Roll over, play dead
BY C. L. BOTHWELL III
Old dogs. Smelly, disgusting, dull, deaf and blind. Dumb, too, in the modern sense. There is nothing to recommend them and everything to disdain. Never again, I say. Never again!
What other creature snuffles and snorts and sucks itself, its tail, its stomach, its back and the distal portions of its digestive tract with such undisguised pleasure? What sort of beast would happily wallow in the putrefying remains of some organic something and then come in to roll on the sofa, the chair and your bed? Where is the animal that so willingly casts off the training and habits of a lifetime, and decides that indoors equals outdoors when depositing waste?
In aging, as in most other matters, dogs would do well to study cats. Mind you, I'm not discussing a sick old dog. I'm describing a relatively healthy old mutt. I surmise the days ahead will only be worse. It's not as if she hasn't always scratched when she itched, but it has become a hobby -- the sort of self-stimulation seen in caged animals and mentally crippled human beings. Even when there is no detectable cause for annoyance, no fleas or skin rash, she noisily, slurpily sucks her toes -- most intensely when I have awakened at 3:30 a.m. and am desperately crawling back to dreamland.
Naturally, she has always favored the perfume of decay. For her, the high point of every hike was when she would dash ahead and break out of the trees into a pasture. To put it delicately, the odoriferous mud pack she would then apply only superficially resembled mud. But in her youth she had the decency to return with her tail between her legs, confessing her guilt and, once bathed, would actually smell clean.
Alas, she almost always stinks now, perhaps because she has perfected her technique. As for the problems created by what most folks euphemistically label "accidents," I am certain they are not accidents at all. She simply no longer cares too much whether she is in or out.
Oh, she's happy enough to go out, but not long ago we discovered that she goes out and stands around awhile and then comes back to the door with her doing undone. Twelve years of flawless manners have given over to an attitude of "Machs nicht."
Her failing memory is becoming a source of angst as well. She goes to the door and scratches. We let her out. She returns, and we let her in. Moments later she's at the door again. And whereas she used to obey the Law of the Dog and circle three times before lying down, she now loses count and circles ceaselessly, settles briefly, and then rises to circle some more.
She thus moves further from her old role of pleasant companion and closer to the bane of constant annoyance. Of late, when a rash of "accidents" became overwhelming, we did what we never believed we would do. We purchased a blue kennel cab and shoved her inside each night. She hated it.
She has never been confined in a pen or tied to a tree like so many other pups. So once she seemed to get with the program again we removed her prison to the basement. I suspect it will find re-use sooner rather than later.
To be frank, in many of her failings she rather resembles a person. And I guess that's the most difficult part of all. We remember her puppyhood, and the proud and happy middle years, but now find her to be a problem. She no longer enjoys long hikes, though she has her moments. She no longer hears intruders, so her watchdog days are gone. Between her deafness and failing eyesight, she is becoming disconnected from our lives.
The only answer seems to be the same one we contrive for older humans: a place to keep her out of the way and out of trouble, a cage that we call a retirement or nursing home. In all of this I see intimations of my own mortality, my own inevitable aging and gradual redundancy as the world moves on without me, and the day when simply sucking my toes becomes my best and brightest pleasure.
In that I find some encouragement. She does seem to be having fun.
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