Abbey came to us as a stray puppy back in March of 2001. From what we could tell, she had been running with a pack of stray dogs — which probably included her mother — and after one of those famously impressive Phoenix monsoons that come rolling in on Spring evenings, she had somehow gotten separated from her pack. A group of neighborhood kids found her and brought her to us, having heard that Barb’s Golden Retriever had died several months before. At 30 pounds, the dog looked like a puffy German Shepherd, and a neighbor told us he guessed she was about 6 or 7 months old.
Wrong. We took her to the vet who took one look in her mouth, saw all baby teeth and pronounced her only a little more than three months old. She was going to be a big dog. To this day, I tell people that had you asked me if I wanted a dog that was a cross between a Doberman Pincher and German Shepherd and that was going to weigh more than a hundred pounds, I’d have thrown you off the porch.
Yet, she’s turned out the be the best dog I’ve ever had. You can tell me you’ve got the smartest dog there is, and I’d smile and nod, but you’d be wrong — because I’ve never seen a dog as sharp as Abbey (we named her Abbey not only as a nod to Abigail Adams, but also to the Beatles album Abbey Road). It’s more than just, “Go get your dolly!” or “Find the leash!” She really does understand complex sentences. If you tell her, “Go downstairs and eat your breakfast, then wait in the front parlor for me to come down,” she’ll do exactly that. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Even though we live along a state highway, Abbey knows enough to stay away from the road. When I go out to get the newspaper with her, she’ll walk only two-thirds of the way down the driveway and will wait for me to come back from the street with the rolled up paper — at which point I hand it to her so she can sprint back into the house with it.
And she owns the neighborhood. The four houses in our immediate vicinity are all accustomed to regular visits from her, and most keep dog treats to feed her, even though none of them have dogs of their own. Some mornings I’ll go looking for her, only to find her laying on our next door neighbors’ kitchen floor, swishing her tail happily while they read the paper over coffee.
When I’m writing, she’ll come quietly in and lay down on the rug I keep on the floor of my office (that’s her laying in her spot in the pic above), thunking her tail when I look up at her. Every once in a while she’ll beg for one of the Milk Bones I keep in a ceramic jar on my bookshelf, giving her head one of those irresistible doggy tilts.
Quite simply, she’s the best canine family member, friend, and companion any of us have ever had. That makes it all the more heartbreaking for us to struggle with the reality that, at eight years old, she’s starting to get old. Like many big dogs, Abbey’s starting to develop problems with her hips, her legs sliding awkwardly out from under her as she tries to climb stairs or climb out of her bed. The other morning, she took a tumble down the stairs; this morning, we helped her down, then — to her great disappointment — blocked her from coming back up. As I finished dressing this morning, she laid at the foot of the steps, looking up wistfully, and once or twice giving a low boof! to hurry me up.
It’s not the end of the world, of course — Abbey likely has a number of years left in her — but we’re going to have to change some of the habits we’ve all long grown used to. It’s also a reminder to continue to enjoy and treasure every moment we’ve been allowed the pleasure of having with this incredibly loving and special dog, who somehow found us all those years ago.
Here’s to you, dear Abbey — every moment we have you in our lives is a special one.