As I write this, my sweet “firstborn” is curled up at my feet. The dog. Not the daughter!
My old Dalmatian is getting older every day, it seems. His best love, other than food, of course, has been chasing balls. Especially tennis balls. Even today he gets so excited his wobbly body wiggles all over when we bring home a sleeve of new tennis balls. His ears and eyes might not work so great anymore, but there’s nothing wrong with his smeller! A police officer friend who trained canines told us once that our dog would be a natural police dog because of his “ball focus.” We never had to teach him to fetch. It just came naturally.
I always said that if he ever stopped chasing balls, we’d know he was in the twilight. It hurts so much to write this, but the twilight time is beginning for him. Over the last couple of months, he has stopped chasing balls. You see, he has arthritis in his hips. He is on the maximum dose of pain medication and anti-inflammatories and homeopathic pain meds. If he follows me upstairs and then I walk back down, he stands at the top and barks at me in a strange voice. I had never heard that tone in his bark before. If you are a dog owner, you know what I’m talking about…different sounds mean different things. There’s the “hello” bark and the “stranger” bark and the “get away from my food” bark that he gives to the little dog sometimes. This is a “frustrated” bark. He wants to go downstairs to be with me. Going up is easier on him because he mainly uses his front legs, but going down is a different story. He makes it to the last few steps, and then I lift his back legs for him to help him down the rest. It’s one little concession that my old Alpha Dog has made.
We’ve had to make changes to his routine. The arthritis in his hips is so far gone that he does not have control of when and where he goes to the bathroom. He’ll be sleeping in his bed and out it comes. Or he could be in the middle of eating…you get the picture. Suffice it to say that we’ve covered his dog bed with a heavy duty shower curtain for easy clean-up and we make sure he eats his food outside in the grass.
Despite being so crippled in his hips, my old Dal has lots of spark left in him. He has compensated — the front legs are now very strong. He doesn’t hear well but keeps an eye on the little dog to tell him when he needs to bark — she lets him know when the doorbell rings or someone knocks! He can’t make it up on the bed to snuggle anymore, but he can still get up on the couch with us. But I don’t dare try to help him up — that is insulting to the Alpha Dog. If he can’t make it up on the first try….or the tenth…he just hops or falls down and gives it another try until he gets it.
Tenacity and single-mindedness is the key with my old boy, especially if it involves food of any kind. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be food. Paper tastes good. So do sticks. And rabbit poop. Especially the little dog’s food and anything he can scavenge when the dishwasher door is open. One of the biggest things he used to get in trouble for was jumping up on the counter and swiping food — only when my back was turned, of course. That habit has mostly faded away due to back legs that won’t hold him for very long…but occasionally, if something that smells heavenly, such as a whole loaf of fresh-baked bread, happens to be sitting out because you know who forgot to put it away and thought his counter-jumping days were behind him, he surprises me and moves back into Stealth Dog mode. I discovered this the other day while I baked about ten mini-loaves of bread for Christmas. Guess he just couldn’t wait! Merry Christmas, old boy!!
He’s been on my mind these past few days because I saw that one of my favorite books, Marley and Me, has been made into a movie that will be released Christmas Day. All I can is that if you go see the movie or read the book, that dog is MY dog, only with spots.
Now my other favorite canine, the little one, has Stealth Dog issues of her own. But they are more of the find-paper-shred-it-up variety. She’s too tiny to reach the counter. But put a lap down anywhere in her sight, and she’s there armed with a ferocious lick. I took a Christmas picture of her, too. I know, I know — she needs to be groomed again. It’s been four weeks. That’s one thing I never have had to do with the old Dal. He sheds everywhere on everything…but his fur never grows long. She does not shed, but her hair gets shaggy.
I know it may be strange to those who don’t have pets…but I am thankful to the Lord for bringing these two mischievous canines to our door. (Remind me of that the next time I’m having to clean up one of their messes!) The comfort they provide is amazing. A few weeks ago during The Great Anxiety Race, both dogs seemed to sense that something was wrong and both of them became practically attached to my hip. It occurred to me that the old one, especially, would have crawled into my womb if he could as he dragged himself onto the couch and plopped down IN my lap. He doesn’t usually go for the lap…he prefers to be beside my legs with his head resting on them. But during those few days of panic for me, he and the little one competed for my lap.
That just reminds me that sometimes God provides comfort in four legged packages.