All right, I love most any animal, but old dogs have a special place in my heart. There’s a sweetness and wisdom about them – they have stories to tell, if only we were smart enough to understand what their eyes have to tell us.
We have an old dog, two actually, but Buddy, a lab-mix, is more geriatric by far than his smaller companion, Crickett, a Jack Russell, though both are 11 years old. Big dogs, as a rule, age faster and live fewer years than small dogs.
Our Buddy, like a lot of old dogs, is plagued by arthritis – making his gait stiff and life generally harder, though the old boy never complains. His sweet face is a study in patience and gentleness.
We first spotted Buddy when he was a puppy. Somebody evidently threw him out across the road from our house. He was three, maybe four, months old. We would see him from time to time sitting by the road as if he were looking for someone, as he probably was. We weren’t sure if he was somebody’s dog or not. Then he ran down our driveway one day and swiped some food out of Crickett’s bowl before running away again. I called to him, but he was too afraid to come to me.
Later that day, Charles and I walked up the road and found him – sleeping in a drainage ditch. Though timid and frightened, he finally came out (the food we brought helped). We got him to follow us home and that’s where he’s been ever since.
Buddy would never harm a fly – literally. He has tolerated every cat, foster dog and other animal that has come along since his arrival. All the neighborhood dogs over the years have loved him. The only creature, to my knowledge, that has ever needed to fear Buddy is a mole. He used to spend a lot of time digging holes in the yard after the creatures. We’d find evidence of his occasional success when the tiny blind bodies were left unearthed.
One of our cats, Tinkerbell, actually a couple of years older than Buddy, has always shared a special bond with him. The two nap together frequently – in winter, Tinkerbell can be spotted laying on top of him, snuggled down in his fur. Sometimes, Tinkerbell will give Buddy a massage. You’ll see the two facing each other, and she will put her paws on his chest kneading him vigorously while he sits motionless, eyes closed and muzzle pointed skyward. Sometimes, she’ll give him a back massage while he lies sprawled on the ground, eyes closed – and I swear – a smile on his face.
I truly think that when one of them goes, the other will be bereft. And I may be wrong, but I think it will be Buddy who’ll leave us first.
I look at him, hobbling around, and wonder if his great gentle heart will just stop, or if one day he won’t be able to get up, or look at us in a certain way, and we’ll know it’s time to let him go.
But not yet.
Life, though a struggle, still provides him with a good deal of enjoyment it seems. Never comfortable inside, Buddy has lately discovered the joys of air conditioning and for the first time will come in for a while to enjoy some relief from the heat. Last winter, Charles built him an insulated doghouse on our back deck, complete with heat lamp and heated bed mat. This winter, I’ve got a feeling Buddy will be amenable to discovering the pleasures of gas logs and a heat pump. And that’s fine – everyday we buy Buddy is another day we get to gaze into those fine, gentle deep brown eyes. His trust just makes you want to do right by him.
We have a fenced in backyard, but sometimes we let Buddy out for a while to enjoy the woods and creek he loves so much. Like all Labs, he loves a refreshing dip in the creek. He doesn’t go far – he can’t anymore. One day I looked out the door to see him sitting on a ridge near the shop, motionless, gazing down the hill at the creek. I think he was too stiff that day to make it down the hill, but he seemed thoroughly at peace. It struck me then that he was just enjoying the moment, perhaps remembering the days when he romped in the cold water, coming up muddy, tongue lolling, to shake himself all over whoever was close by.
Good, gentle old Buddy – when the time does come to say goodbye, I’d like to place him to rest on that ridge, where his spirit can be within sight of his beloved creek.
I do love old dogs – especially ones like Buddy.
Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for The Madison County Journal.
07/16/10 at 10:27 AM
What a perfectly delightful story of your life with Buddy. I truly enjoyed reading about your 'old' pal. You are so correct that old dogs have a good understanding about life and we should examine that understanding more closely. Perhaps it was Buddy who found you -- rather than you finding Buddy in that ditch. Best wishes to Buddy!!!