Old Dogs, on Patience
I was patient once. I was much younger then. I had time for everything, we probably all did. And then life caught up with me, I ran to meetings, ran away from meetings, ran to school, ran to fix meals, and then ran home to my dogs. And I ran out of patience.
When my husband was so ill I ran out of patience with the disease. Not at Michael, although he was the walking embodiment of the disease. I couldn’t rage at him, because I wasn’t angry at him and that wouldn’t have been fair … I was angry at the disease, what it had done to our lives, to our life together.
I was ALWAYS out of patience. And I was always exhausted.
I’ve been sharing stories of Jazz, at 17 he’s my oldest Vizsla. He’s mostly retired. Jazz has a penchant, developed late in life, for standing in doorways. Blocking doorways. Usually when I’m in a hurry. He’s not very heavy, but he’s still thigh-high on me – big enough to well block a doorway. He also has the greatest talent for walking one step ahead of exactly, exactly where I want to go. Slowly. With a little wobble.
One day I caught myself becoming impatient with this. And as I put my hand on his head he looked up at me with old dog eyes. You know the eyes, the ones that droop a little on the bottom. The ones who have seen it all. Seen me laugh, seen me cry, seen the bird under hedge cover that I missed, seen every chipmunk on the farm. He turned those eyes on me in complete trust, just like always. And time stopped.
Old dogs operate on a different plane of time. They have patience. They’ve done the hurrying, the scurrying, the chasing, the holding. Now they want our time, our patience. I stopped in my tracks and just talked to him, told him how glad I was that he was with me. Blocking the doorway. That we should go right now out into the sun and take a short walk. You see Jazz almost didn’t make it through the winter. He had some rough days. As we sat on the couch together, healing, I promised him that warm days were coming and we’d stand in the sun until we melted. Then we’d lay down in the shade until we were ready to be in the sun again. He decided to stick around and try it.
Every day with Jazz is a blessing. He’s reminded me that TIME can be a blessing as it gives us moments to be with each other. Jazz brings out the best of my patience. We take an extra minute or two to walk thru the house despite the pup doing handstands and tap-dancing to urge us on to greater speed. We stand in doorways together to see what there is to see. We stand in the sun until we start to melt, then we go sit in the shade together.
Jazz has reminded me of the gift of patience, the gift of taking time for important moments. And when your best friend is about 119 in human years, every moment together is an important moment. We have no time for impatience, we have the gift of these moments to share.
As Jazz has aged and slowed down he’s not lost his interest in life, and I think he’s developed a little more sense of humor. He was always a straight-laced, very proper kind of guy who was occasionally a complete goof ball. Now I think he enjoys razzing the pup, I know he enjoys letting me help him up the steps, and he definitely enjoys telling me when he wants something different for breakfast – or one more dog biscuit. He’s very good at that. These are the moments that are so special, watching Jazz be a little silly, a little patriarchal, getting his own way. We make time for this, now and, I hope, always.
And if he wants to keep standing in those doorways, I’m thankful for the moment to stand beside him. Old dogs have the gift of seeing things those in a hurry will miss. Maybe he’s seeing time, maybe he’s seeing my soul. But he’s definitely seeing me standing there with him, hand on his head, telling him I’m so glad to be with him. Patience. Try it. What an incredible gift.
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This article first appeared in late summer, 2013.
On Old Dogs and Having Fun
by JG Sage
Our perspectives of fun change as we age. In earlier days I had fun running up and down this quarter mile hill from creek to house. The dogs and I did it a dozen times a day. Need a quick break from work? Whistle, open the door, and the horde flew to the creek – me in the middle.
And it’s still great fun to go to the creek. But now we are more likely to saunter, admiring newly fallen pine cones, noticing that the grey squirrels don’t even pretend to worry when we’re 20 steps away, and very carefully checking out each new smell along the path. I’ve put a chair near the fairy castle (others see it as an old tree stump) in case the walk back up the hill requires a moment’s rest.
We take our fun now, ‘we’ being my 17yr old Vizsla Jazz, we take our fun from pretending not to notice the squirrel who refuses to beat tracks up the tree and just hangs upside down about four foot off the ground. Jazz and I meander around the back of the tree, Jazz going left, me going right. Drives the squirrels crazy. We love that. They eventually flee to the broken limb about 8′ up and scold us. We scoff and snicker. We rule.
We find great fun in sniffing out where the neighbor’s chickens have wriggled through the fence last night. We have the nicest, most considerate neighbors in the world. They have determinedly pig-headed chickens. Despite Jay building a really great coop, fence, etc., these lame-brained birds want to be out as prey for marauding hawks (plentiful), coyotes (way too plentiful), cars, cats, and … aging bird dogs. Jazz does love a good chicken.
Long before these good neighbors moved in, other neighbors also raised free-ranging chickens. When he was a mere 15 Jazz and I were walking along the fenceline and unfortunately, his nose being far more keen than mine, he noticed the rooster first. Stupid bird. A hen might have had the sense to think ‘aaaghhhh BIRD DOG!’ but not this rooster. He crowed. Briefly. My stiff-legged achy arthritic 15yr old dog nabbed him. Didn’t bother to point, after all the rooster had insulted him! Just lunged in to grab him and bring him to me … which he did. Having never been presented with a stupid half-dead and dying of fright rooster before, I said the first that came to mind … DROP! Jazz, always the gentleman, opened his jaw and a soggy, dazed rooster tumbled to the ground. We stood looking at each other, Jazz and I, as he waited for my next moment of brilliance. Finding it slow in forthcoming, he picked the rooster up again and looked at me. Generations of bird dog genes were sending all the right signals – but why didn’t I DO something?
Well, Rooster came out of his fright, analyzed his precarious position and began to beat his wings against Jazz’s face. Bad mistake. A few moments later the yard was covered with rooster feathers and I had thawed enough to again yell DROP! and again, Jazz did. This time I picked up Rooster, rearranged his remaining feathers and plunked his stupid (still breathing) carcass at the hole in the fence and urged him to go home. He was a tad worse for wear and decided to sit out his heart attack so I hustled Jazz and I back to the house. I felt a little sneaky scooping those rooster feathers into a garbage bag and hiding it but … eh, it’s our yard, he’s a bird dog. Rooster was only ‘used’, not dead … and I saw him a few days later on HIS side of the fence. He was strangely quiet for days after that. Jazz and I privately refer to it as the Great Rooster Event, but only between ourselves. Now that was fun!
I see a few squirrels in the yard. They will ignore us, but time for Jazz and I to go razz ‘em a little bit again. Provides us all with some fun.
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The following article first appeared in August 2013
On Old Dogs
by JG Sage
I’m owned by an old dog. The most handsome Vizsla that ever stood, and he’s now 17. White. All but his ears. A little mixed red gold in there with the white, but everyone sees him as white. We see an old dog.
Jazz came home to me at 8wks old. Pot-bellied, big feet, and the most amazing amount of loose flappy skin on his head. When he tipped his head down all that skin flopped down around his ears and forehead. We wondered when he’d grow into it … but grow he did. Lean, always lean, elegant, handsome, the Gentleman of the Viszla world. He was an “old lady” in his habits when he was a year old. Fastidious. Took baths that left him wet to the touch, he sounded like a cat when he was washing up. He was always clean.
I’ve lived with Jazz through some tough days. He had seizures when he was younger. I’d hold him, and hold him, not that it mattered, but I had to do it. Eventually he’d come out of it and we’d both be years older. They have finally stopped but I’ve never forgotten them.
He’s been the lover in several knock-down nasty dog fights. He’s not a fighter. He fights back to live, but that’s it. I hold him then, too, until we both stop shaking.
He’s been with me all through Michael’s illness, through the days when Mike didn’t know which dog he was talking to. Jazz loved that – he was finally Top Dog to Mike and he reveled in that. Jazz watched Mike, went where he did, always wanted to be the most loved, needed to be the favorite. He didn’t always get it, although he did deserve it.
In Jazz’s old age I’ve begun to see my young dog again. Not that he’s senile, hah, he’s more clever than ever. I have to look to see the young Jazz, but he’s there. Eyes mostly closed, nose in the wind, ears flapping just a little. He has a few warts and bumps, but he stands there in great beauty and peace. He’s joyful about the first outing in the morning. He waits for me to help him up the stairs, although other caregivers report that he gets up them fine on his own. He stands in doorways, waiting to see what I’m going to do. He stretches out in the middle of the couch. He puts up with young Aidesh fussing until it drives him to distraction, then he grumbles at her. He rules. She adores him, immediately snuggles up to show her loyalty. He rules.
He certainly rules me. Before I fetch him from his bed each morning I open all the doors so he can make a straight shot from bed to grass for that first pee. No stopping and waiting while I fumble to unlock a door … I learned that last winter. He and I both wobble a lot in our first steps in the morning. Some days we both wonder who’s going to fall down first, but we make it outdoors to stand in the sunshine and our world starts turning again.
Jazz has always had the most fluid, ground-eating trot. Poetry in motion, as beautiful as any purebred horse. And despite now being front-end drive (back end follows) he still has that trot. He has a few hitches in his git-along, as my fatherinlaw used to say, but I can’t run fast enough to keep up with him.
I don’t let him out of my sight. He’s a serious hunter and when he was younger I’d lose him right here on the farm. He’d be with me, then in an instant … vanished. And he would hold a point until hell froze over – or the pointed animal died of fright. I finally learned to check first at the chipmunk hole in the rock wall, nine times out of ten he’d be there. He still is.
I’m impressed by this old young friend. He asks little of each day, is delighted with whatever good comes of it. He eats of the best of the house, and I (usually) cheerfully fix him any meal he wants. He’s 17. Anything. My steak, homemade bread, carrots, snap peas, a little ice cream. I understand dog nutrition, I add great dry kibble too … and Cheerios(tm). He loves them.
And every evening we sit on the couch together and I stroke his bony back. It’s a great part of our day. I’d tell you more but he’s urging me to come hand out biscuits. Gotta go – Old Dogs Rule.
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