Sunday, August 07, 2011

Meditations on an Old Dog

My friend Ann, who has taken in more than one needy geriatric dog and who has spent whole lifetimes with others, has always said that old dogs are like old shoes. They don't ask for much. They're just comfortable to have around. They bring a quiet joy all their own.

I tend to think of them as Velveteen Rabbits — they might be old, slow, and lumpy with half their fur loved off, but they just grow more beautiful every day in the eyes of those who live with them and love them. Of course, old dogs have been "real" all along, but their slow march toward mortality lends them a more spiritual quality somehow. It seems as though they're closer to being at one with the Universe.

All three of my boys are seniors now. Charlie turned 14 on May 17. Badger's 9th birthday occurred on January 8. Famous Seamus celebrates his 9th birthday on November 2. It hardly seems possible that so much time has flown by. Only Dinah (who turns 6 this coming November) is still on the early side of her prime, and even then, The Princess isn't a baby any more. Maybe we have to start calling her The Queen instead.

It wasn't so long ago (or was it?) that I referred to Charlie as "the puppy." All through Duncan's and Doogie's long lives, he remained the baby of the family. When Doogie, the last of the "old guard," shuffled over the Rainbow Bridge at age almost-16, Charlie was still only 6 years old. He had established himself as Lord of the Realm many years before, and he ruled over all of the newcomers with a benevolent, but firm, paw. Little puppies gravitated to him, and he graciously instructed each one in the fine art of excavation. Many of my friends' yards sport (or sported) holes resulting from Charlie's famous tutorials on Dirt Appreciation.

The only thing Charlie likes better than dirt is water. At our old Beardie Bounces in NH, our hostess would make especially sure to have a kiddie pool filled with water for Charlie, no matter what the weather forecast.

These days, Charlie just grows more beautiful with time. His shaggy brown coat is thinner now, and he has lost a significant portion of the muscle mass that he had when he was younger. His hearing has taken on that selective quality that prevents him from hearing you calling him, but he can still pick up the sound of a sandwich being unwrapped from half a mile away. As old dogs do, he spends a lot of time seeking comfort, nudging for head rubs and samples of lunch. He does appear to spend some more time sleeping, but he still prefers to be outdoors, barking at the wild turkeys to get off his lawn and working on his latest tunnel.

Charlie's breeder still hears from some of his siblings' owners, but many of us have fallen out of touch with one another over the years. We do know that sister Bennet-J went off to the Bridge a couple of years ago, and that brother Tristan joined her in November. Brother Benny in California is still going strong, and so is sister Lucie in Nebraska. We don't know about the other three, but we hope that they're all still around and still running their respective households.

This week, Charlie suffered a bout of Old Dog Vestibular Disease (details on my Shaggy Dog Stories blog). He improves just a little every day; his nystagmus (twitching eyeballs) is essentially gone, his head tilt seems better, he can get up and down stairs, and he's getting stronger. He is starting to eat dog food again -- still mostly canned, but with some kibbles added in. Earlier in the week, the only thing he'd eat was canned Vienna sausages. He still sleeps a lot -- mostly in front of the bedroom box fan -- but he was a world class napper before the ODVD.

So many members of the Class of '97 (and earlier) have gone across the Bridge of late that it's about all I can do not to crush his creaky old bones to my chest and beg him never to go. I'm almost afraid that I'll leave someone off the list. Daisy went, and then Charlie's best brown buddy George, and Jubie, and Ghost... too many. Too sad.

Charlie, George, and Duncan the Wonder Dog with me, all those years ago
Charlie's dad Jamie made 15, and his mom Taylor almost did. We can't know -- and don't think about -- how much more time we'll have with the old man, but we're mighty glad that he dodged the bullet this time.


Sue said...

Thanks for a wonderful post. Morgan is almost 12 and she's often confused and just follows the other dogs around. She has aches and pains, but is always good natured. Tsar and Samba are getting up there and even Fudge is now 6 years old. My pups are going to be 5 in October. Of course, they'll always be my pups.

Cyber-sibes said...

droppin by from the blog hop...
your post brings tears to my eyes, as we've also lost too many, most of ours gone too soon as well. One at 2 (truck collision), 1 at 4 (cancer), one at 7 (intestinal tear) and our beloved first girl at only 12...
The current two are both 6, just 6 weeks apart in age. We hope to share manymanymany more years with them, yet sometimes I look at them wistfully, knowing no matter how much time we have together, it can never be enough for me.

God bless you & your pack,
the cyvbersibes, jack & moo, & moma Pat

heike said...

sooo süß!

wünsche eine stressfreie restwoche!!^^


Anonymous said...

Hi, I love your Sheepy-Dog pictures. I have a Sheepdog mix named Molly. We live in MN & run a site If you go to the about us page: there is a wonderful pic of Molly. I have many Dog Pics & a Sheepdog guarding her puppies in a hot air ballon basket - My Favorite. Anyway, Love your Blog! Thanks! ~ Cheri & Molly