It didn’t take long to figure out that today is National Dog Day. My newsfeed on Facebook is full of cute dog pics and expressions of love and appreciation for the furry babies in our lives. Looking up the holiday, I discovered that this national day was founded in 2004 by pet and family lifestyle expert and animal advocate, Colleen Paige. Celebrated annually, always on August 26, National Dog Day is meant to elevate this most loyal of companions and also bring awareness to the plight of countless dogs that are currently in shelters, and are in need of a loving home.
It may seem funny, for me to post about this holiday today, since I don’t own a dog. I have eight granddogs. And a family of cats. (No worries…National Cat Day is October 29). However, I used to have a dog, until old age took her from me in 2007. I’ve thought about her a lot today. And interestingly, she came to mind last night, before I knew that today was National Dog Day. I read an article, before going to bed, that suggests when pets pass, their energies, their spirits, remain nearby, continuing as our faithful pets. And instantly, she was in my thoughts.
Payton came into my life by way of my older daughter, Elissa, who was enchanted by a litter of 8 week old puppies at a horse show. She carried one of the pups around all day, and convinced her dad, through a pleading phone call, to let her bring the female puppy home. Before we headed home, Adriel carried over another pup from the litter, and we let the puppies play together. I immediately noticed that the second puppy, another little female, was much more curious than her sister, more active, and definitely more vocal. I had read that curiosity and playfulness were good signs of intelligence. Elissa carried home that little live wire instead, and named her Payton.
According to the vet, Payton was a Rott/Lab/Chow mix. She looked like a Rottweiler, with the webbed toes of a Labrador Retriever and the black spotted tongue and dense undercoat of a Chow. He laughed over her constant vocalizations, and called her a “talking Rott”. It was a characteristic of hers that would remain with her throughout her life. And then he gave me the best advice that I could have received about this active pup. He told me to keep her in the house….yes, this puppy who was small enough to carry around now, but who would grow to weigh about 80 pounds…allow her to be a house dog. He said leaving her alone in a fenced in yard, or worse yet, chaining her up, would make her unsociable. He also explained that this fur ball was a working dog. She needed tasks to do and needed to have specific jobs to perform, to be happiest and healthiest.
We listened well, and took his advice to heart. Payton was ever after an indoor dog, who never once had an accident in the house. Elissa took her to the stables with her everyday, where she “helped” with daily chores, such as watching the horses and following Elissa from stall to stall as she mucked them out. She attended horse shows, watching her girl ride and perform, alerted by the music that it was time to head to the arena. At home she sorted laundry, carrying socks or washcloths to the washing machine for me, or picked up trash, tossing empty soda boxes or pet food containers into the trash. She babysat whatever kitten Adriel had, and sat patiently observing as Nate played the piano or guitar. I affectionately called her my Big Nose Girl and the kids called her Little Sister. She became, by way of constant interaction with her family, the smartest dog I ever had. After Elissa married and moved away from home, Payton was undeniably my dog. My girl.
The most amazing thing about Payton was that she self-taught herself to do so many things. Perhaps it was because we homeschooled, and Payton, always wanting to be a part of whatever was going on, spent her days learning too. She comprehended a large, spoken vocabulary. and we talked to her in a normal, everyday conversational way. She would listen attentively, head slightly cocked, and then let us know she understood. If I lined up an assortment of her toys, and asked for particular items, she could retrieve them for me and bring them to me, in correct order. She brought me my shoes and her leash when it was time for a walk, which was one of her favorite activities. Being such a big girl, I felt safe walking with her late at night. We explored our neighborhood in the quiet darkness, a shared bond between us. Those were precious times.
Payton taught herself a skill that I have never witnessed before in another dog. She learned to barter. If I had something she wanted, such as a sandwich, she would bring me something she thought I might want, such as the day’s mail. Placing the item carefully at my feet, she would point to the object she desired that I held, with that versatile nose of hers. And then gesture to the offered item, to see if we had a deal. Her bright, brown eyes would study me, and I know she was thinking, calculating, what to offer next if I didn’t go for the first offering. She often sat on my lap, not caring that she was so huge. And she loved to sit beside me on the couch, body upright, her front leg thrown around my shoulders. I had friends who used to stop by the house, just to watch Payton do her amazing activities.
I learned so much from that dog. Her love was unconditional and freely given. She was protective, without being mean, causing me to feel secure if someone I didn’t know knocked on the door. Payton answering the door always caused a stranger to back up a few steps. She delighted in the NOW. It was always NOW to her, so she lived without regrets of the past and without fear of the future. She enjoyed simple pleasures in life, such as falling snow and splashing through water puddles, enjoyed giving hugs, never failed to say good night. When I felt sad, or misunderstood, or alone, she knew, and she would come and sit between my knees, her back to me, and make a sound that was suspiciously close to “maa-maa”. I would wrap my arms around her and whisper in her silky ear, “Mama’s girl.”
She died of old age, curled up in the bathroom floor. I don’t easily cry. But I knew she would be leaving me that day, and I cried most of the day and long into the night, after she passed and Greg carried her from the house. I missed her. And I vowed not to replace her. There was a smudge, a Payton nose print, that remained on my living room window for 18 months after her death. She used to watch for the mailman from that window, eyes bright, ears alert, tail wagging. It was a game she played every day…bark at the intruder on the porch and make him go away. She knew there was no threat. It was a funny little joke to her. The sunlight would catch that smudge on the window and I’d touch it lightly, thinking of her, smiling over her antics, tearing up over her absence. I kept her collar and several of her favorite toys. I have them still. At last the day came when I could wipe that smear off the window, but she still occupies a special place in my heart.
The author of the article I read last night suggested that we continue to talk to our beloved fur babies after their deaths, as if they are still present, because, perhaps, just perhaps, they are. Payton often visits me in my dreams. I don’t dream about her. She visits me, moving with me from dream to dream throughout the night, a companion who accompanies and protects. As dawn approaches, she gives me a hug, and prepares to leave, tongue lolling out of her mouth, eyes bright with the promise to return. Today, on National Dog Day, I talked aloud to Payton, thanking her for being my faithful dog, thanking her for her love and companionship. I sat quietly, hands held out, calling her name, and felt the tingle of energy against my palms. Maybe it was my wishful thinking. Or maybe my Big Nose Girl was backing into my embrace, for a hug and a reminder that she will always be near. I whispered into her unseen ear, “Mama’s girl. I love you.”
My little Payton ornament, a gift from niece Ashley. This sits in my office. That’s Payton’s actual collar tag, which reads, “Not spoiled. Blessed.” This used to have a halo attached. Appropriately, it disappeared.