Ana Veciana-Suarez

Ana Veciana-Suarez: Our pets teach us life (and death) lessons

White Sox, Ana Veciana Suarez’s aging dog.
White Sox, Ana Veciana Suarez’s aging dog.

She has grown old. Her snout has turned white and her tail-wagging feels a bit (and a beat) off. She rarely runs in circles around the yard, and sometimes — mornings especially — she staggers up from her bed, the weight of the world on her shoulders. These days, she prefers to cut her walks short. Apparentl,y the lure of neighborhood smells isn’t what it once was.

Yes, White Sox is at that place where we, woman or beast, will end up if we’re lucky enough. Older, with senses impaired and preferring companionable silence to the cacophony of crowds. Watching her forces me to think of the inevitable. One day, she’ll be gone. One day, I will be, too. Between then and now, however, there is the matter of winding down.

My dog’s decline has come in spurts, only to accelerate in the past year. It makes my breath catch. First, we realized she had gone deaf. Then we noticed her lack of enthusiasm for the small pleasures of the yard. And now we cringe as she stands in front of the sliding glass door, clueless about whether she wants to stay in or shuffle out.

“You’re going to have to make a hard decision soon,” The Hubby warned me over the holidays, after her bladder didn’t hold out the night several days in a row.

“It’s all the commotion,” I replied defensively. “The grandkids, the Christmas tree, the wrapping paper rolls, the animated snowman…”

Just in case, I doubled down on our treks outside. She returned to normal — for now.

Strangely enough, observing White Sox as her health flags brings me closer to my own mortality. Not that I haven’t experienced aging in other formats. My father is 87, and though his cognitive skills are probably better than mine, he walks with the aid of a cane. He groans and he creaks and he gets crotchety in a Miami minute. But it has taken him a long time to get there.

A dog, on the other hand, matures at a faster rate. If it’s true that one human year equals seven dog ones, White Sox is then well over the century mark. As a result of this quickened process, I own a front-row seat to a time-lapsed film about the universal final dance that awaits us all.

White Sox doesn’t ruminate over her future, I don’t think, but we, the two-legged creatures, do. We may laugh at our first gray hair, but by the tenth, we no longer pluck or joke. As we grow older, we begin to take our doctor’s advice seriously and lay off the sugary sodas and the sweet rolls. In other words, she continues in blissful ignorance, and I entertain morbid thoughts.

I recently read a piece about Hasbro’s latest line of toys: life-like stuffed animals aimed at the lonely elderly who want the comfort and companionship of a pet but not the responsibility of exercising and feeding one. These Joy for All Companion Pets, which sell for $100, consist of three different kinds of robotic cats that respond to petting and hugging, just like a real one would.

My initial reaction was a guffaw — what will they think of next? — but then I reconsidered after seeing White Sox stumble across the threshold. Robotic cats, I thought, don’t shed. They’re not finicky about what to eat. They don’t need to be walked, and they don’t pee in their beds. They never grow old. They never die. What a relief, right?

Then again, they don’t teach us much about life, either.

Ana Veciana-Suarez: 305-376-3633, aveciana-suarez@miamiherald.com, @AnaVeciana

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