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Old Dog, New Perspective

As I have said in the past, dogs live in the present, so we don’t spend too much time thinking about getting older and what will happen as we age. However after a recent encounter with an elderly dog, it’s been on my mind.

My mom had some friends over for dinner one evening and the guests brought their 14 year-old golden retriever, Jake. Our parents settled us in the living room then gathered in the dining room for dinner. Ignoring me, Jake immediately wandered over to a comfy spot near the window and laid down. I went over and sniffed him and tried to break the ice. “Hi, I’m Marty. What’s your name?”

“Jake.” He grumbled before rolling onto his side and closing his eyes.

Excited to get a response, I wagged my tail and ran in a circle a couple times. “I have a new rope in my toy bin,” I said cheerfully. “Do you want to play tug of war?”

“No thanks.”

I crouched down next to him, cocked my head to the left and said, “Okay. Well, my mom probably dropped some scraps on the kitchen floor when she was making dinner. Do you want to sneak in and see what we can find?”

“Not right now.”

I sat for a minute just watching him lay there. Then I noticed some dark bumps on the back of his neck and without thinking, I leaned in to check them out. “What are those on the….”

“Leave me alone!” he growled and snapped his teeth, nearly catching my front paw.

“I’m sorry!” I yelped as I cowered towards the other side of the room. “I was just curious. I’ll sit over here.” I went to the opposite side of the room and tried to take a nap. After dinner my mom came in to check on us on her way to the kitchen to prepare dessert.  Jake and I both lifted our heads and indicated everything was fine and she left us alone again.

After another ten minutes I casually got up, stretched and repositioned myself a few feet closer to Jake. Then I waited a few more minutes and did it again. Finally I got the courage to speak. “I saw you limping up the stairs. Did you hurt yourself playing?”

“No. I don’t really play anymore. I have arthritis.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s something old dogs get sometimes. It makes my legs and back hurt,” Jake said. “I can’t run like I used to. Now my parents just take me for short walks around the neighborhood.”

“That must be a bummer not to be able to run and jump and play…” I caught myself and realized how insensitive I was being. I tried to rephrase. “Well, if you don’t run and play, what do you do all day?”

“Mostly I sleep,” he replied. Then sighed and said, “It’s hard to explain, Marty. When you get older you’ll see. Your priorities change. Things like fetching a ball or chasing after deer just aren’t as important anymore. I have really come to appreciate simpler activities, like sitting next to my dad while he’s fishing. Or laying in the grass on a sunny day and listening to the familiar sounds in the neighborhood.”

Jake looked at me and motioned with his head to move closer. I tried to control my excitement as I got up and curled up next to him and placed my paw over his.

“Are you… I mean, do you ever…?” I stammered, but couldn’t find the right words.

“What is it, Marty? You can say it.”

“Jake, are you afraid of dying?”

He thought about it for a while. “No. I’ve had a good life with a loving family. I know I won’t live forever and my mom and dad know that too. I’m going to miss them, and they me. When it’s time, we’ll say good-bye and be grateful for all the years we had together.”

“Oh.”

Jake and I spent the rest of the evening curled up together listening to the din of our parents’ conversation in the other room. Eventually it was time to say good night and off they went.

The next morning my mom let me out in the yard to relieve myself. Normally I just dash back inside for breakfast. But that morning I recalled something Jake said. I laid down on my back in the grass and closed my eyes. I could hear the birds chirping and the trees rustling. And I could the smell of new growth and the freshly cut grass of the neighbor’s lawn. Then I heard a voice.

“Marty? What are you doing? Are you okay?”

“Just enjoying a simple moment, Mom.”