Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ode to an aging dog

It's hard to believe that in just a few short months, Tweed will be 10 years old. To the unfamiliar eye, he looks like a young adult dog, and nobody ever guesses he's more than 5 years old. Even I forget he's not 5 years old.

Watching him age has been both beautiful and painful. I did not get the chance to embrace Briggs' aging process ... he was an old soul from the time he was small, and his health problems aged him faster than he deserved, or I could believe. He was always an old dog, to me, and I lost him when he was not yet 11 years old. I always felt robbed of his twilight years, but also, somehow, robbed of his youth.

And Tweed is not Briggs. Briggs lived his while life asking me, "What now, Boss?" but from the time he was small, Tweed only ever asked me "Why?" Why should he sit there, stand on that, leave that alone, stop barking, be nice to the cat? "What's in for me?" he always wanted to know. He still does.

Tweed has always questioned everything - he's a born skeptic. And he's cautious, about everything. Never was Tweed one to run headfirst into a tree after a ball, like Piper; never has he skidded to a stop throwing up mud answering his recall, like Dexter. His steps are measured, his enthusiasm always tempered with reserve. Strangers, new places, foreign objects, new commands - he's been cautious about them all. He's not like Woo, who exists only to please himself. Quite the opposite, Tweed has always wanted to be good, but first he just wanted to know why. If I've failed him in any way, it's that it took me ages to recognize that he really is a very good dog. In many ways, he's smarter than Briggs ever was, and the smartest dog I know.

I'm an impatient trainer; my temper is quick, my impulse control needs work. I struggle with it often. And Tweed's questions always drove me crazy - "Just do it!" I'd seethe, and Tweed would tilt his head at me and ask "But why?"

It was not until after Briggs' death that Tweed began to shine for me. Although he was a difficult dog in so many ways, Briggs was so easy for me because he always wanted to do what I asked. Briggs was a foot soldier, a loyal subject, who could not even fathom asking "Why." It saved him from himself, and his demons, but at the time I didn't see it as a survival mechanism; I only recognized it as Super Dog, and more robust, more rounded dogs seemed petty irritations to me. But when I no longer had anything to compare Tweed to but a memory, I began to see what an amazing dog he really is.

And this is what Tweed has taught me - forgiveness. He forgave me, instantly, for assuming he was a lesser dog than Briggs. He never lost faith in me, even when I had so little in him. It pains me that for so many years, I failed to see how many times the "Why?" I saw in Tweed was really TRY. He tries so hard, he's full of try. Once I learned how answer his questions, he has given me more back that I have ever deserved.

Years ago, I was walking around a lake with my two red dogs, and Briggs stepped on a big, fat thorn that shoved itself way up into his pad. He yelped, held up his foot and limped over to me - held out his paw and trusted I would take care of it. I pulled the pointy barb out of his flesh and tossed it to the side of the path where Tweed, meandering by, immediately stepped on it. He screamed, tucked down his tail and took off on three legs - unlike Briggs, he didn't come to me to save him. And I used to think that illustrated the difference between my two dogs, and was such a clear indication of why Briggs was so superior to his little brother. I was too selfish to see that all it illustrated was how much less I valued him.

Today, while we walked along the dykes we came to the place where we have to cross a sea of boulders - about 50 feet long, and 20 feet wide, there's no other way to get to the other side. As the pups and Piper danced across the uneven surface, Tweed picked his way carefully along behind me, stepping where I stepped, choosing the same flat surfaces where he saw my feet go. He trusted me to lead him safely across this small challenge, and it made me so glad to see how far we had come.

And then he fell - he lost his footing and slipped. He went down rather heavily, and two of his legs disappeared into crevices, trapping him with his chest pressed against the jagged edge of a big boulder where he tried to balance. And it was then that I realized Tweed is getting old. I've seen Piper fall on these same boulders and recover herself before she's fully hit the rocks, but Tweed went down and he stayed down. He's not 5 years old anymore - he's almost 10 years old, and his body knows it, even if I don't.

For a second or two he struggled and I thought "don't panic Tweed, don't - you'll break your legs if you do!" and then he turned his head and looked at me. He just met my eyes for a long second and I could see he was asking, again, "Why?" But not "Why is my body failing me? Why am I getting old?" Rather, he was just asking me, "Why are you just standing there, you flippin' idiot, can't you see I'm stuck?"

"Sorry, sorry!" I said and picked my way across the rocks back the way I'd come. I bent down and carefully lifted him out of his little prison and set him back on a flat surface. He wagged his tail and stuck his nose in my pocket. "Cookie please, that was really traumatic."

I laughed. Tweed loves it when he thinks he's been funny, and he barked back. Of course I gave him a cookie. I'm looking forward to giving him cookies for barking at me for many more years to come.

He's such a good dog, my Tweed is.
b00010

(I promise not to make these long winded, sort of maudlin posts very often)

65 comments:

oregonsunshine said...

It's hard on us to look at our dogs and suddenly realize they're aging, isn't it? I looked at my Freya a couple years ago and realized she is in her winter years, her face graying now, no longer just a hint on her muzzle. The day is coming when she'll no longer be able to master the stairs to get to our living room or our front door. Then, I will join her downstairs in the family room (walk out basement, no stairs to get outside) and we will watch tv on the couch together, celebrating her life and treasuring each moment we have left.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful dog! A tissue warning at the beginning of the piece might have been useful!

Barbara said...

Oh, RDM, that was wonderful.

Thanks for sharing. And I agree "A tissue warning" should be first.

4DawgMa said...

Not maudalin at all! Anyone with an aging dog knows exactly what you are feeling. There is a time when you look at them and the realization that the road ahead is shorter than the road you've traveled thus far just hits you in the gut and the heart. It's not necessarily a sad realization.
For myself, I am struck by the profound depth of the relationship forged between our two separate species as we share an all too short journey together. And then the crew brings me back to the moment, huffing and snorting with impatience for their daily romp in the woods.

Melinda
Sparky (13), Opie (7), Nicky (7) and Jet (1)

RaisingRiver said...

Loved every word - so beautifully written. One of my favorite posts. For the first time in my life, I have an aging dog... it's an insightful journey.

Jennifer
Jaida (9), River (4), Diesel (4), Aero (2)

Samantha said...

Wow, that was a wonderful tribute to a special dog. As I'm sitting here sniffling, my dog is nudging me wondering why I'm suddenly sad. I can't help but laugh as he noses my cookie pocket, and agree with the other commenters about the "tissue warning."

r0ssie said...

lovely post.

nickelsmum said...

Needed a tissue warning.... I have always loved Tweed and I'm sitting here weeping now. (The PMS isn't helping, either.) What a wonderful journey.

Anonymous said...

oh, i loved the long winded post. totally tearing up. it makes me wonder, when i'm getting frustrated while training my little gal, what it is that i'm missing and not giving her credit for. thank you for a lovely, insightful post & a delight peak into the the mind of one of your great dogs.

Sweetpea said...

Oh please, don't ever EVER hesitate to make these kinds of long posts...that was the loveliest read I've had in days & I enjoyed every second of it. Your dogs are lucky to have such a human!

Katharine Swan said...

Beautiful post -- glad I'm not the only one needing tissue. :o) It's hard to admit we've underestimated or misunderstood our dogs, but realistically, it takes a dog's lifetime -- if not longer -- to learn who they truly are.

dogzoomies said...

I have 2 dogs, one who will be 11 this month (the perpetual 6yo dog) and the other 12 in May (my old soul dog ever since puppyhood). Your post hits so close to home.

Such a thoughtful and insightful post (both into you and to Tweed). A tribute like that can only be written by someone who totally 'gets' their dogs. Whether that understanding comes early or later in life, it doesn't matter... that connection is a beautiful thing indeed, isn't it?

Laura said...

RDM, your descriptions of Tweed remind me so much of my Sophie Dawg. Thanks for being so honest, and reminding me that my own complicated dog (also a few months away from ten) will not be around forever.

Life in vet school said...

That's so sweet-but-sad! I hate the fact that my dogs are getting old, especially my Bear, but the alternative is worse (obviously) so I always ask them to please get old very, very slowly. I love the richness of your relationships with your dogs -- hearing about how Briggs overshadowed Tweed for a long time, and how you finally understood what he was asking you for, was priceless.

bybiddie said...

Wonderful, honest, thoughtful. Thanks.

kelly said...

I loved this post. Thank you.

Ninso said...

Awesome post! You're just as good with words as you are with pictures.

TheRedQueen said...

What a great post...for a great dog. I've loved Tweed for a long time...he reminds me of my Ripley...who is now heading down the road to the ripe ol' age of 13 this year. Rip also always asks "Why..." and is also very cautious...though he gets less cautious as he gets older, funny enough.

All of us dog folks, we're in the same boat...we all feel the same things about our dogs...and it's always lovely to read someone put it into such beautiful words.

Mom to the gang from 12 1/2 years to 9 months old.

Anonymous said...

My Selee came to depend on me and we enjoyed 17 years of life together... The last 6-7 are my greates memories of her and how much closer we became once I saw her as "frail" and she recognized me as her "helper".
Enjoy this time with Tweed my dear friend...
Your American BC Rescue friend.
M

MalaysianFan said...

How many people speak of dogs in the singular sense, as if they're all the same, whether border collie or bichon frise? And once past that, how long to realise that each dog has its own very unique personality, different from others of its type?

My cat is now teaching me that she is one of a kind, with her own idiosyncrasies and needs. Who knew? Before she came along, I'd thought all cats were nothing but dog-toys. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

I wish this post could be required reading for every dog-owner on the planet. How could anyone read it and NOT go out for a good long look at his canine companion with new eyes? Brava, Food Lady!

An English Shepherd said...

Lovely post & lovely dogs :-)

Wizz

Anonymous said...

That was sweet and helpful as a reminder to see and cherish each dog as an individual.

jo said...

As my Beagle enters her 14th year this year and a weight loss compiled with a discovered food allergy and a newly shiny bright coat many in the neighborhood have quietly asked if the Pooper had passed away and was this a new dog. No my husband proudly told them, that is still the Pooper, she is 14. But there are so many times I see her struggle to get up from a long nap or I see her legs start to quiver when I realist just how old she is. I really felt that post and it most certainly was not maudlin. Thank you.

Tatyana said...

What a lovely tribute :)

I've been following your blog since Briggs' days and I have noticed a huge difference in the way you write about Tweed in the past year. Good to see you embrace it.

Natalie said...

Beautiful post, RDM. And especially fitting, seeing as how I am home, staring at Oreo, and realizing she is far older than I am ready to accept.

Mary said...

Beautiful post! Really hits the nail on the head of how we relate to our multiple dogs and what a change in the pack can reveal about the remaining members and our relationships.
I often think I shortchanged Ryder by getting another dog too soon and I spend a lot of time trying to get him to trust me more. Like Tweed he questions my requests - I would say it is an Aussie thing except Avis has nothing like that in her character.
Not maudlin - but a good idea to sit back and really reflect on our relationships with our dogs while they are still with us.

Alex93andme said...

That is a beautiful tribute. It is very hard to suddenly realize your puppy is not a puppy, but 10 years old or older. Thanks for a lovely post. I'm going to go hug my dog!

Anonymous said...

what a wonderful post (even if I am sniffling now too!) Thank you for putting into words the wonderful connnection and thoughful insight into Tweed's immortality. We all need to be reminded now and then to enjoy the special moments while they are here.

Tristan and Braun said...

Awww.. I cried!!!

I love to read your mutterings about Briggs coz' in a good or bad way, it hits so close to home.

I have a bad ass at home as well - yes I just told his truly this morning - but he is also the MOST LOYAL dog I've ever. His complete and unwavering faith in me makes me feel inadequate when he misbehaves. I always think, there must be a reason why. There must be a way to. Without resorting to violence.

A year and a half on, I'm finally only starting to hear him. After I stopped listening to all the well intentioned "dog trainers" out there who recommends anything from the electric collar to the Alpha Roll.

I realize he was not bad-ass because he chose to. He was bad-ass (in society's opinion) because he couldn't cope in this crowded island we live in. Because he IS a Border Collie. Because he gets disoriented by loud sounds. Because he gets all fizzy when bicycles sneaked up on him. Because he is afraid of men staring DOWN into his eyes and he retaliated by barking his head off at them. Because he simply can't grasp dogs. I could go on and on.. the point is, he is a bad ass because he just can't cope.

And now that I know what I know, I find ways to help him succeed. we walk in quiet parks or ungodly hours. We drive hours to find deserted fields that we can play in. We introduce people to him, but slowly. We introduce dogs to him, again slowly.

I'm sorry, I probably digressed a million times. All I really wanted to say is, I'm so glad you posted this, because it resonates in my heart. For bad-ass does have a live-in brother with the most amazing temperament and confidence (something bad ass does not have YET) but good-ass the brother is a *completely* different dog. He has his quirks and yes, he is much more independent. He will go find his own solution if I offer him none. And yes, if you have smoked duck breast with you, he will go home with you.

But good ass is not any lesser than bad ass. (why are we talking about asses here?!??!)

And I am learning to grasp that more each and everyday.

Thanks FL for your post. It's really awesome. That's what I really wanna say.

Lola-Dawn said...

What a lovely post! I had a "why" dog too ... for 12 wonderful years. Damn! Where's the kleenex???

Anonymous said...

You can "get maudlin" any time you want. I really enjoyed reading this and being able to understand about the relationships between you, Briggs and Tweed. Your dogs are wonderful, and it's wonderful that they have you!
Ruth in Portland, owner of 2 complex and wonderful PNWBCrescue BC's.

Marcia said...

Oh my. I have tears in my eyes. That was beautiful.

Benny and Lily said...

Ahhh what a nice post about your baby Tweed. Mom said she hates when we get older and older.
Benny & Lily

angie said...

what they said. i'm too busy wiping away the tears to think.

riley will be 10 in 11 days.

Paula said...

Wow. Very nice.

I only cried a little.

Emma Rose said...

That was really beautiful. And yes, a tissue warning was in order.
We lost our dog Sara to cancer at ten years old and I have so many regrets. Stupid things, like trying to keep the carpet clean... For one more day with her I would throw out all the carpet in the house. Now I tell people the carpet is dirty because we have three dogs, and if they are bothered by it they can go home :) The dogs come first now.

Debra Kay said...

My red dog, Molly taught me a similar lesson-she is not her brother, Moon. They are two very different dogs, but in their own way, very special-and both, in their own ways, will try their guts out to please me.

In that way-she's made it easier for Solo-all I ask of Solo man is he be himself.

Here's to our dogs and all they teach us.

usafhockey said...

It makes my heart smile to see Tweird make YOURS smile!

ps- He's always been my favorite... reminds me of my pittie A LOT!

RachelB said...

Not maudlin at all, FL-- tender. Thank you.

gooddogz said...

I read it three times. Cried harder every time. There is so much wisdom here!! Really gorgeous post. I can so totally relate to this post and I know it touched everyone who has read it. thanks.

k9oodle said...

I fell in love with Tweed when I first became addicted to your blog. Thanks for sharing this...really hit home, both because I look first for Tweediness in your posts, and because all of my dogs are "seniors."

Wonderful post, beautifully written.

Angie said...

I loved this post. My Remington is 13 and I couldn't agree more that it is an amazing journey.

saratogajean said...

I loved this. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

That was a wonderful post! It really hit a heart-string with me. I grew up with cocker spaniels that always did whatever we asked and were very dedicated. I finally got my own mixed dog a year ago and she is constantly asking "why" which just drives me crazy while we train for agility. It has been quite the journey and I keep reminding myself this is what makes her who she is. I'm lucky to have such a good dog, thanks for reminding me of that!

Miriam M. Hughes said...

I love your Ode. We just lost our "shared" ten year old black lab unexpectedly on Wednesday. She was losing weight and acting like a puppy. It is heartbreaking. Our other dogs are respectively 12 1/2 years, 11 1/2 years, 9 1/2 years and 3 years old. The aging process is obvious even though they are still very active and fairly healthy. And they trust us to watch out for them but not make them feel too much like the geriatric group! : )

julie said...

*silenced*
Awesome post, clearly showing that there is no beginning to describe your bond with Tweed.
And please, don't ever hesitate to write similar long, lovely posts!

Anonymous said...

Oh Food Lady, you made me cry. Lovely lovely post. What a good man Tweed is. He deserves every cookie!

Lonneke said...

...that's beautiful..
I love how you write about your dogs.

heartsong said...

Keep it up--your articulate posts put into words the thoughts and feelings of us inarticulate people who wish we could profess the wonders of our bestest friends in the way you can.

heartsong said...

Keep it up, your articulate posts put into words the thoughts and feelings of us inarticulate people who wish we were able to write such wonderful, insightful thoughts about our bestest furry friends.

Laura L said...

Great post, be as long and wordy as you want. I love reading old dog stuff.
Laura

Carol said...

Thank you for such a beautiful post. I, too, have noticed how your posts about Tweed have changed since Briggs passed. (not that Tweed is my favorite, or anything! ;)

My red dog will be 10 in a few months, like Tweed. Ever since The Giz turned 7, I have wondered how I will manage my grief when he's gone.

I cherish his juvenile antics, every time he woo woos at me and every time he asks me "why?" Both of which occur often!

I think I'll go hug him... Not that I haven't several times already today.

Cristina Herman said...

That was a beautiful and intuitive post. You've put into words what so many feel about their dogs - especially as they age. It wasn't until I lost my first border collie that I real "saw" my younger one. I had been comparing him to my baby for so long that I had failed to see his unique strengths and spirit. Now as he grows older I mourn the years I didn't give him as much as I should or could have. Thanks for bringing me back to those feelings. I off to have cuddle...

Schnitzie said...

S, at first I was touched by your ability to see your dogs with such the intense intimacy. Further on, the bare-naked truthfulness of your own observations of yourself with respect to Briggs and then Tweed...it made my heart ache with you...and hope, with all my heart...that you will have many, many more years to love, appreciate and enjoy Tweed.

In terms of the art of writing, this is a great piece, and I truly hope it will not be your last. I am so glad you shared this with us. Your words and thoughts are full of love and forgiveness.

Much love to you, Tweed, and naughty Woo.

cinnamondog said...

I think that sometimes if we pay attention and let go of our own pictures, we can grow into our dogs.

I hope Tweed is your smart fella for many years to come. Happy Valentine's Day, Tweed! My female Shelties say that you are swoony!

Lauren said...

What a beautiful post!

B said...

You made me cry instead of laugh, but both are good. :)

Kerry said...

Made me really cry food lady!

To have loved and lost a dog is a wonderful but eventually painful life experience, but those of us that have are so much more fortunate and enriched than those that have never known the love of a dog at all. :)

lacey-itsadogslife said...

what everyone else said...now if you'll excuse me, I have to go kiss Lacey on the head and smell her neck and scratch her arm pits...

false_acacia said...

What a beautiful post. That was a fantastic description of how your relationship with your dog evolves.

I have my second border collie now and it's been an experience to recognize who he is and how he works. He's so different from my first boy - I knew that dog loved me with his entire heart the moment I met him. We were soul mates. My experience with the new boy is that he trusts me with his whole heart and I trust him. I could never trust my old man to stay out of trouble, never. But Roscoe waits and listens.

Anonymous said...

Honest and from the heart Food Lady, as always.

Anda said...

Ohh, what a moving post that was! I've always had a soft spot for your Tweed, even while you were jokingly calling him names :) He's a very honest dog, but a thinking dog at the same time. I knew how much he meant to you even as you were making fun of his funny shake faces and butt scooting and rolling in the sand :)

A beautiful tribute to your red friend, please give him a hug from me, and a cookie, if there are any left, ok? :)

Michelle said...

Judging from the number of comments you have here, there wouldn't be much complaint about a few more of these "long winded, sort of maudlin posts"! This was a really beautiful tribute to Tweed and I find myself wanting to give him a big hug. You are so lucky, not only to have such wonderful animals, but to be able to see and appreciate their individual personalities.

hornblower said...

We can haz more maudlin long posts plz?

That was fab.

bedtimeforbonzo said...

Foolishly, I have not visited in sometime.

Loved your ode to the wonderful Tweed.

Touching, well-said, hearfelt.

Your dogs -- our dogs -- are so great.

It didn't take long reading before I felt as if I was reading about the great, Briggs-like Bonzo, who did in 2002 after 13 years, and the Tweed-like Bowser, who I had to put down two summers ago and feel as if I cheated somehow, even though we always had a special bond.