Elegy for a beloved companion

Margaret Atkins MunroLet's Talk About MoneyLeave a Comment

Many years ago, I began writing a book with the words, “I have a dog, and his name is Angus Mor. Angus is very loving and cuddly, and he makes Wookie noises when he’s not getting his way. All in all, Angus is a very cool dog.

Angus is also one of the terrors of the neighborhood.  What is handsome and affectionate inside the house is fierce and challenging outside it.  Angus, you see, is a 100 pound German Shepherd, and most of my acquaintances would blanch at the idea of meeting him alone in a dark alley.  They, reading this, will think that I’m nuts to even try to convince you of his gentleness when their experience of him consists of a set of very impressive teeth located inside an equally imposing mouth that seems ready to snap off a head, or at the very least, an arm or leg.

Finally, while my son and my husband never think of him this way, Angus is an economic reality in my household budget.  For as long as he chooses to grace us with his presence, Angus will cost us almost as much to keep as our son will.  He certainly eats more, and while I don’t have to buy him new clothes or shoes, a steady supply of marrowbones does not come cheap (although still cheaper than a steady supply of new shoes for the family.)  He has vet bills (and his medical expenses are neither tax deductible nor covered by insurance), kennel bills, training bills, and we haven’t even started talking about building his enclosure or replacing his bedding (which he also eats on a regular basis).

And, despite my best intentions to name any future pet either Fred or Ethel, and obtain that animal a Social Security number, I am not even allowed an annual exemption for Angus on my income tax return.

So, given that this animal is the bane of the neighborhood and makes such a dent in my budget, why do we continue to keep him?  Certainly, while he provides a great deal of security, even the most sophisticated home alarm system would be cheaper than Angus’ eventual cost over the course of his lifetime.

The importance of some things outweighs their price tag.

I have watched Angus evolve from an object of terror to my young son to his big furry brother, complete with every sort of sibling rivalry you could imagine.  My husband and I try to parent this adolescent animal, and it gives us a taste (we think) of what we will face when our son hits the same biological age.    He has become as much a member of our family as any of its people, and I don’t think that any of us, no matter how aggravated we are with him at the moment, can seriously contemplate what life will be like without him.”

Well, my son is now a teenager, and Angus, after a lengthy decline, finally left us last weekend. As I reread the words I wrote almost exactly ten years ago, I realize how prescient they were. He was all those things described, and so much more: an arbiter in arguments (Angus would not be naysaid), the official pre-rinser of all dishes, and a taster of fine, single-malt whiskies—and he could, and did, count plates and glasses. He was my office manager, my nap buddy, and my sole companion during the many days I spent toiling in my Montpelier office. Angus had a clear vision of the world, and his place in it. He was our dog, and we were his people.

Angus aged gracefully, and it wasn’t until the last year or two of his life that the mileage began to show. He climbed the stairs increasingly slowly, took shorter and shorter walks, and played less and slept more; the crystal-clear hearing that once could identify a car pulling into the driveway even from a deep sleep became less keen. And with each diminution, the costs increased—more frequent vet visits, weekly baths using special shampoos for his chronic skin ailments, prescriptions, vitamins, more expensive and easily digestible foods. Treats that once occupied the realm of “what, are you kidding?” began to creep into his mouth: from the sublime of steak,  wild salmon, and lamb chops to the mundane of muffins, chips, and large portions of my husband’s daily breakfast. The search for an ever-more comfortable place for him to sleep consumed us (our bed became his Nirvana).

It would be impossible for me to calculate the total amount Angus cost over the eleven plus years he stayed with us; I suspect the final tally would make my head spin. But I am equally sure that the richness that he brought into this household far exceeded the dollar amount we paid; in his case, he was irreplaceable and priceless, and we will sorely miss him.