Mabel turned 7 this week. Seven. That was a bit of a shock. On two counts. . .
First . . . how did my lovely tiny 8-week-old little girl—not only grow up—but grow into almost-middle-age (in dog years)—in what seems to be almost the blink of an eye?
And second of all—how did I?
Mabel was my ’50th-Birthday-Present-to-Myself’. (I have always managed to buy myself the bestest presents.) And, although maths was never my strong suit, even I can work out that a number of sneaky years have also surreptitiously been added to my own age as well as Mabel’s. But, in spite of my ‘advancing’ years, I still remember very clearly the day I bought Mabel home. (My long-term memory is still pretty much intact—it’s remembering what I did yesterday (or five minutes ago) which is more of an issue . . .)
I had actually gone out to buy myself a new car for my birthday. I was turning 50. It was a ‘milestone’. I deserved something special. And I got it. I was walking past the pet shop (always a dangerous thing to do), I saw her sitting by the front door, in a little pen, all on her own (I know, I know, they really saw me coming . . . ) and I went in and paid for her on the spot. I don’t think I gave a second thought to a new car after that. (Seven years later I still haven’t replaced that old car. I’ve had it for 24 years now. I have, however, managed to add two more dogs to our little family. I guess that tells you a little bit about where my priorities lie . . . )
I had arranged with the pet shop that I would pick Mabel up the next day after work (after I had been shopping for new-puppy-things (because a new baby has to have new things all of their own)—and also I had to break it to my two then very-old dogs that they were getting a new little sister), but I was so excited I couldn’t wait until after work so I went and picked her up on my lunch break and took her back to the office with me. Joneen (the College Manager) and I spent most of that afternoon taking turns in cuddling her (when she wasn’t sleeping in my handbag) and tossing screwed up bits of paper around the office for her to chase.
Now that tiny little scrap of a creature is seven years old—and I’ve come over all reflective. I wonder how Mabel remembers her first day with me? Does she regale her sisters with stories of how exciting or happy or scary that first day was for her? Does she even remember it at all? Or does she think she just ‘came into being’ and I have always been her mum? (That is indeed a possibility. We have never actually had the ‘you’re adopted’ talk. I’ve been waiting for the right moment . . . )
Does Mabel remember when she was tiny and old Harry would grumble fiercely at her (while slyly wagging his tail at the same time), or how Frankie would lick her ears for hours and let her sleep on his back to stay warm? Does she miss them? Does she feel older—or does she still feel like a puppy inside? (I don’t think I feel much older than I did 7 years ago (well—okay—except for one of my knees. That knee often feels about 10 years older than the rest of me), but I am talking about ‘inside’. ‘Inside’ I don’t feel anywhere near 57.)
I guess I’ll never know. Anyone who has a dog knows that dogs have at least some concept of the passing of time (just look at their faces when you try to ignore their usual walk time, or are fifteen minutes late with their dinner), but it does seem that time, and memory, work differently for them.
We (humans) have what is called an ‘episodic’ memory. We remember things based on individual personal experiences, specific events and emotions. Those in the know believe that dogs don’t have this type of memory—they ‘learn’ what they need to from their experiences, rather than ‘remember’ specific events. (Mabel caught a bee in her mouth when she was little and it stung her badly. Her little face swelled up to twice it’s usual size. To this day she is scared of ‘buzzie buzzies’ (among a myriad of other things) and will run and hide if she hears one. She has ‘learned’ that bees are bad, but does she ‘remember’ why?)
Dogs, they say (the ubiquitous ‘they’), are programmed to live ‘in the moment’ (which is just another reason to love them even more as far as I am concerned) and it’s this programming that allows them to forget about what happened yesterday (or before lunch) and not worry unduly about what will happen tomorrow. It’s also probably why they never seem to hold a grudge. (We could learn a lot . . . )
So, if this is true, I guess I am going to have to do all the ‘remembering’ for all of us. I am going to have to get all soppy and nostalgic about past-puppy experiences and embrace future doggie-delights my own way, and let the the girls enjoy them their way. I think I can probably handle that. (Besides, if I keep telling you lot all about them, I’ll have you to help me remember too.)
So, Happy Birthday Mabel-girl, and here’s hoping we continue to share many more birthdays together. (Although I do just have to say, it’s a good thing that the ‘dog years’ thing doesn’t work the other way about . . . because in dog years . . .)