Old Man Doug: An Ode to Our 17-Year-Old Dog
Doug the Dog is both dignified and befuddled in his 17th year. He has an old man aroma — slightly stale, rotten-toothed and damp from the growths that sprout like mushrooms on his hind legs. He’s completely deaf, partially blind and has taken to standing in front of a random wall and licking it.
We have been told we should get another dog so the transition between now and what is to come will be easier. “We are dog people,” I remind my husband when he declares Doug our last pet. But we don’t speak of it much.
Nobody told me that getting a dog when your kids were little would mean the kids and the dog would age out at the same time. I don’t know how it has come to this — having an empty nest and old man dog named after their favorite cartoon character of the time. Just when we are finally free of the joy of teenagers, we now have to contend with the guilt of leaving behind a confused and slightly daft dog.
We Adjust to Changes
He can’t go to the Pet Hotel anymore because he’s already just an old bag of bones and won’t eat or drink when we leave him. Which is why he was at the New Year’s Eve wedding of our oldest daughter this year.
She wanted to be married at the same beach where Doug once chased waves, barking furiously at their crest and crash, determined to beat back Mother Ocean’s relentlessly tormenting tricks. “He’s not too bright?” commented a spectator, watching the futile, frantic sprints of a younger/spry Doug the Dog as he raced up and down the shoreline, hoarse with the fury and responsibility of his mission.
Of course, I was offended. The man saw a ridiculous effort to catch a wave, but I saw the pursuit of potential, the sweet thrill of possibility.
Once, when Doug was a few years old, an old fellow in a pickup truck pulled up next to me. He leaned out the window, squinting in the sun, and asked me, “How much you want fer that squirrel dog?” I was indignant (and not a little pleased) and told him my dog was not for sale.
Other than treeing squirrels, Doug doesn’t have too many other talents to speak of. He is loving and loyal but not the brightest crayon in the pack.
When the last daughter left for college, Doug waited next to the front door for her return. Nothing we did could dissuade him from his vigil. One night, a few weeks after she left, I heard the pitter-patter of his toenails tapping into our bedroom. He stood at the edge of the bed and looked up at us with eyes filled with sorrow. I patted the mattress on my side, and he jumped up, walked in circles, twirling the blanket into a nest, let out a long and mournful sigh, and went to sleep.
He sleeps with us now, even when the girls return. I think he knows better than to let his heart re-break. I admire him for that.
We Remember The Good Times
On New Year’s Day, I took the old boy down to see his nemesis, the waves. We walked along the water’s edge, but he kept looking back toward the direction of the beach house as if to say, "You took me out of my warm bed for this?"
Finally, with one furtive glance in my direction, he turned and took off at a fast trot back to the house. By the time I caught up with him, he was back in my bed, curled up around the mother of the bride dress.
“What kind of dog do you think you’ll get next?” I am asked. I don’t really know. I didn’t set out to be a rescue dog snob when I plucked him out of a dozen free puppies in a cardboard box.
While it’s trendy now, I contend that there’s plenty of truth to the benefits of a good mutt. They are healthy and live a life of gratitude. Doug is profoundly sweet in his dumbness and good health. He never had an accident, never let us down, chased a car or had the slightest problems with his hips.
We Prepare For The End
I know that 17 is pushing the edges of a dog’s longevity. Even his parents, Rambo and JoJo, died before then. I’ve made my plans. I will bury him in the backyard, where the trees are full of chattering squirrels. I will dig the hole myself, remove the dancing bear collar, wrap him in the Bama blanket he’s worn to soft crimson tatters and then lay him in the ground. Until that bad day comes, I try to spend time with the fellow.
Yesterday I saw a squirrel hanging out in our front lawn. Doug was sleeping in the sun, and I woke him by whispering in his ear, "Squirrel," dragging the “sq” into sqwehhhhh sqwehhhhh. He struggled to understand, looking around with confusion in his milky, cataract-y eyes. I gently turned his face toward the squirrel, now sitting upright, watching us watch him. Doug looked, but he didn’t see. He couldn’t hear my “sqwehhhhh sqwehhhhh,” so he did what he does these days.
He trotted up to a wall and gave it a good, wet lick.
Carolyn Mason is a freelance writer living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. You can follow Doug the Dog on Twitter at @dougdog3.