Visiting by brother toward the end of his life, when he was under Hospice care, I found myself thinking as I  turned the corner to enter his corridor, “What should we chat about today?” It’s a weird transition to get to that point with family where, because of  the elephant in the room, we think ahead occasionally of discussion topics.

Not that the depth of the relationship is any different but with terminal illness there is so much medical stuff to discuss, that talking about the weather seems trite.  But heavier life/death discussions seem a waste of precious breath at this point.

So as I entered his room I said, “I got a dog.”  And my bother, who after recent treatment was functioning with half  his brain power which for most people would feel perfectly normal on a good day said, “A dog? Why would you do that?”  And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because it is a dog.”

We both laughed and I have thought about that conversation many times since my year-old Gracie entered our lives.  She seemed so simple and sweet and the perfect addition to our family when I purchased her.

We “rescued” her actually but as my husband loves to remind me, she is the most expensive rescue dog on earth. She was purchased as a purebred by a woman who mistreated her and then rescued and trained by a lovely woman who trains service dogs.  She’s actually head of the National Association for Service Dogs.  So when I “rescued” Gracie, she was a certified emotional support dog and came with a pretty big price tag. But who doesn’t need emotional support and with my brother dying, I surely did.

So I brought this dog home and all was well. She was my little bundle of grace that I needed at the time and by little, I mean eight pounds and a handful of ounces little, so how much dog trouble could she be?  As it turned out, rescuing a dog at eight months right before the holidays gives you little time to spay a dog. So when she went into heat, which in my part of the country is like saying you just married your first cousin, I remembered what my brother said and thought how “doglike” of her to go into heat without checking with me first.

I even went to the vet to discuss this heat thing, which we are now on week seven of, and the vet after my first question said, “Honestly, I don’t get these questions often.  Ninety percent of our dogs…”

Point taken.  Point confirmed that I am a hillbilly owner in a neutered world.

In this part of the country, we go to the anti-cruelty society for mutts. We don’t breed them. Dogs don’t just show up one day with a litter under the basement stairs like my childhood pet, Chips, did. I know, go figure. Male name. Female dog. No wonder my sweet mama was surprised by the pups. I’ve joked with friends that with all the “fixed” dogs in my neighborhood the only chance Gracie will get pregnant is if a coyote slips in the yard. Which God forbid they have been known to do now and then as we live near a heavily wooded forest preserve.

Which brings me to another interesting tidbit. The east coast has recognized a new breed of animal in the last decade or so. A coywolf. And no, I’m not kidding. Over a century ago, as wolves were nearing extinction, nature took it upon itself to preserve this species by having them interbreed with dogs and coyotes. All with similar DNA, this new “species” has produced enough offspring to be recognized as a newly evolved animal. Ten percent dog and the other ninety wolf and coyote, these coywolves run in packs, combining a dog’s fearlessness of humans with the open prairie instincts of a coyote and the woodland preferences of the wolf. Before you think just I’m blowing smoke, read for yourself.

These animals are roaming closer and closer to urban settings and survive on rodents and small animals. Rodents, cats, squirrels. Small mammals as in little white dog. Like the one in my view, in my yard, off-leash as I type. Guess I’m two for two in flunking Rescuer 101. Fenceless yard.  Allowed heat.

Male dog magnet, fences, vet visits, coyote bait, tripped-over chew toys at every turn.

A dog? Why would anyone want a dog?

Because in spite of her messy little problem and her penchant for toppling wastebaskets and barking at the wind, she loves me best– completely and unconditionally. And on my lonely days when I miss my brother most, she finds a warm spot on my lap and licks my face if I cry.

That’s why.