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June 9, 2011 / Sheila Dougherty

I wish there were Chicken McNuggets today

I reached into the mailbox and pulled out one of those flimsy envelopes where you pull off the strips and yank the insert out from the side. The return address was “The City of New York Department of Health & Mental Hygiene Veterinary Public Health Services.”

“Weird,” I thought. “Erica’s license isn’t up for renewal until November.” Then I had a moment of panic: OMG — did something happen on one of her midday walks, in a dog run? Is someone claiming she did something? Well, she didn’t, goddammit!

Then it hit me: Ames. It’s not time for Erica’s license renewal, but it would’ve been time for Ames.’

Amy — aka Ames to me; the Lady to my best friend, Robb; the Queen to her amazing dogwalkers, Eva and Engela; the Princess to my dad — died last October. But she came to live with me the second week of June in 2007, as soon as I moved into my first pet-friendly apartment.  Finding a compatible dog was my first order of business. No puppies or breeders for me: I spent a lot of time walking dogs at BARC in Williamsburg, and I definitely wanted a shelter pup. Middle-aged and mellow, and a German shepherd, on the smaller side, as the building had a size limit.

Ames was a small, mellow, German shepherd rescue. What she was not was middle-aged, like I had been led to believe. At our first visit, the vet said he didn’t think she was seven. “What is she, like 11?” I said and laughed. He looked up at me, but he didn’t laugh. “Oh, really?” I said.  He said it was a common practice for shelters, and he himself had done it when he worked at one. “You didn’t notice the cataracts?” he asked. “Um, no,” I said, and then, there they were, along with the gray in her muzzle. “And now you’re in love,” he said.

I was. For a few weeks, I was heartbroken. Shepherds lived to 14, 15…I expected seven years with this dog, not two or three. And I was pissed. Over and over on my way to work in the morning, I mentally composed angry letters to the rescue group — how could you mislead people like that? It’s unethical! It’s unfair, and I hate you!

But the letter remained only in my head. It wouldn’t change anything–they wouldn’t stop the practice, and doubtful they were doing it maliciously — they were trying to move an old dog. I’ve been working at an advertising pub for a decade now — reality and marketing rarely have anything to do with one another, I get it. Really, I might not have stopped on Ames’ picture if it’d said “10 years old” next to it, and, in retrospect, that would’ve been a tragedy. And, bottom line, Ames was going nowhere; I’d no intention of asking them to take her back because of her age.

It was something I had to come to terms with, though, and that took some time. Didn’t help that every fucking old lady on Court Street would volunteer, “Hoo! That dog is OLD!” when we walked by. But once I did come to terms with it, everything was great, and I developed a huge affection for older dogs because I spent all my time with one.  I took her home for Christmas, to the beach, everywhere. She could be left alone for long periods of time, b/c she slept about 20 hours a day, and never had an accident, but I was always happy to have a reason to come home. And she took her job as a greeter very seriously, even when her arthritis got really bad. You could have had the shittiest day imaginable, but a dog overjoyed to see you just makes all that evaporate.

Another thing I had to come to terms with? She was not really a dog, in most ways, and she, not I, was the boss of our little household. Not a cuddler. Try to feed her “dog” food? She would overturn her bowl to signal her disapproval. And if she didn’t like the human food you’d left her, she’d find a unique way of telling you that, too (I once came home to find an omelette I didn’t finish folded neatly into the bathroom rug). Feel like taking a different route on your walk this morning? Not if she didn’t feel like it — and she never did.  Sounds like a diva, more crotchety grande dame. She moved in, established her rules, and it was my job to obey.

I didn’t realize until tonight, when I got home from work, that this was THE week, but I’ve been in a sort of inexplicable light, good mood. I’ve gotten a lot done, work’s been going pretty smoothly, and, funnily enough, earlier today I looked up volunteer opportunities with The Grey Muzzle Organization, an advocacy group for older rescue dogs that I’d considered volunteering for months ago, after Ames died. So I guess on some level I was aware.

Anyway, always considered June 6 or 7 Ames’ “birthday,” and her dinner would be a six-piece Chicken McNuggets, which she LOVED and devoured in about a minute. So, today, I wish there were Chicken McNuggets.

Prince\’s \”I Wish U Heaven\”


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