Old Dogs

Our dogs Molly and Winston have become old dogs. Molly is graying, overweight and cranky. She waddles around the house like an oversized stuffed pepper, eating anything she can find. Around 7 pm she stares at my wife and me until one of us picks her up and puts her on the couch so she can watch The Wheel. When she gets tired of our company we set her back on the floor and she slowly walks into the bedroom so she can sleep alone. Our once trim, athletic Jack Russell now seems chronically tired and a little depressed.

Our rescue Winston has become the Old Eccentric Uncle of the house. He is still trim, but he’s stinky, deaf, near blind, and more than a little forgetful. His Terrier courage seems to have left him as he now startles easily and yips at the slightest touch. Quite often at dusk he stands motionless in the front yard, gazing intently for hours towards the western horizon. Lori thinks he’s waiting for his previous owner to come back for him… romantically looking off into the distance for the return of a lost love. But, since I too am becoming an old dog, I know that puzzled look on his face. He just can’t remember why he went outside. Just put a set of car keys in one paw and a grocery bag in the other and he’s me… trying to figure out where he parked at Publix.

The dogs and I occasionally forget that we aren’t young dogs anymore. But, we can’t help it. There are powerful instincts at work here… to chase the rabbit, to lift the refrigerator, to fight the pit bull, to do a handstand on the pool deck… to feel the thrill of getting away with something reckless again. Oh, we old dogs can still accomplish some young dog stunts, but in the end, there is almost always a price to pay.

Last week in Georgia, Winston, inspired by the mountain air, began running around the pond like a young pup. He was going full speed, ears flopping in the wind, tongue hanging out, smiling a big doggy smile. You could almost hear him yelling FREEDOM as he rounded the corner, trying to leap onto the dock. Unfortunately his vision isn’t what it was and he jumped five feet to soon, causing him to plow face first into the side of the dock. After he ricocheted off of the dock he fell into the water, yipping and flailing around, trying to keep from drowning. I know it sounds horrible, but the water was only three inches deep. So as soon as he finally stood up and realized he was relatively unharmed, he skulked over and hid behind the air conditioner for the rest of the morning, his confidence and pride shaken for days.

Molly, on the other hand, no longer runs much. Mostly because she’s shaped like a melon and the slightest bump or rise in the ground causes her skinny little front legs to collapse and her chin to skid on the ground. But also because she’s content to take it easy as she wades around in the pond or rides with me on the four- wheeler. That is, until she sees a soccer ball. Instantly (albeit briefly) she becomes a young super dog again… obsessively barking while she chases and herds the ball like a world champion soccer player, punching it like a seal with her snout. She used to carry on like that for hours, but now she will suddenly stop after a few minutes and walk back to the air conditioning of the house, her Kibble and her blanket. She has become a dog quite aware of and content with her limitations.

As for myself, after 45 years in the construction trade I still cannot resist the temptation to grab the sledgehammer out of the hands of a twenty-year-old and show him how it’s done. Although it feels good to be the big dog, rather quickly my body gives me a painful and not so subtle hint and I casually hand off the 16-pound hammer back to the rookie along with a firm pat on his back. On the drive back to the office I assess the damage I’ve done to myself, stretching out the familiar spasms in my shoulder and lower back while burying my face in the air conditioning.

When I limp home that night I do so with a smile, because I am no longer discouraged by the limitations of my age and the mileage on my body. I’m proud to have earned them… and to curl up on the couch with some kibble and a blanket next to Molly and Winston.

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