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About Ethel: A Year in My Life with a Senior Pet

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This time last year, during November’s Adopt a Senior Pet month, a PEOPLEPets.com editor adopted an elderly dog, a 9-year-old Maltese named Ethel.

The one thing I remember about the first time I met Ethel was that her eyes appeared to be smiling. She has this very bright way of looking at people, and it felt as though she was staring right at me, calling for my attention. I adopted Ethel a few days after I met her. In the back seat of the taxi cab on the drive home, she put her head on my chest and fell asleep.

A year has passed, and my entire life has changed.

She has since staged a hostile takeover of my bed. Some mornings, I find myself crunched up in the fetal position halfway down the mattress, which I’ve been relegated to because the dog makes her way onto my pillow and spreads out all over it. I usually wake up to a smack in the eye from her back paw because she kicks out in her sleep, right in my face.

Her life has changed, too. People tell me she looks better – that she’s better-groomed, cleaner, more physically fit, happier-seeming. And I don’t know much at all about her previous life, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t have 17 surrogate mothers clucking after her in a New York City office building or didn’t get to try out all the latest in doggie fashion and model it for thousands of people on the Internet.

But mostly, it’s me she’s changed. It made sense for me to get a dog this time last year. I hardly have any of those reasons anymore. My dog co-caretaker moved, my schedule became unmanageable, my finances no longer have room for a dog – and yet …

Sometimes I find myself watching her, and she won’t be doing anything. Sitting, maybe. Or sleeping, again. I’ll say, “Oh my god, Ethel, please don’t ever die.” Or I’ll wonder – and this is the part where I sound really crazy – could she possibly be a real thing? This fluffy, furry, snoring mass whose back heaves up and down as she breathes … “My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet,” as Edith Wharton said.

And when she is awake, and she looks at me expectantly, or sprints through the park like a little explorer, or sits on my lap wearing the closest thing to a grin a dog could muster, I feel in those moments that we’re both unbearably happy. I get so sad sometimes, but Ethel makes it better, and I couldn’t imagine my life without her.