostly alone now for almost four and a half years. After living with a strapping 6’4” man since I was twenty, I’ve felt a vulnerability that’s new for me. We live in a culture where violence against women is more common than not. Having a sizable animal would help allay some of my safety concerns. Yet, aside from those, I’m definitely aware of the freedom I now have. I can leave my house without worrying about anyone. I can stay out as long as I want to without thinking of when the dog has to go out or when it needs to be fed. I can take trips without making arrangements for anyone but me. I’m saving money on all the food bills, vet bills and grooming bills that are part of responsible dog ownership. Whose reasonable considerations are these? When Michael died and our little cocker spaniel right after him, I was all dogged up within weeks. And working hard on reshaping Violet. Where is that me?
My kids were betting I was bringing Bandit home as soon as I was approved. As it happened, both of them were leaving town just as all this decision-making was swirling in my head. I got the approval call two days after meeting Bandit. I slept on the matter one more night and then called to let the shelter know I wouldn’t be adopting him. I had some regret. He was such a lovely dog. But undoing someone else’s issues is no longer on my to-do list. If I get a pet I need to start from scratch. My fixer behavior has gone missing. I think I’m done with that part of my life after decades of caregiving and throwing myself at problems. I wish I could know when that transition happened to me. In the midst of my miserable vaccination reaction, I started fantasizing about ways to be conscious of the subtle steps that turn a person from one set of behaviors to another. In the midst of that fever-y delirium I had some ideas.
As I blearily assembled the ingredients for my banana bread, I was remembering an interesting conversation I’d recently had with my eleven year old grandson who seems to get taller every few days. We were discussing how cool it would be to have a time-lapse camera in his room at night to see if the obvious growth results we’re witnessing could be caught incrementally on a camera, the way a plant’s evolution from seed to bloom has been so many times. With advances in technology, could we literally see him elongate? Could we see his features morph slightly every night? Could we see his hair grow or a freckle appear where there was once nothing? I find these ideas fascinating.
As I lay back in my chair waiting for my bread to bake, I was thinking how I wished I could’ve had some as yet uncreated time lapse camera installed in my mind which could’ve slowly tracked my transition from being the person who needed Violet to the person who didn’t need Bandit. The subtle changes in me, like my grandson’s new inches seemed to suddenly just be “there,” but I know that’s not really true. As he is, I’m continuing to evolve. I am still myself but with tweaks and alterations. My whole life’s journey has led me to this moment. Will I be the me that’s lived with a dog for 52 of my 70 years? The one that snuck one into my dormitory when I was just seventeen and having a pet was totally illegal? The one that welcomed my life partner with his dog so that for decades, we always had two who traveled with us everywhere we went and were our kids before we made human ones? I know I’m not going to have a cat, even though I’ve had three, because they don’t seem to have much to do with who I am. I could see myself with a bird again because I’ve spent decades with cockatiels and some parakeets flying through my house.
If I had my internal time-lapse camera which recorded the waves and ripples of my mind as I continue to adapt to the life conditions I didn’t choose, perhaps I’d be able to foresee what I’m going to land on as my next phase of deciding whether I’ll have an animal companion again. I know they’re supposed to be a healthy choice for older people. But right now, despite a lot of isolation, I don’t feel unhealthy. My guess is that the many emotional demands of the previous decade took a bigger toll on me that I had no time to consider in their moments. Maybe my morphed self of now has been redefined, and that more impulsive me, who always had a dog, is a me of the past. I really don’t know what to expect. If that internal time-lapse device which I imagined during my fever really existed I’m certain that I could see the solid core of Michael and me that is still a surprising source of comfort and strength that has grown despite his absence. Someone should really look into developing a device that stays current with these sea changes life demands as we wend our way through its twisty path. Maybe in a distant time, long after I cease to exist, someone will invent one. Meanwhile, I still have no pet and I make a mean banana bread, whether I feel terrible or not.