The Old(er) Dog
“Watch the old dog. She’ll sense a change far earlier than we do. She’ll raise her head from a nap as if she’s been called, when no one has called her. She’ll go out in the side yard and point herself north and raise her nose and half-close her eyes and stand there a full minute, reading the air, finding things out, things that are far away and won’t happen for days.” – Leon Hale
Our boy made nine years old at the end of December. He’s a tweener: Between grown-up and middle-aged. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Truth is, Bogie still displays fits of puppydom, like when the neighbor comes by to visit while Suze and I are on the back patio, and he leaps straight up in the air like a jackrabbit. He still gets these fits I call “puppy bursts” wherein for no apparent reason he’ll shoot off across the back yard or the living room floor like a mad hatter, spin like a Tasmanian devil (Warner Bros. version) then drop on his back and proceed to growl and woof as he squirms as if giving himself a good back-scratching.
But he sleeps more than he ever did before, and he’s much more likely to stay in the house than outside, except when required to do so, though he pouts over the latter and dons such a face of sad, neglected misery the door is usually opened for him to return to the inner sanctum.
For a nine-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, he’s in remarkably good health and form. Bright of eye and quick to smile (yes, he does smile…everybody who has a dog that’s happy knows they smile). I believe that his physical condition is still superb, because he continues to dedicate every ounce of kibble I feed him to hair production. Said follicles seem to almost immediately abandon ship and leap in snowy-yellow clouds to their deaths on the floors, rather like Pigpen from the “Peanuts” comic strips. Only a strong metabolism could work hard enough to generate that much continual hair growth.
Though usually referred to as Bogie, named after Humphrey Bogart, he is also known as Bogie-Butt. This is because when he was a puppy, then about the size his head is now, he had the uncanny knack of knowing when a camera shutter was about to click and would immediately turn his posterior toward the lens. We have more photos of Bogie’s butt than his front by far.
With the approach of his senior years, he’s grown wiser in ways that aren’t easy to notice unless you’re looking. Sometimes he sits on the back steps, eyes half closed, as Leon Hale noted in the quote above, and his nostrils flair and he knows things. Things me and Suze won’t know for a day or two. Sometimes he yips in his sleep and his feet try to run after some dream-critter, or maybe it’s a scrap of food dropped on the floor. Bogie understands the three-second rule: If we drop something on the floor and fail to retrieve it within three seconds, it becomes his by default. It’s the law.
Suze and I can’t sit next to each other without him pushing himself between us, tail wagging, Bogart eyes doing that eyebrow thing, all big and brown and adorable. Sometimes he winks at Suze; just one eye, an actual wink, but he seldom does it to me. When it’s just me and him at home, I am Citizen Number One. When she’s home, I am demoted to second-class status. If she’s late, he sits at the front door and glowers at me as if I’ve done something nefarious to keep her from coming home on time. Oddly, when I am not home, Suze says he waits at the other door, through my workshop, because he knows that’s the one I come through when I get home. I doubt he accuses her of any foul deeds against my person.
He can sleep through a Led Zeppelin album at full volume, but crinkle a piece of cellophane in the kitchen and he’s there in a split second to see if he can mooch a morsel. For training purposes, he gets treats. Once he got it, anytime he heard the word “treat,” we had his full attention. The difficulty arose when we learned that Bogie knows how to spell. If we don’t actually have a “treat” or suggest giving him a “treat” for some reward or another, we started spelling it out: T-R-E-A-T. Bogie’s ears pop up and he immediately shifts gear into full-blown mooch mode. I think he can count, too, because if I put three T-R-E-A-Ts in my pocket and give him two, he won’t relent until I give him the third. If he had opposable thumbs, he’d be operating the television remote control.
He is showing his age. His snout has gone mostly white, but his eyes are clear and bright. He sleeps at the foot of the bed, and when I get up in the morning to get ready for work, he watches me with one eye, the closest I get to a wink, I guess. He watches me make coffee, come back from the shower, and the moment I sit down in my chair to check email and the goings-on in this crazy work, there he is, head on my knee so that I can’t put my laptop there until he’s received at least a full five minutes of ear-rubbing, back-scratching and being told what a good boy he is. Sometimes he is referred to in a more formal manner, Stinky Hairy Scratchy Itchy Puppy, but he’s not a stickler for details.
Bogie knows the fridge is filled with untold wonders of savory delights and always tries to peek inside when we open it. To his great credit, even when left alone for hours on end, he has never overturned a trash can or chewed the furniture. Once he swiped a cookie from the love seat when Suze walked away for a moment, paper napkin and all, and when interrogated regarding the matter, displayed such a look of extreme remorse he was promptly pardoned.
We’re kinda alike, Bogie and me. I know I sleep more than I used to, and if I let my facial hair grow it’d be rather gray as well. Neither of us really want to get up in the morning like we used to, and we prefer our respective recliner and doggie mat to just about anywhere else we could be. We both adore the lady of the house, and we both chase things in our sleep (for me it’s rainbow trout, for him I suspect it’s the cute Golden Retriever next door.)
I think back on his first days with us. I love puppies, and adults; but there is nothing like the soul of an old dog.