Muscle Memory

Scientists have long been fascinated with the concept of “muscle memory”, that subconscious part of our brain that controls movement without us having to think about it. It’s what allows us to do complicated tasks such as riding a bike or typing “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” without having to stop and say, OK, I need to contract my left hamstring while extending my right quadricep and all those tricky things that go into motion. It’s what allows me to tie a knot during surgery without the laborious thought process that takes place during learning “around the forceps from the front? or the back?” After a while, it just happens.

It’s funny how it pops up in the most unexpected places. For the past 3 years, Kekoa has been my footrest. I literally could not sit in the house without her wedging herself beneath my feet. Now, my feet head toward the floor, expecting a mass to bring them to a halt about 12 inches off the ground. I don’t think about it or calibrate their momentum, they just go with the intent that they will hit fur. Without her there, they crash repeatedly into the floor, each time a jarring reminder of what is no longer there.

It’s odd to me how strong those tangible physical reminders can be. For some reason, I can’t remember the exact timbre of my individual dogs’ barks- and I know they were all quite distinctive- but to a one I can tell you how their heads felt in my hands. Taffy, light as a feather, ready to nip at the slightest provocation. Nuke, needle-nosed and gently, resting into your palm. Emmett, like a solid football, sturdy and reassuring. Mulan, like a brick, wide and solid.

Kekoa’s head was disproportionately small compared to the rest of her body. She looked somewhat like an engorged tick, but in a nice way. She would lumber over and plop on your feet, her manticore tail smacking into the wall with such force you’d think someone was cracking a whip on the drywall. She never seemed to notice. Such was her excitement that she would hover over you, massive, looming, and then with the gentlest motion ease her tiny head into your hands and cover them with kisses. You’d try to push her head away when you had enough but then she’d kiss that hand too, so eventually you’d just give up. Her tail wouldn’t stop wagging the whole time.

She had a terrible wail. A piercing bark so heartbreaking and eardrum-wrenching that she lost two homes because of it. We used our baby monitor to listen in while we were away, and eventually I had to stop because it was too much to listen to.

That sound I can’t bring up. Already, I’ve forgotten it. But the sound of her tail hitting the cabinet, and the feel of her head in my hand- those will be with me forever.

Are there any strangely strong memories you carry with your pets who have moved on?

Pawcurious: With Pet Lifestyle Expert and Veterinarian Dr. V.

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