My beloved Brittany Spaniel, Baci (named for the Perugina chocolate) is 13 years old. In human years, that makes her a grouchy old woman of 91. She gets around really well for a senior citizen. She still loves to hunt a squirrel or, even better, a bunny rabbit. We’ve been together for all of her thirteen years. This relationship. This companionship. This love story has had some rocky sections and tests of patience (mostly on my part) but we endure.
The many ways our relationship is complicated:
When my family first adopted Baci from a breeder outside of Charlotte, we found it impossible to contain her. We had a crate but once morning came, she wanted out and let us know she wanted out. We tried keeping her in a bathroom and she would scratch at the door and bark for hours until we relinquished. At one point, we tried gating her on our back deck only to find she had escaped some ten minutes later. Finally, we purchased an invisible fence and the first day we left her outside, we came home to find her cold and wet by the mailbox (outside her territory).
We’ve had mishaps since when her collar wasn’t working but for the better part of 12 years, she’s had free reign of her lakeside home. Typically, this resulted in me yelling out the front door, the back door, the garage door, checking her dog house and then, as if by magic, she would come trotting from around a blind corner. I wouldn’t know where she had been, but she was back and ready to come in. Fast forward to 8 weeks ago, and now she is constrained by an apartment; no way to go outside except to be attached to me. She loves me. I know she does, but she wants her freedom. Roy and I were trying to fit two mountain bikes in my small storage closet when Baci slipped out the back door. Panic ensued. I yelled. I cussed. She ran to the sidewalk and started barking at one of my neighbors, as I stormed toward her to grab her collar. I dragged her back to the apartment. I’ve tried to give her daily walks and weekend trips hiking but the majority of the time she remains a prisoner of circumstance. Locked up once more, she copes with her imprisonment and I remain her guard.
Baci has always had an aversion for surface changes. We put in a polished slate floor in the entryway of the house and she would not cross that new surface to save her life. It reminds me of the childhood superstition: “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” When we hike on a trail, she will come up to a surface change like a bridge over a creek and she will head down the embankment to cross the water instead of over the metal bridge. She does not like swimming in a pool or a lake. She can swim but she will exit immediately much like a cat.
There is a hysterical video from ten or so years ago with Baci bounding in about six inches of snow; she was unsure if she was mad at the white stuff or entranced by it. Now ensconced in the apartment most days for 24 hours in a day, she anticipates my every move. It’s 5 AM, Mom is going to the living room to mediate, it’s 6:30 AM and Mom will feed me now, it’s 7 AM, Mom is going into the office to work, it’s 10 AM, Mom will take me out for a walk, 11 AM and Mom will head to the kitchen and so forth. I see her anticipating my every move. She’s my guardian staying one step ahead.
Baci can track and hunt almost anything smaller than a bread box. She will: obsess over squirrels tip-toeing across branches far above her head, stand for hours tracking a lizard under her dog house, bark incessantly at a cat a block away and spend an afternoon chasing a house fly. Roy refers to this as a prey drive.When we hike on a trail, all the smells of the woods overwhelm her. She unconsciously passes dogs and fellow hikers, transfixed by the odors of the forest. Now bottled up in an apartment, she searches out prey from open windows and barks at anything and anyone that moves. As she stands guard at a window watching me load or unload my car, she barks constantly as if to announce that she’s on duty and ready to kick anyone’s butt. She’s single minded while living in captivity.
I can remember when my parents lived in the in-law unit of my house. My dad had the same routine everyday and Baci knew precisely what that routine was. She would be two steps ahead of my dad through each door and footfall. My dad would always marvel at how “smart” she was although she really had just learned his precise routine and went in lockstep. Baci and I, in the last few years in the lake house, had our routines. She knew what time to wake me up, she would shake her head at 4:30 PM precisely for dinner and she always took the same route in the yard to give it the all clear. The first few months in this apartment have been a struggle. Several accidents in the apartment, barking in the middle of a conference call and grunting at 3 AM to wake me up to go out. I think we are both exhausted. Actually, perhaps it’s just me. I’m struggling to find the symbiosis we had just three months ago. I want to be in lockstep with her. I want us to know each other’s routines again. It’s almost like a dance, where we both want to follow the choreography but we keep running into each other; not out of spite but out of confusion. The dust is slowly starting to settle, and the rhythm is falling into place.
Baci and I are starting to find our groove in our new place. Sometimes I wonder how this would all be different if there weren’t a pandemic and we didn’t spend almost every waking hour together. But this is it. This is now normal and while I have been frustrated, as my insightful daughter pointed out on the phone the other day, “Mommy, the house was Baci’s only home. She spent her whole life there.” Baci really has been pretty resilient for a 91-year-old girl and it’s ok if our relationship is a bit complicated.