Small Space. Big Life.

Visions of the future

Today I took my kids to a schoolmate’s birthday party.

We had a fine time.

They jumped on the trampoline and ate candy and cake.

I visited with other parents and ate tacos and drank wine. We were only occasionally interrupted with whining or crying or requests for more juice boxes.

Like I said, we had a fine time.

This schoolmate’s family had a dog, a friendly, tail-wagging, chocolate-brown bundle of Labrador love, who met us at the door with undisguised enthusiasm. We were clearly the highlight of his day. As were the other 30 or so people present. This is the type of welcome only a dog can give.

Their bundle of Labrador love is 12.

He is getting old, as Labradors go. It shows.

He has a gray muzzle. His feet are splayed. He walks a little funny, a hitch in his gait that reminds me of old truckers and cowboys, a legacy of a life lived in motion. His coat is thick, a little dull, a little flaky. I imagine it shiny, glossy, thick and luscious like melted chocolate. I have to work a little bit to imagine this, but I can.

He has old-dog hot spots and those fatty tissue lumps under the skin that old Labs get.

His eyes are alert, but there is a trace of grey film in them, and his teeth — well, let’s just say all of him looks like an old dog.

He is deeply loved.

He followed the kids around, gentle, eager, hopeful scavenger that he was.

He laid at my daughter’s feet the whole time she ate her lunch, betting (correctly) that she was an easy mark and perhaps also a messy eater. (Score!)

As I watched him gimp around the party, snuffling in the grass, nosing sticky little hands that absently petted him while waiting in line for their turn to smack the pinata (which was shaped like a ladybug and gave up the goods pretty quickly) — I realized I was looking at the future of our beloved hound.

She is currently in the prime of her dog life — 5 years old. Calm, beautiful, sweet, loving. Shining coat, sparkling eyes, athletic build and fine posture.

Her muzzle is not yet flecked with gray. She doesn’t smell funny (well, OK, to me at least). There’s no fumbling about her, just calm assurance and ready love.

I looked at this old dog and felt pity for his awkward homeliness.

Then I remembered our dog, and realized that, with luck, some day she too would be old, and someone might look at her with pity, never knowing how stunning she is to me. I’ll want to pull them aside and say: What you see is an old dog. But that is not what I see. I see her sweet steady face, unmarked by gray, the prick of her ears when we say her name,  the dance she does with her front paws when we say the word “park,” the puppy-ish splay of feet and wild wriggle of joy when she sees the leash come down from its hook in the hall closet. I  see her sleeping on her back, all four paws in the air as though she is a bug that has been sprayed with Raid. I hear her grumble in her sleep, sounding so much like Scooby-Doo that we snicker and giggle about it over our evening tea and e-mail. I feel the ground shake underneath me and the dirt clods fly as she digs into the grassy  lawn, flying along the off-leash park like a greyhound (which she is absolutely not). I see her mobbed with kids at the playground, dozens of little hands petting her, piping voices asking her name, every part of her butterscotch body covered in patting little fingers, so gentle and patient that infants have used her nose to pull themselves upright and she’s never flinched, so affectionate that children who have never touched a dog before can’t seem to let go, they are so mesmerized.

The neighborhood children call her by name, and when they see me and she is not with me, they ask after her.

I understand. I am mesmerized, too.

I realized — I would be so lucky, so incredibly lucky, to have our dog with us as an old dog. To have those years — any years– with her. To watch her nuzzle sticky little hands while she gimps along on splayed feet.

And my heart broke a little bit, for all the wonderful dogs who grow old before their people do, and who say goodbye in their own time, always too early for us. There is not enough time. Never enough time with a good dog.

We’ve got years with our dog yet — I hope. Oh, do I hope.


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One thought on “Visions of the future

  1. Aunt Peggy on said:

    This is the joy and the tragedy of raising a dog. Their lifespans don’t extend far enough, especially when you consider their merit. Existentially, they seem far more deserving to live 80 years. When you go a little further, you encounter another very sad outcome. Those of us who approach the end of our lives wonder whether to adopt another dog that will not outlive us. I suppose the best response would be to appreciate the love we receive from our sweet canines in the present.

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