Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Dog is Getting Old

My dog, Zooey, is getting old.  I keep saying that to people.  “He’s getting old.”

When he was a younger dog and someone came to the front door he would jump up, run to the door, and bark like he was Lassie and Timmy was in a well.  The other night the UPS guy delivered a package and although Zooey really wanted to bark at him, he couldn’t get his hind legs off the tile floor fast enough.  His mind and spirit were willing but his body wasn’t.  That’s when I realized that when I say “he’s getting old” it is a subtle way of avoiding the truth.  The truth is: my dog is old.

Zooey at 5

I have always had dogs.  When I was a kid we had, at different times, good dogs, well-trained dogs, yappy dogs, rough dogs, and sweet dogs.  I loved them all in different ways and one or two of them meant the world to me.  But they were family dogs.  I had to share them with brothers and sisters and parents.

Zooey is my dog.  Although I have shared him with my wife, he has always been my buddy and her protector.

We got him at the pound when he was eight weeks old.  At the time, our marriage was about two weeks old.  He has almost literally been with us as long as there has been an “us”.

Zooey as a Puppy

I am reminded of another dog I loved.  Her name was Poco.  She lived a long life spanning the length of my elementary school days and into my college years.  When she died I wrote an essay called “Landmarks” for a class I was taking.  I was inspired to write the essay because her death, and more importantly her life, had provided me with landmarks by which I found my way.  These landmarks gave order to and created an understanding of the things that had shaped me.  She was there at the bedside when my father was dying of cancer and she was with me when we I started to heal.  She was the only one in the room with me when I watched the Red Sox lose the 1986 World Series.  She ran by me when I rode my bike and hiked in the woods.  She was the ever-present weight at the end of the bed.  She stayed up with me when I came home to do laundry.

And now with Zooey I see the pattern repeated.  He was with us in the beginning.  He saw us struggle and he offered his ears to scratch when we needed something soft to touch.  He gave us an excuse to go on walks so we could talk about our lives and figure out where we were going.  He did funny things and disgusting things that made us laugh and gag.

Both funny and disgusting.

He gave us something outside of ourselves to love and he loved us back.  We often said that having him was good practice for having kids.  Hopefully we learned from all the mistakes we made with him.  He has been with us through some really good years; years that were made better because he was a part of them.

Checking Out the New Thing

This is starting to feel like a eulogy to me and I don’t mean it to be.  I need to save some words for when the end comes.  But I recognize that I’m approaching a new landmark and I’m not sure how to get there or what to do when I’m there.  When I was a boy, I didn’t have to be the one to make the decision.  Mom called me in my Mac Hall dorm room to tell me that they had put Poco to sleep.  The burden was hers.  Now I am an adult and it’s going to have to be my decision.  I’m going to have to be the one to say that it is time.  It is “getting close to time”.  It might already be time.  I just don’t know if I’m ready or if I’ll ever be.

My Family


  1. What great photos of the old guy. Lovely photos of the family.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Zooey is handsome now, but what an adorable puppy, I love that photo!

    A wise person, in reference to talking about animals, once told me that the most important thing to understand is that age is not a disease. We all fear the day that we may have to make 'that decision', and we're never ready for it, but in my experience, if it becomes necessary, our animals are good at letting us know when it's time. I suspect that even though Zooey can't quite muster his old greeting for the UPS man, he still has a lot of spark, and a lot of joy left to give. Wishing you, and Zooey, lots of joy this holiday season.

  3. Cher: Thank you!

    Curbstone - He was an adorable puppy, wasn't he? I think you are right that our animals will tell us. It struck me as funny, actually, that when I came home after having written this post he met me at the door with his Kong (his favorite toy) which he hasn't bothered playing with in months. It was almost as if he was saying "look, I still want to play around."

  4. Curbstone wrote some very wise words there. I hope Zooey has many more years ahead.

  5. I have five dogs, one of which, nearly died last week from a sudden, mysterious infection. I was a complete wreck. When our cattle dog was nearing the end, I left the fireplace on all day for him and let my daughter, who he had decided as a puppy would be his charge, stay home from school to sleep next to him. She felt she was losing a sibling and I grieved for weeks. But he'd had a happy life and his death was a release from the pain of cancer, arthritis, and hip dysplasia. Celebrate the life he has left, which I hope will be plentiful. He was an adorable puppy. I would have brought him home, too.

  6. Hi. Your post is deeply moving, and as a fellow dog owner, I completely understand and feel your words. That decision is a terrible one to have to make, even though the idea of easing a pet's pain is supposed to bring comfort. Know that you do have strength, and there is a world full of people who are with you.

  7. Holley - Thank you. I agree, Curbstone definitely packed a wisdom-punch!

    Casa - Thank you for sharing your story. It must be even harder when you watch your child grieve the loss of a pet too.

    Kevin - Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you liked my post but I'm especially thankful for the support.

  8. What a beautiful post! Zooey looks so happy on each picture. A Good Dog Life! :-)

  9. I used to be really, really afraid of dogs. I don't know why. It's not as if I was ever attacked by one or anything.

    Until I came here that is. One time Chuckles and I were walking down the side of the road in the country near our house. I heard a galloping noise behind me, and turned around and saw a huge brindled pit-bull racing towards me. Chuck was in front, and I was terrified. All I could yell was "CHUCK!DOG!DOG!!" he turned around, and raced towards me with a stick he had been carrying (he says he always carries a stick when we walk because this sort of thing might happen), and the dog was snarling and snapping at us. For a smallish guy, Chuckles can make himself sound big and menacing if he wants to. He got between the dog and I, and I thought the dog was going to bite the crap out of him. A woman drove by, saw the situation and got her van in between us and the dog which scared it off. Thank God. I tottered on shaky legs all the rest of the way home and popped a beer. It was only 10am but I needed it after that.

    Anyway, I've gotten used to dogs the more I'm around my friends'. But I could never have one. I had a cat once for 15 years, and when she died I swear I cried more for her than when my dad died. Sounds horrible, but she was like my kid. I couldn't put myself through that again, no matter how much I like animals.

    Seems like every time I comment on your page, I leave an essay behind. Your posts make me want to talk. That's a compliment, by the way :)

  10. Gone Tropical - thanks for stopping in and commenting!

    Kyna - I like your essays! Keep 'em coming. I've had a few run ins with dogs like that too. I used to serve legal documents to people so unfriendly dogs (and their unfriendly owners) weren't very concerned about my well-being. All I can say is, thank God for pepper spray.

  11. A touching story and wonderful photos, I hope your dog will attend you a few more years. He looks happy and still quite healthy!
    Regards from Germany

  12. very nice story. I too have dog stories, which make me very emotional. Thanks for expressing words for me. greg.