I have a dog.
Well, we have a dog.
Or, maybe he has us.
Yoda came to us from a rescue. It was suggested at the time that he was a Cairn Terrier (think Wizard of Oz Dorothy dog) but he looked like he had a little Westie in the photo they shared with us. He had an unmistakable “old man” look when he was young. I know now that it was more “old soul” that I was seeing.
The story that he came to us with, was that he had been rescued from a puppy mill in Idaho. I get a terrible picture in my mind when I hear that. Dirty cages, cramped quarters, dark garages. I wonder about the first few months of his sweet little life. By the time we got him, he had endured a brief placement in a family with young children and it didn’t work out. He was a vocal one and not everyone has the patience for a puppy. He was now six- months old and being fostered by two women in Aberdeen WA, very cautious about who would be the caretaker of this small wonder awaiting his forever home. We took my niece and nephew to be sure he would be okay with young (well-mannered) kids. He was shy, but incredibly sweet.
We brought him and his safety rug home that day. Dogs are multipliers of joy. He settled into our small family quite easily. He’d never been around cats, so Gus was his first introduction. How lucky for him that he had this angel to share his life with. They became fast friends. Inseparable. Brothers
Molly was another story. To this day they continue to engage with the instinctual adversity that dogs and cats are known for. They are quite aware of one another but will never be snuggle buddies. When Sassy came to us several years later, Yoda was tentative at first, but eventually embraced his new sister. They slept in soft crates side by side. They ate their dinners together (socially distanced) in the kitchen and curled up together every night on the couch or in front of the fire. He took his job as big brother quite seriously. She grounded him. He provided the spark of fun she needed.
I linger in bed later and later these winter days. I’m still crawling under the covers by 9pm but I’ve taken to lingering in the mornings until 5. I dream like crazy just after I first fall asleep and then right before I awaken. It’s as though the fog isn’t so dense in my head at these bookend times of day. The blessing is, that even as my middle of the night continues to be restless, this dream time as I fall and then awaken, is much needed sleep.
In the morning, I make the bed first thing. I’m usually the last one up so I make several trips back and forth around, pulling and tugging on sheets and blankets. I hear a small whimper outside the door. It’s Yoda. He waits for me some mornings. I believe you can’t know true unconditional love until you know what it is to have the complete adoration of a furry creature. I step outside the bedroom into the hall. His butt won’t stop wiggling. His tongue won’t stop wagging. I sit down on the second step and he wiggles over as we have our morning reunion. My heart spills over.
The truth of my days right now is that often the only real measure of time I have, comes in the number and duration of dog walks. Two big brown eyes always nearby … watching. Waiting. How wonderful for him that what he most wants and most needs are one and the same.
He’s an old guy. With just a fraction of the human lifespan we enjoy. Everything about his life is an accelerated version of what I will experience. I’m watching him grow old right before my eyes. I think back with such joy to our treks up to Rattlesnake Ledge in the dark; me with my headlamp, Yoda with his neon-lighted vest. He blazed the trail ahead and loved being out with me in the wee hours.
Now I watch as he side-steps up the stairs if we forget to put up a gate. In his mind he is his young spry self, his body betraying that vision with every step. His skin has grown sensitive under his thinning coat. He has two back teeth that need to come out, but at nearly 15 with a bum ticker, the decision to put him under for those extractions is not as simple as it may seem. Our vet is kind and loves our sweet boy but cautions that there is a risk either way. To do or not to do, that is the question.
He trusts us. That much I know for sure and it is in that knowing that my greatest comfort lies. Kelly is the Alpha around here and has given Yoda lots of opportunity to sharpen his skills. Such a smart boy. On her work from home days he sleeps upstairs next to her desk. They have this unspoken communication between them. She gave him a routine that is even more meaningful as he ages and we all count on one another. We are so lucky to know this kind of love.
His eyes are milky and his hearing is diminished. His experience of the world has changed and so mine has too. Our walks, if they can be called that, are s l o w and much less deliberate this year. His need to experience the world through his other senses has grown and our time outside is a lot of licking and sniffing. The nature of it has changed but not the frequency of that time outside. He is entrenched in a routine and needs to “walk his beat” in the neighborhood to feel any satisfaction. He gets the neighborhood walks with me and the park and our court with his Mama K.
Recently on a walk around “the hood” ,I watched him go nose first into a cement stair he did not see. It hit me in that moment just how impaired his vision really is. Now I more fully understand how important this precise walk is for him. It is preference, yes, but also a route he knows in other important ways. He knows it by scent. It’s why he moves so slowly now, sniffing out the way forward.
He is definitely in the last season of this life. This may very well be “the December of his life”. A friend coined that phrase as her mother slipped into her last months. It isn’t until you see it for yourself in some sentient being in your own orbit that it really hits home. Time is like a veil, soft and worn. The air is thinner here and time moves more slowly. Sleep is a blessing.
Sound bothers him differently now. Fireworks, the sound of whistles on TV, appliance buzzers, smoke alarm beeps. They are disturbing to him and while most we can manage, some come as shockwaves through his tiny body and he just wants to be held. His joints ache in the evening and he is afraid of slippery floors. His fur is changing too. The soft curls have become coarse and unruly. Aside from these things, you would never know he was approaching 15. He loves his nightly play ritual with me before dinner. He has four favorite toys, all with squeakers, all different versions of the same one. We play fetch down the hall with carefully placed rugs and runners.
He’s getting tired. By bedtime, he is stiff and struggles even with the soft steps up to our couch but does not want to be lifted up. In the winter, his last walk happens before dark and he retires to one of his many sleeping places for the evening. At 7pm he stirs and is ready to go to sleep in his soft crate or a couch for the rest of the night. Before he shuts his eyes, he comes to me for one last kiss. I tell him over and over that we love everything about him. That he’s a good dog. And then off he goes, to slay dragons or run the open meadow in dream. We begin each day how we end it.
On the couch next to me he dreams. His paws and nose twitch and I imagine he’s off somewhere saving the world. As I move from room to room during the day he follows. He curls up nearby … just for the sake of being nearby. Even during my morning bath, he is right there. Precious.
I’ve learned a lot from this guy. Some things are simple. Well, all of these things are simple, really. As humans we have a tendency to overthink and complicate everything, don’t we? If only I could embody the simple wisdom of this lovely, sweet beast.
Eat when you’re hungry.
Drink when you’re thirsty.
Sleep when you’re tired.
Keep routines for everything: sleep, food, walks, play.
Don’t carry anything longer than is necessary.
Be generous with affection.
Don’t hesitate to express yourself.
When you need rest, seek solitude.
When you need love, seek company.
Stay grounded by touch.
Try new things.
Investigate every possibility.
Begin every day like it’s your first.
Begin every day like it’s your last.
Stay intimately connected to the world around you.
Trust, but first, verify safety of all things.
There are dozens more. I could fill pages. To share life with such a creature, you learn things you can learn no other way. They are friend and teacher, parent and child. I love this guy. Yesterday, as I began this post, I kept looking into his soulful eyes and told him I was writing about him. I don’t know what he heard, but there was a loving approval. There is almost always that. It’s what I live for.