Old Man Doug

Old man Doug has always required a degree of privacy when he does his outdoor business. If he catches you watching him, he’ll stop midsquat and mosey on away until he thinks you can’t see him anymore. Since he trained us well, we mostly allow him to choose his own Southern pine or magnolia tree to water and fertilize. That’s because he is a good ole Southern squirrel dog with plenty of land and space to be a dog.

Our town is just now considering a dog park, which would confound Doug the dog. Maggie the yellow Lab up the street and Margo the rescue Jack Russell Terrier next door are all he needs for a little company now and then. He’d much rather roll in the grass in our front yard or sniff trees in the woods behind us.

All that is about to change. We are trading our sweet home Alabama for a new urban life in Washington, D.C. We’ve sold most of our stuff and plan to downsize like there’s no tomorrow. But Doug doesn’t get a choice. He’s going with us, and that’s going to be a problem. The idea of following behind him with a little plastic bag is enigmatic. Surely he will find that mortifying, and I’m not sure he’ll ever get over it. Even now, as deaf and near blind as he’s become, I allow him the dignity of choosing his own outdoor toilet location and take care to not embarrass the old man.

The move is not something we sought out, but now that it’s upon us, we have just started to consider what it means to take our Southern-born fellow out of his stomping grounds. He’s old and set in his ways and I’m not sure he’ll fit in. Will his Southern manners and gentlemanly ways make him an outcast among the more refined city dogs he will meet at a designated dog park? Will he yearn for the days of curling up on the front porch, in the sun, while we sipped tea and dropped him small pieces of barbeque from our plates? Will he understand he’s to trot neatly next to me instead of running in crazy circles around the yard, sniffing the deer droppings from the night before? I can’t imagine anyone patting his head and saying, “Roll Tide, young man,” like they do around these parts.

He’s going to leave all his people behind. The locals who ask after his health, the vet who calls to check in when he’s under the weather, and the little girls who grew up and went to Bama, Ole Miss, Georgia or Auburn, and come by on semester breaks to check on their old friend Doug.

Old Man Doug

"He’s Just an Old Dawg"

We got him when our youngest daughter was in kindergarten, and they all grew up together. He was the son of Rambo and Jo Jo, a pair of old dogs who lived together for 8 years before producing their one and only litter of little squirrel dogs. Doug was the runt, and now at 18 years old, he may outlive even old Jo Jo.

When I picked him up from his first trip to the vet, I eagerly pressed the doc to speculate upon his heritage. I figured he was a mix of Jack Russell, Beagle, maybe some Pit and definitely a splash of terrier.

“Well, he’s just an old dawg, is all,” said the vet, with a deep Southern drawl that dragged the word dawg out for a long spell. That’s all I know about his lineage.

My daughters’ earliest memories are sprinkled with Doug stories. He had extreme separation anxiety when they left in the morning, walking to the neighborhood elementary school in a pack of giggling girls. He’d wait until I left to dig out under the fence and run eight blocks to show up after the first bell. The principal kept a bowl of water in her office, and the librarian had one in hers. He’d find his way to one or the other and wait patiently until recess or until someone called me on the landline to come fetch him.

Ripping Up Roots

Old Man Doug

He’s old now and can’t hear as well as he used to. It breaks my heart when the squirrels stand there and taunt him, out of reach of his failing eyesight. His sniffer still works, and he will stand on the lawn, nose twitching, body trembling with the knowing that they are around, but he can’t get them. It’s sad, but not nearly as sad as the deep dread I feel at taking him from his sense of place. You have to consider the deep-rooted graciousness and the friendships that go so far back you don’t even need a cancer diagnosis to get a casserole. Those ties are not replaceable, and a good dog can’t find a Maggie or a Margo that would understand his aloofness like they do.

Mostly, Doug doesn’t really care for other dogs — but they don’t seem to take it personally. He prefers his humans, his yard and his porch. He likes the lake and the Gulf Coast and he tolerates the occasional killer tornado. So I don’t know how he’s going to fare when we uproot him from all he’s ever known and loved. Even the backyard spot I picked out for his final resting place, where I always planned to wrap him in his Crimson Tide knitted blanket and bury him deep in the ground under two ancient wild magnolia trees, won’t be my property anymore.

How’s that for a fork in the road? I mean, where am I going to bury him from a condo or townhouse located in walking distance to the Metro? How will a city slicker recognize the dog he once was? Without his history, he’s just a gray-haired, stumbling along, old fellow. I’m certain that city dogs are beloved, but in our new trendy downtown, I’m picturing sidewalks full of Standard Poodles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and purses overflowing with Maltipoos and Min Pins who have multiple outfits for all the various holiday seasons. Doug prefers to stick to his dancing bears collar for a styling statement.

Clearly, he’s not ready for the change, even though he walks among the boxes, sniffing curiously at their contents. He looks confused, and I want to shout and holler that this is fine for the humans who are making the transition, but consider the dog. Please, someone. Because he’s going to have to adjust to cold weather, pro sports and new friends who have no idea he once treed squirrels so well. 

Our vet, who plays Southern rock on a guitar in the back of the clinic to calm the animals, says old man Doug will be fine. “Once his hair is on the sofa and nose art on the windows, the new house will feel like home,” he says.

Of course, he’s right. Home is where the dog is. Now, why didn’t I think of that?

This article is a follow-up to the piece "Old Man Doug: An Ode to Our 17-Year-Old Dog."