I have an old dog.
When did she become old? Maybe it started with the decline in her manners. Doesn’t she see me standing here as she pulls something out of the trash?! Maybe, but it doesn’t matter because she knows I won’t enforce the rules and she can’t hear me anyway. I move the trash.
Or maybe it was when I found myself giving her plenty of time to come when called, accepting that she would get to me when she was ready, without making a mental note to myself to “work on that.”
My kids ask me why she’s so much trouble; taking food off their plates, leaking urine through the house, and sleeping where she wishes, no matter how inconvenient her resting place might be to the rest of the family.
Because she’s old.
She does not want to learn new skills or practice her old ones. She wants to go for her walk; a familiar route where she can sniff the same smells each day, often rooted to one spot for minutes at a time, refusing to budge if I try to hurry her along. So I walk at her speed, stop when she stops, allow her to explore what she wants, and accept that much of her sensory world is lost to me.
Returning after an absence is no longer a significant event. At best, she gently approaches to welcome me home. More often, she sleeps through my arrival, oblivious just a few feet from the door.
After fourteen years I am no longer the focus of her world. I’m on the periphery of her radar and I cater to her with no expectations in return. The small daily reminders of my presence; my sound as I move through the house or my sight as I pass nearby; those things are diminished. Instead, she focuses on what she can register easily; vibrations around her. Smells on the ground. A fresh bone to chew. A toy in the pool.
I accept my more peripheral role as the natural order of things. Instead of looking to me for work or play, she looks to me for access. Access to the pool. Access to the trail where she walks. Access to extra snacks. Access to comfort. If she needs something, she knows I’m available to get it for her.
I’m not sad that our roles have changed but I am sad that our time may be short. We have a rich history, shared from the day of her birth through years of training and competition, spanning the familiar to the new, and with more yet to see.
I read about friends’ dogs that live to sixteen, seventeen or more, and I wonder if that good fortune might be for me. I’d like to think so.
Now I watch her fold into herself, absorbed in whatever is right in front of her at any given moment, single tracking through what will be the final days, weeks or years of her life.
I’m grateful that I have an old dog because I know that one day I won’t have her at all.