Old dogs + new tricks about aging

Calgary Herald, Dec 7, 2015: One of the first times I took my dog for a walk he saw a bunny and took off. There wasn’t much I could do about it. He was a trim 100 pounds and when he bolted, the leash went flying from my hands and skipped merrily behind him as he gave chase up the street. I stood there yelling after him in the dark winter morning really, really hoping he’d come back.

He did, eventually. After giving up on the bunny, my brand new dog loped back toward me, white paws at the bottom of his long legs and big ears flopping against his big head. He walked right up to me, I picked up his leash and we continued our walk.

That’s the day I learned to be vigilant for bunnies. If I spotted them first, I could widen my stance and prepare for the lurch on the leash.

Rocky was a two-year-old rescue dog and we were just getting to know each other. One friend called him Surfer Dude because he is chill, golden and handsome. Another dubbed him Lord of the Couch because of how elegant he looks with his giant paws crossed in front of him. We call him Rock Star, Dumbass or Stinker depending on the mood and we’ve had plenty of adventures over the last ten years.

We’ve wished we had a Go-pro on his head the dozen or so times he’s wandered out an open gate. Neighbours have escorted him home and he’s come back on his own, waiting patiently on the front porch for someone to let him in. At least once he’s scratched at the back door without us even knowing he was gone (I discovered the open gate after a mom two doors down reported her kid spotted “a deer” in the back yard).

Rocky and I have logged several thousand hours together at Nose Hill Park. We’ve had a few close calls with coyotes and an unfortunate situation with a porcupine but most of our time has been beautifully mundane — just big Alberta sky, little bunches of trees and a pond full of rain water in the summer; the bar at the dog party.

For many years we’d run on the hill together. Or more accurately, I’d run and Rocky would amble along next to me. Every now and then he’d get a whiff of a dead deer part and take off at full gallop to investigate. He found more limbs than I can count and one particularly good day, he found a deer’s spinal cord.

When he got slower I started running loops around him. That worked for a while but I worried about coyotes so eventually I’d just walk, serpentine, so he could keep up. When he couldn’t jump in the back of the car anymore to go to the hill, I bought a ramp. He didn’t like it until my friend the dog whisperer suggested enticing him with bits of hotdogs. These days, even a hoagie wouldn’t get him up the ramp, so we just walk in the neighbourhood. I watch my old, heavier dog — his sassy back end wiggle replaced with a slow and deliberate gait — and I think about everything I’ve learned in his company.

I’ve learned patience. I’ve learned that the busier you are and the more stressed you get the more important it is to take an hour and get outside. I’ve learned the mountains in the distance look different every single day. I’ve learned that porcupines like to hang out at the tops of trees when a Chinook blows in. I’ve learned that a dog can want to kill the mailman in the morning and not even flinch when a little kid with Down syndrome throws his arms around him in the afternoon. I’ve learned that dogs don’t get people on Skype but they sure do get aging.

As we slow-mo through the neighbourhood, I look up at Nose Hill wistfully. But he doesn’t. He’s too busy sniffing out Ziploc baggies with half eaten sandwiches in the school field. I watch white bunnies take off across the snow — stopping to look around teetering on their hind legs — but I don’t have to worry about Rocky yanking my arm off.

He barely even looks at the bunnies, content to find the little brown treats they leave behind.

My mutt just turned 12. That’s about 107 for a big dog.When we head out the front door, the bunny that camps out on our lawn doesn’t even bother running off anymore. I’m not sure whether Rocky has taken note of this, and I try not to dwell on it. Instead I take my lead from the dog at the end of the leash that’s slowly making his way down the walk to enjoy another day’s adventure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s