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Squirrel!

...

Using a cane isn’t intended for effect, though I hope it gives me an image as classy, distinguished. I just simply need one or two for practical purposes. To walk relatively steady, rather than drunk-stumbly—an image I certainly avoid.

Accompanied by my pit-mix dog, Squirrel, I can stroll along pretty well with just one cane. Squirrel, the big fella, is trained to help me if/when I fall. I have MS, and when I’m feeling especially MS’d up, I’m especially wobbly.

Most of us with MS don’t end up needing a wheelchair, but, if I do, I already know I can’t afford one of those upscale, sporty ones. I suppose I want some sort of athletic image, and wish I could pay for that, so to speak. But, most days, I head out for a walk, do the best I can, then a bit more.

Squirrel and I had walked the park perimeter, and when I nodded toward a bench, we headed over. I sat with my legs stretched out, Squirrel on the ground beside me. I put my hand on his beautiful, brindle-patterned back. Moments later, I felt him tense up. “What’s up, big guy?’’

“I don’t know, something smells different,” he whispered. I replied, “Dude, you sniff butts, so I don’t know how discerning you can be.” He sighed. “Humans...” but remained in high alert mode.

Yes, Squirrel can talk. Relax. I’ll get to that.

Following his gaze, I spotted a figure across the street, standing in a driveway. The houses along there were lovely old Victorians—likely busted up into apartments inside but the exteriors were still in character. So the figure, a dog, wasn’t immediately noticeable to me. Squirrel, however, was transfixed. “Oh my dogs,” he stammered. “It’s Mabel.” At that moment, I recognized her, too.

Next to his bed, Squirrel has a little black book that recounts his adventures. Ever since he moved in with me, occasionally I’d see him nose-nudging through its pages, until he’d reach one particular photo. He’d lay down, chin on his front paws, and just stare at it: Mabel.

(Okay, before I go on, let me address what’s been distracting you from this otherwise lovely story. Other than a few of us, most humans aren’t aware that dogs can talk. In fact, when we say to them, “Speak!” they think it’s ridiculous as well as ironic. Apparently, their voices are within a unique wavelength inaccessible to humans. The movie industry uses tricks, gizmos, and “voice-overs,” so humans can hear the dogs. After Squirrel’s last movie was finished, the director offered each dog their own voice-box collars, as souvenirs. Interacting with certain humans—ahem, like me—dogs will use those collars to enhance relationships with their people. Sometimes, simply allowing their person to hear them say, “Shut up.” So...can we move on now?)

Squirrel reached up a paw, scratching his ear; I patted his back. “After that last movie, we just wandered off in different directions, lost touch. She continued her career, and I, happily, found you.” He tilted his head back and gave me that goofy smile. “Now? How did she finally find me?” He started to pant a bit, his tail swishing the sidewalk behind him.

From across the street, Mabel had begun to walk, slowly, toward us. Smart one that she is, she looked both ways first. Approaching, her hesitancy did not suggest fearfulness nor aggression at all, and Squirrel started off toward her. If you’ve never seen a happy dance between dogs, it’s likely one of the best things you’ll ever watch. Get on YouTube or whatever and find one.

After a bit, they trotted toward me, and Mabel allowed me to give her a big hug. It became a group hug, of sorts. “Sit,” she said to me, and I did. We shook hands/paws. Her deep brown eyes, black and caramel fur, soft expressive ears, were entrancing, as was her voice.

When she decided to retire from film, she was good friends with one of the producers, and moved in with the lady, eventually becoming her helper. “Shirley died two months ago,” Mabel wiped at her nose with a foreleg. “I was really at loose ends, didn’t have many humans I trusted. Thought I knew where you, Squirrel, had settled, and decided to look. Yesterday, right in this park, I could smell you’d been here, so, I’ve been waiting.” They touched noses, tenderly.

Mabel looked up at me. “Shirley left me an inheritance, and I have a proposal of sorts, for you.” She turned toward Squirrel, her eyes shining. “I guess I’m proposing to you, too!” Squirrel rolled over on his back, humming happily.

“While looking for Squirrel, I came up with an idea. I have a sizable amount of money, and would love to share it with you. And, if I may impose myself, I would absolutely love an invitation to join your household.” Leaning forward, I touched my forehead to hers. “Absolutely.”

With the $20,000 Mabel gave me, I was able to buy the very sporty wheelchair I wanted, and have a ramp built, if there ever came a day I’d need it all the time. Most mornings, now, I can see Squirrel and Mabel out in the backyard, spooning in the sun. Then my new dog, Sammie, opens the front door for me, I roll down the ramp, and we’re off. Sammie keeps me company while I train for my next 10k wheelchair race.

humanity
Read next: Calling All Wannabe Pet Owners
Laura Chastain
See all posts by Laura Chastain

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