Half Empty

“You have your hands full.”

It’s something I got used to hearing on my walks for the past four years, and with good reason. I must have looked like a marionette, trying to control my two big goldendoodle puppets. One would be way up ahead trying to pull me while the other would fall behind to pee or sniff something. My arms were always stretched in different directions, and sometimes I had to twirl myself around to unravel the leashes that ended up around my waist.

But it wasn’t always that way.

For seven years, I only had one dog to walk. We got Ruby when Anna was almost two, despite warnings about the insanity of potty training both a human and K-9 baby at once. Our boys were 5 and 7, so it wasn’t fair to deny them a family pet any longer. Sure, there were crazy times when I was changing diapers and wiping up puddles all day, but before long the hard part was over and we had a fourth kid who could do cool tricks and even dance.

Whenever I needed fresh air and exercise while the boys were at school, I’d strap Anna into a stroller and put the dog on a leash. As we’d take our daily walks, Ruby enjoyed catching all the “nacks” that Anna would drop for her; goldfish, fruit snacks, Lucky Charms, you name it. There were days I’d stop and pull questionable foods out of Ruby’s mouth, but also days that we just kept walking because I was tired of juggling it all.

Finally when Anna got into preschool, I was able to ditch the stroller. Ruby and I would cruise through town at record pace, taking 3- and 4- mile walks as we explored different routes. When Anna got older, I would walk Ruby to her school at dismissal, hand Anna the leash, and let her walk her home.

Over the next few years, our walking routine stayed the same. But when Ruby was seven, we decided she needed a friend. A little brown potato named Gus came home with us one day, and she wasn’t quite sure what to think of him. She wrestled with him a little, then would look at him like he was crazy. Then she’d look at us like we were crazy. Eventually, she accepted that he was here to stay.

He was too little to go on walks with her at first, so she still got to take her daily loops. But once he was old enough to realize we were going somewhere without him (and Ruby was like a mom to him), the kids would complain that he’d cry the whole time we were gone. I’d take him separately for short walks, but then I’d look back and see Ruby looking out the window like “Mom! Are you really leaving me here after all these years I’ve spent by your side?” On many days, I waited for Rodney to get home from work so we could each take one. Or, I’d convince Anna or one of the boys to join me. But when none of that was possible and it was time for a stroll, I ended up taking them both.

My walks were never relaxing. She was the sophisticated older dog just trying to stick to her routine, while he was a crazy excited puppy exploring the new world. He pulled me while she paused to smell the roses. I got frustrated. I’d say I was never taking them both again.

But the next time I’d lace up my shoes and see their eager eyes, I’d go get their leashes.

And that’s what I continued to do for the next four years. Other walkers constantly asked me, “Are you walkin them or are they walkin you?” I’d just smile and shrug, because eventually my chaotic walks just became part of my life.

Last summer, we noticed a small lump under Ruby’s arm. An X-ray showed that it was attached to her rib, and surgery to remove it would be invasive. With Ruby being so active, our vet said a procedure like that could affect her ability to walk comfortably and diminish her quality of life. Since it wasn’t affecting her in any way at the time, we decided to wait and watch. Last weekend after a long walk, she began coughing and having labored breathing, which continued for a couple days. When we couldn’t stand to see her suffer any longer, we took her to the vet. Tests showed that the lump had grown and was pushing on her heart, and that there was probably cancer surrounding it. We couldn’t let our sweet Ruby suffer, so we had to tell her goodbye.

I would estimate that in her 11 years on this earth, Ruby walked close to 10,000 miles, and I’m thankful for every one with her. Moving on without my special girl will be tough, but I know I have to try. I started by taking Gus on a walk alone for the first time tonight. It was a little easier than holding two leashes at once, but still very hard.

For even though my hands were half as full, my heart is now half empty.

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