Everyone loves a puppy, of course. Why not? They are small and gangly and infinitely curious. Nothing is like the smell of puppy breath or the feel of tiny, razor-sharp teeth chewing on an offered hand. Puppies are adorable, and if we get them at the SPCA where I volunteer, they inevitably find a home within a day or two. I love puppies too but it’s the older dogs, the dogs whose faces show wisdom and fortitude and a quiet acceptance of what is that truly amaze me and touch my heart. I love old dogs because I am reminded to be present, to be patient and awake in this life I live.
Last week I spent my days with a dear friend who lives on 20 acres out west. Outside her door is a pasture filled with knee-high grasses. Deer meander the property, taking delicate yet greedy nibbles of her carefully planted flowers and shrubs. Red tails soar above in a clear blue sky and the silence way up on the hill is almost palpable. We had a grand time last week, and one of the daily rituals was to walk the dogs down to the chicken coop to collect the eggs. While not far, this walk has become a measurement for her dogs’ health. She has two lovely girls, a 14-year-old German Shepherd mix and a 16-year-old Aussie mix.
Once these girls could bound down the hill, chase the deer from the pasture and eagerly wait at the end of the property for their master’s return. Now the walk is slower, more thoughtful. We all move a bit more patiently, taking the time to experience the views, enjoy the sunshine, sniff the secret scents that fill the air and nestle in the grass by the road. These girls still amble down the hill; they still get excited to visit the chickens and take their turn about the yard. They simply do it more slowly now.
Ones hips are ailing and her gait is off. The other’s eyesight and hearing are failing. Despite these physical shifts, these girls relish each morning, each excursion into the field they have walked a thousand times. I enjoyed watching them in their routine, seeing the subtle expressions cross their faces when the wind shifted or a bird screeched. I loved scratching each behind the ears, nuzzling a soft muzzle and hugging a body that was just a tad thinner than the last time I visited.
I love old dogs, everything about them except the fact that their time with us is waning. The thought of their passing fills me with sadness, so heartbroken for my friend who will undoubtedly miss her companions of so many years. But along with this sadness is something else, something harder to name and harder still to express. It’s a kind of bittersweet feeling in that through these aging souls I am brought closer to the importance of the moment. Old dogs give me this gift of perspective and gratitude. On some days it is enough to simply be. To be aware of myself in time in place, to say thank you for each feeling and emotion, to see the world through the senses of a dog by my side. These old girls reminded me that each walk is an opportunity for discovery and happiness, even if it’s simply finding 3 lovely hen’s eggs, the same as the day before.