My old dog likes to help me feed the horses. It something we do alone together, which is his favorite part. He polices the younger dogs, but they make him tired, and if he could speak I think he would yell at them “You kids get off my lawn!” When it is just him and me, he trots along next to me. More so if I have treats in my pockets, when he is so focused on me he sometimes runs into things.
As an old dog, he no longer ducks under the fence and chases the horses, usually in the exact opposite of the direction I want them to move. He doesn’t roll in horse poop, or eat his weight in it. He almost never runs off after the sight or scent of rabbit, fox, neighbor cat. When he does separate from me, he usually comes back when I call him, though it helps if I can get in his line of sight and reach for my pocket. I am not sure if he is losing his hearing or if he just hears selectively. He certainly has no trouble hearing the rustle of the treat bag in the kitchen.
The old dog still loves to chase a tennis ball, and still has no off switch. I have to count throws and put the ball away so he does not run to the point he falls down. He likes to feed with me because it is something he can still do easily, and we are not out too long, and afterwards he can take a nap. If we have to fill the water troughs and it’s a longer trip, he stumps along next to me on the way back to the house muttering under his breath.
I realized this past winter that he is starting to remind me of my father.
My father died five years ago, and last Saturday was his 91st birthday. I’d like to say I miss him, but I more miss the idea of him in the world than I do miss the actual him in my life. I was sad when he died, but I was also relieved, and the relief was bigger than the sad. The last few months before we got him 24 hour home health care, I stayed with him a lot. I was worried that when he was alone he would fall down the stairs – but then when I was there I was worried that I would push him down the stairs.
The things I like to remember about my father, especially in his later years, are all about his love of life. His equivalents of chasing tennis balls and helping feed the horses. He loved to walk long past the point it was safe for him on the uneven city sidewalks around his home. He was horrified at the idea of a wheelchair, but then he loved being squired around in it by his home health aide, who wheeled him to his “office” (Starbucks) every morning to meet with his “colleagues” (his typical mix of everyone from high powered executives on their way to work to homeless people who hung out at the outside tables with a single cup of coffee all morning).
He spent a week at hospice as an in-patient and he came out again the weekend of a big festival in his neighborhood, which his home health aide took him to. I arrived to visit him before they got home, and when they came in, my father pulling himself up the railing of his many stairs, being balanced from behind by his aide, he looked up at me with a huge smile and said “Guess what I did at the festival?” I had no idea, and said so, and he said “I DANCED!”
While I am sad for my father that he is no longer alive, because he really loved living, I am not really sad for me, most of the time. When I think of losing my old dog, however, I am sad already – and he is still here and still fine.
My old dog was once my young dog. His nickname was “Runs Twice as Fast,” when compared to our then old dog. He was tireless, and he didn’t listen all that well, and he chased the horses, and he would run off and disappear for hours and come home having rolled in something long dead, stinking to high heaven and so, so pleased with himself.
I am counting on him living forever, and it seems likely I will be disappointed. But we will keep on feeding the horses together, and gently chasing tennis balls, and sitting in the grass in the sun whenever we can.