Friday, August 07, 2009

Golden Years

It was about a year and a half ago that I came downstairs one cold winter morning and found Ben in the kitchen. I called to him to take him up and down the street for a little walk and then I watched as he struggled to get to his feet. It took him a long time. An eternity.

Something was not right. And the next couple of days saw more of the same.

After the first time I headed for the basement, leaned against the washing machine and began to sob, stopping only when I realized that the kids had come down and were standing, puzzled and a little concerned, watching me break down.

His annual was the following week as luck would have it and they checked him out and while he was a little heavier there was nothing much wrong with him except that he was getting older. The usual prescription for what ails - moderate food and some more exercise.

The big guy has never been a big eater and as for exercise, well, I do what I can but the truth is that as each baby has been born the old guy has slid down the clan totem pole. So he gets out but its usually down the street and back up again.

Ben is going to be twelve in a week and its become quite clear to me that this will be his last birthday. He has had a good life. He is loved dearly and like all dogs he gives more back than he receives. The kids adore him and that is the saddest thing of all, that they did not know him when he was full of piss and vinegar and could run for hours and hours on end. They know him as the big old slow dog who gives them kisses but it would have been fine for them to have a good dog to run with in the park. Now we take him to the park or sit out in the backyard and we throw a ball and he looks at us, sighs with disgust and lays down.

We take him to a ravine near our house and we follow him as he wanders about sniffing. I'm sure he doesn't recall that this was where he first bagged himself a raccoon, thus able to scratch another item off of his bucket list. The kids dawdle, looking at the snails that infest the lush plantlife by the stream, the acorns underfoot, the flowers along the trail and he wanders ahead, stopping and turning impatiently, as if he had places to go and we were making him late.

His hips are bad and now when we walk he gives a little stagger at times and when he takes a shit he doesn't go into the classic position but instead whines softly as he tried to bend himself. His eyes are getting cloudy with cataracts and last night I lay on the floor with him in the kitchen, spooning him gently and scratching his belly, after he came to find me looking for a scratch.

Last winter my wife had hit the wall with the baby after a few months of nightly feedings. I had retreated to the couch from the beginning (I've never been able to sleep with a baby in the bed) and on this one Saturday night I brought the baby down to be with me. I had her in the carseat, where she might sleep for an hour or three, and had a bottle all ready. I fell asleep.

It was a little later that I woke up and as I tried to get comfortable (an impossible task), I peered over the edge of the couch to where my youngest was sleeping, peacefully, the dog curled around the carseat as best as he could manage, doing what he must, for he is a dog.

He has an appointment next week and of course there is not much that they can tell me. Its age that's catching up with my old friend and there's not much I can do but make the best of what time he has left.

So that's what we will do.


Garret said...

Long time reader. First time poster. Thanks for this. I miss my boys more than I care to admit to many. 1 big boy, 95 pounds all hair. Adopted him too late. He was 5, only had another 5 with him. He other since a pup, but alas his mom needed him more than I did so she has custody.

Love your writing man. Makes me smile, makes me laugh and days like today, makes me shed a little tear.

Anyway thanks. For your life insite, your love of your dog and your insight into the oilers.


Rand said...

Depressing story, he looks like a veritable twin for my old dog Charlie. Amazing resemblance, I swear you wouldn't be able to tell them apart.
I'm a dog person, always have been and love them. It's crushing though to lose one though. You can call them a pet, but really their as much a part of the family as any human is.

Make the most of your time with him. And take a million more pictures, you'll be glad for them in the future.

Matt said...

It must be getting serious if you're calling the big fella by his name. Ben -- great dog name.

Hope you and he both know when the time is right, and you're ready. Good luck Pat.

And you'll always have the stories...

hunter1909 said...

Like most inhumane people I cry over cute animals and their stories.

Traktor said...

Ben is lucky to have such a great owner.

hunter1909 said...

Even the inhumane Traktor sheds a tear.

Baroque said...

As soon as I saw the title and picture I started crying. Take plenty of pictures and treasure every memory, because no matter how many other dogs you may have, each one is special.

My parent's oldest current dog (they've had three put down previously) is 14 now, stiff and slow and creaky, almost completely deaf so at least thuderstorms and firecrackers don't scare him anymore, and if they go away for a couple days and have us kids who still live in town feed them, they have told us not to be surprised if he just doesn't get up from a nap. He's been such a good boy for so long - I'll miss him terribly, just like all our other dogs.

Fake Craig McTavish said...

Damn it Pat, Sarge is exactly the same age, looks identical to your Ben and has exactly the same demeanor and symptoms.

In his day, he could run down a rabbit and never turned down an opportunity to do so.

We ran across one on his walk yesterday and he wistfully raised his head and then lowered his eyes.

Man, I'm going to miss him.

spOILer said...

In light of prior metaphors, I was so worried this was going to turn into the post where we had to euthanize Fernando Pisani.

Like Ben, he's an old warrior, but maybe they both have another year left in them, and maybe they're both still better than whatever young pup we could bring up to take their place.

Black Dog said...

Thanks for the kind words everyone. Its going to be tough but hopefully its a while to go yet. Unfortunately he's aged very quickly these last few months. I'm a pretty positive guy but I'm a realist as well.

spOiler - hah, very good. Like Fernando though, Ben is one of a kind. There will be no replacement.

Good stuff Hunter. Its true though. Stories about pets always get me going as well. The tears well up every time I read one. Close to the heart I guess.

Bruce said...

Stories about pets always get me going as well. The tears well up every time I read one. Close to the heart I guess.

Hear (sniff) hear. The big fella has certainly had a good life, though, and just as certainly he's enriched yours.

Anonymous said...

[Like Fernando though, Ben is one of a kind. There will be no replacement.]


I had a dog through Jr. and Sr. High. He was the best little buddy. It was hard to see him age, but I was lucky to have 14 years with him. Maybe sounds silly, but I have a dream about him now and then. Even have woken up with tears.

Thanks as always for sharing Black Dog.

Baroque said...

When you talk to the vet, ask about glucosamine for his joints. My mom's 14-year-old German Shepherd mix takes it, and my sister's 8-year-old Rottie does, too. It helps the stiffness and mobility a lot, especially when it is damp.

He might have more time in him than you think. We didn't think that old man Odin would make it through last winter, but he managed.

doritogrande said...

In light of prior metaphors, I was so worried this was going to turn into the post where we had to euthanize Fernando Pisani.

Someone go check on Grabia. He may have hung himself after reading that.

hunter1909 said...

My own yuppie family had our 2 year old dog literally put into the back of a half ton truck and driven away out of the blue one school morning when I was 8 years old. Around 830 just as I was getting ready for school. No one even bothered to tell me what was about to happen, and as long as I live I'll never forget the sight of the dog in that truck.

It might as well been what the Dutch jews might have felt like, waking up to the gestapo.

Black Dog said...

good one dg

thanks Baroque I will ask about that

you're mental Hunter, you really are, but apparently we are getting to the root of it

Psyche said...


In the same place right now with our black Lab. He was once a powerful and determined retriever. Now he goes for a daily stroll up the country road and back. Some days are better than others and he can handle a few playful runs in the farm yard. But his hip is slowing him down and his eyes aren't what they once were.

Our other Lab (chocolate brown) is young and agile. She gives us a reminder of what the male once was. Still, I miss that glint in his eye when we trained or wrestled. This may be his last winter coming up. His life is changing so fast. I really hope he enjoyed it.

Al said...

Dang, brings to mind what I'm missing by being without a mutt right now. Now I'm ready to check the shelters, despite what the landlord wants.

One thing about dogs is that they know when they're loved, and they show it by looking peaceful. Taking my last guy to be put down, he was in bad shape and he knew it was close. When the time came I held him close and spoke right through his forehead, and it was like he nodded, saying he knew he was loved and that that was all he had ever needed to know, and off he went, happy as you please. Amazing creatures.

Thanks. Great stuff, as always, Mr. McLean. All the best with him.

Black Dog said...

Psyche - I would say its probably 100% that he has

Thanks Al

ChrissyT said...

All these dog stories are so sad, reminds me of my old dog, Divot. She was 13 and a half when we had to get her put down. It was hard, I was 6 and a half months pregnant when I had to get her put down, so my son never got to meet her, but he still talks about missing her cause he sees her picture and I talk about her and how she would always lie on my belly every night. I carried her upstairs almost every night and she got heavier in her old age, probably close to 50 pounds. She was a good dog, English Springer Spaniel. The thing that I miss the most is probably when she's smiling like a fox in a henhouse after she's had a great run in the bush. She had a great smile.