Table for Two?

I’m often told I have the best job in the world and I rarely disagree with this keen observation. However, on days like today I’m reminded that there’s a price to be paid for the joy I find in working with my canine clients: Tears and loss. As all pet parents know, they just don’t live long enough.

Sissy, one of the first dogs I ever massaged, crossed the Rainbow Bridge tonight. She was17. I met Sissy when she was a spunky 14-year-old. A working ranch dog, Sissy was missing a few teeth from getting too close to the livestock and the rest were worn down from chewing on who knows what. Her fur was a confused mix of bristly reddish-grey outer coat and a white downy-soft undercoat. Her eyes always seemed to be squinting and her mouth slightly open with a big smile. Her ears, although soft, were alert and listening.

And that stocky build. She was a Red Heeler mix with short legs, a barrel body and an attitude to go with it. She and her mom, Seneca, would often walk me to my car after a session at the house. Sissy would hustle out in front with that luxating patella jig—run a few strides, bunny hop with a kick to get the kneecap back in place then run some more, all the time announcing our progress with her sharp, joyful barks. You couldn’t help but smile when she was around.

Sissy was a character, but it was her interaction with her feline pack mate, Sasha, that really made our sessions memorable. True to form, Sasha is a drama queen with lots to say. She would start talking the minute I walked in the house. She’d follow me into the room (talking), watch me unpack and set up the massage table (still talking) and on a good day, she’d wait for me to put the sheet on the table (yes, still telling me about the injustices in her life) before she staked her claim.

As any good cat would do, she often tried to take her half out of the middle. Nothing a good tug of the sheet couldn’t solve. About this time, Sissy would come sauntering in with her stilted gait and goofy smile, ready to be lifted onto the table. And here’s where the fun began.

Sissy and Sasha had an agreement. Sasha could be on the table during massages if she stayed on her side of the collar. I always removed Sissy’s collar before we started and learned early on that Sasha recognized it as a barrier. She wouldn’t attempt to cross the line with her entire body but she did her best to extend legs, paws, a tail—any appendage over the collar line.

Sometimes while I was stretching Sissy, helping her channel her inner-Nadia Comaneci, Sasha would stretch herself, conveniently over the collar line and toward Sissy’s paw or tail. Other times, Sissy’s head would be close to the collar and Sasha would reach across and put her paw in the middle of Sissy’s forehead and stretch.

Sissy, of course, ignored most of it. Sometimes she would fall asleep and snore like a trucker. Other times, she would play softly with whatever cat appendage had crossed the collar line. We did our best to maintain the border, but soon realized that unless Sasha got squirelly and the claws came out (which happened once or twice) all we were doing was interrupting their conversation. They enjoyed each other’s company and both gained something from the routine of the sessions.

Sissy was one of my first teachers. She taught me to listen with my fingers, my eyes, my nose, and lastly my ears. Sissy was a working dog and took her job seriously, even though she slept through a few assignments in her later years. She didn’t want your pity that she slept outside for the majority of her early life or that she worked in the hot sun all day, every day. That was who she was. That was her present, her reality. In thinking about her passing, I’m reminded of those lessons and am working to make my every second the best it can be in this moment. There’s no relating to past or future. It’s all about right now.

Thanks, Sissy.


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