Guest author Katie Kapro holds her MFA in nonfiction writing. When walking around town, she often finds herself talking to more dogs than people.
Binkie cringes when I call her dog Mick Jagger. “Mickey,” she corrects. “His name is Mickey.” I’m sure her only memory of Mick Jagger is from my mother’s rebellious teenage years, a scandalous poster on the bedroom wall or a song blasted too loud on the record player. Binkie had a lot going on in those days – she worked part-time at a law firm and raised my mother and her four siblings.
Now, Binkie is 90 years old and it’s just her and Mickey, a whippet-chihuahua mix with the personality of a nightclub bouncer.
Mickey is the size of a chihuahua and the shape of a whippet. He carries himself with natural machissmo – his muscular chest, straight forequarters, and upward-tilted jaw declaring his power to the world. There’s no question that he pushes Binkie around, yapping everyday at exactly 4:15pm for his healthy dinner of kibble, steamed green beans, and carrots. Sometimes she pushes back. “You already had your dinner, Mick,” she’ll say, wagging her finger. He yaps. “Nope. No more for you.” He clicks away on the linoleum to pout.
I swear he understands her tones better than I do. They keep one another engaged with the world and irritate one another just enough to give life that good edge.
Mickey was the product of divorce, nobody wanted him, and he made his way to my grandmother through a series of friends five years ago. Now they are all but inseparable. As Mickey gets older – the little grey hairs on his chin now in the majority – her house transforms into a senior dog haven.
Sometimes as dogs grow old, their owners give in to the momentum of aging. They don’t take their dogs to the park anymore for fear it will hurt their joints, they don’t buy them treats out of concern it will hurt their gums. Binkie doesn’t bow to those worries. Sure, she dotes on him by laying big soft blankets over the couch and giving him extra plush toys to destroy, but she doesn’t just let him mope around the house. She’s better at this growing old thing than most.
There is an empty ice cream carton in Binkie’s freezer that she warns me about every time I visit. Instead of ice cream it holds chicken bones, fruit rinds, all sorts of perishables she doesn’t want to throw in the can in the hot garage. “Whoever finds me when I die, I don’t want them to have to deal with putrid trash too.” Ever the pragmatist. Binkie has been prepared for her death for years. She has her will all sorted out, knows who is getting the crystal wine glasses and who is getting the flag from her husband’s funeral.
She also made a plan for Mickey.
Few of us think about setting up a stable home for our pet if something traumatic happens and we’re unable to care for them. We make plans for houses, cars, kids, and even trash, but pets get forgotten. There’s the assumption that someone will take care of the dog, so why worry about the details? The details, though, can make a huge difference to the physical and emotional health of an animal.
Say a man includes his dog in his will. That’s great, but it turns out it can take weeks or even months for a will to be read and fully processed.
Instead, the man could set up a pet trust. As part of that process, the pet owner names a pet trustee who will step in immediately and make sure his dog doesn’t slip through the cracks. It’s also a huge help for the person who ends up caring for the animal – after all, we all like a little notice before bringing in a new family member.
It can be less disconcerting on an existential level to focus on the day-to-day instead of the vast, unknown future. But it doesn’t have to be a big scary thing. Be like Binkie: get good at growing old. Whether we’re in our twenties, forties, sixties, or nineties, we’re all aging; we might as well get good at it and take care of our animals in the process.