Last night the rains finally came back to our house. It’s getting dark earlier now and the other mutts fell asleep right after dinner.
Me and mom went for a walk in the rain. We wanted to feel the the splash and listen to the plants sucking in the first good drink they’ve had in almost three months.
Mom says she likes autumn the best. The growing season is over, the colors come out, and the cool breeze makes you think about how time passes and changes everything.
With four mutts in the house, me and mom don’t get to spend a lot of time alone together. But last night we had the big yard to ourselves. Mom pulled up a chair on the front porch and I sat down beside her.
There was enough light that mom could see my blue eyes. She took my head in her hands and kissed my snout.
“What’s on your mind, Ash?’ mom asked. How did she know I’d been waiting to ask a whole bunch of questions?
“How come Nellie has so much bad stuff happen to her? She never did nothing to deserve it. Now she’s getting goofy and can’t even make it outside to drop her bombs. This morning she peed a lake in the kitchen. What’s wrong with her?” I asked.
Mom didn’t answer right away. I knew she was thinking about my questions and trying to figure out what to say. Finally mom started talking.
“You’ve asked some really difficult questions, Ash. I don’t know why bad things happen to good dogs and good people. It makes me very sad. But let’s talk about Nellie.”
“Ash, you remember when we first got Nellie?” mom asked.
Of course I remember. Nellie arrived in April 2011. She was the sorriest, stinkiest little mess of a dog I’ve ever seen. Me and Jack and Tess sniffed her pee trap and knew she was sick. We didn’t want to be around her.
“Some people said Nellie wasn’t worth saving, but Nellie is just the kind of dog we bring to Asherpark,” mom said.
“Do you know why it’s so important to take care of a dog like Nellie?” mom asked.
I shook my head, wanting her to spell it out for me.
“It’s because Nellie is helpless and cannot care for herself. It’s because she was unlucky and never had people to love and protect her. It’s because our pack has been blessed in so many ways and we need to share our bounty with others.”
‘So why is Nellie getting more goofy?” I asked.
“It’s very sad,” mom said. “Nellie has dementia.”
“What the heck is dementia?” I blurted out.
“The technical name is canine cognitive disorder,” mom said.
“What does that mean?” I insisted.
Mom had a far away look on her face. It was like she was seeing something from a long time ago.
“Ash, my mother had Alzheimer’s disease. That’s pretty much the same thing Nellie has. It makes you forget stuff. You can’t remember how to do simple things like go outside to drop your bombs.”
My heart started flopping around in my chest. I had this horrible feeling. Mom sensed I was really upset and asked me to take a deep breath and tell her what was troubling me.
With tears falling on my snout I blurted it out. “Are we gonna have to send Nellie over the bridge because she’s goofy?”
“No Ash, we aren’t going to end Nellie’s life because she can’t remember where to go to the bathroom. Bombs and lakes are easy to clean up. As long as Nellie is not in pain, we will keep her and care for her.”
“But how do you know when it’s time for her to go?” I barked.
I was almost frantic to know the answer. I thought about Codie and how my heart broke when she left me. Codie sent me Nellie so I would have another blue dog. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Nellie.
“Nellie will tell us when it’s time to go. Until then we will protect her and love her and be grateful for every day we have with her,” mom said.
“Ash, I promise. You will be with me when Nellie crosses the bridge. And if we are lucky, Codie will appear for just an instant to greet Nellie and walk her home. Your heart will ache but you will know that Nellie and Codie are together in a special place.”
Me and mom sat together for a long time. There wasn’t any need to talk. We’re connected at the heart, so we don’t really need words for how we feel.
After a while we got up together and went into the house. Nellie was asleep in her spot. I lay down next to her so she could feel me close. Mom ruffled my ears and whispered she loves me.