We have old dogs now. Our two Berners, Nellie and Tank, are both approaching 9 years old, which is getting up there for Berners. Nellie, the wiser of the two, would reject the idea of “old” and just think of herself as “mature.”
Old dogs are settled in their ways. They know the routine.
Our dogs meet us in the morning at our bedside like they have since they were puppies. Nellie nudges me out the bedroom door toward the food dishes, as she has every day since I can remember. Interestingly, she is much less aggressive with her “nudges” than when she was a young dog. Then it was a friendly battle between our enthusiasms about the morning and who could get out the bedroom door first. She would bark and jump up, nipping at my heels, happy to be up and awake.
Now, knowing that I’m not a morning person anymore — nor is she a morning dog — Nellie is gentle but still insistent that we get going lest the whole morning be wasted.
Tank, true to his colors as the beta dog, tags behind, a whine in his voice because he doesn’t like any shenanigans that might get in the way of him being promptly fed.
Yet neither of our dogs eats as voraciously as in the past. Nellie sometimes skips meals.
The rest of the day is a well-worn path, although now we’ve had to make some modifications. After breakfast, we walk. But now we leave Tank behind because he has trouble with his hind legs. He barks valiantly, but I’m pretty sure that he’s comfortable with an after-breakfast nap.
Nellie still loves our walks, although she’s now one-eyed (cancer took her left eye) and limps (three surgeries on her back legs). She is a constant reminder that we are all TAB — temporarily able-bodied. She limps, I limp, we laugh.
Our walks are calm now. In the past, every passing dog, car, or individual caused an uproar of curiosity and leash pulling, and often led to embarrassing moments (for me) like having two leashes wrapped around my legs and being taken to the ground by enthusiastic Berners.
Now, nothing really distracts. It’s just the sound of our breathing and the feel of old muscles loosening up after too much laying around.
The rest of the day is spent avoiding the summer heat and finding the cool places to sleep.
This is rotating work as the sun climbs in the sky and descends in the west, heating different areas of the house.
Tank arises with a groan when it is too hot, finds the next cool spot and collapses and is deep asleep within minutes — a daily routine. I could tell the time by just knowing where they are sleeping.
We don’t play anymore. We try. I can get Nellie worked up to chase me around the house, but it’s not the same. The fierce desire to catch me has been replaced by the comfort of knowing that I’m now an easy catch. She merely has to wait me out rather than run from one end of the house to the other. It turns out, that’s fine with me.
At night, after the dishes are done and we settle down in the living room, Nellie is on the couch, as close to me as she can be, a 130-pound lap dog. There she falls asleep, snoring as she has a right to do as an old dog.
Tank, depending on the heat and if there are thunderstorms, curls up on the floor next to us. This he has done every night throughout his life.
When we go to bed now, Nellie inexplicably is out the dog door and prefers sleeping on the portal (part of a fenced-in yard). An old dog under the Milky Way and the night sky. Occasionally we hear a deep-throated “woof” as she warns coyotes that she is still in charge.
We’ve all grown old together. We’ve worn down the same path, constant companions. We’ve had great times in the mountains and had fun sliding in the snow.
I know they are looking forward, as am I, to winter and cold temperatures. And I know — I know — that our time together is finite. But that makes the “now” so much more precious and sweet.
We are TABs. We are old dogs. Let’s make the most of it.