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Old Dogs

Old dogs are treasures. They start out as young dogs, hilarious and energetic. Then they ripen into good dogs, strong, always ready, mindful of your ways.

But then there is a point around the age of ten or so when they subtly begin to slow down. By now, they are the consummate companions, wise and full of goodness. You remember with a pang that they don't last forever.

Wily's walks slowed to just a mile or two, where we used to do three or four, and I put a low footstool next to the bed in the guestroom when I saw that it was getting hard for her to jump up on that high bed where she liked to take her afternoon nap.

You know she's going to die. But you can see it coming way off. The first time you think it, she is still strong, and you can think, we have time. It could be years!

Another year went by. At twelve, on a good day, if it was cool enough, she could still walk a mile, and she still hopped for joy backwards toward the door when she saw that I was reaching for her leash.

More time goes by. The walks are shorter, the naps are longer. She no longer scampers ahead of me on yardwalks, then she takes shortcuts on our yardwalks, then she watches from the back porch while I walk alone.

In the last year I caught myself several times missing her. Once I took a long walk alone, because my walk with Wily was so short that I didn't feel I got enough exercise. I came home with an aching throat, because I missed her walking with me.

I'd be working in the yard, and there'd be no Wily. Not scampering around, not protecting me from squirrels and bees and buzzards, not even as she had been lately lying quietly nearby, watching.

But it's such a gentle process. I would miss her, then I'd find her in the back bedroom. I could sit down on her stepping stool by the bed and smooth her soft fur. She would delicately touch her muzzle to my cheek. Even as I faced the fact that I was losing her, she was there to comfort me.

In the end, they break your heart every time. Itís not a reason not to have a dog, but it confounds those of us well steeped in the discipline of delayed gratification. There is just no way to take this pill up front.

What is required of us is that we must not postpone the pain at our dogsí expense. We must not make them suffer just because we canít bring ourselves to let them go when itís time.

And so it was that at the end of her thirteenth summer, after four long days and nights of trying to manage a situation that kept spinning out of control, we let our beloved Wily go. It was early morning. We were exhausted and inexpressibly sad. The cards were face-up on the table.

I wanted Wily to die at home, but as it played out, we couldnít manage it. It would have meant transporting her another time, and more importantly, it would have meant delay. She was miserable, and it was over. So we found ourselves in the very room where Pirate died twelve years ago.

Richard said, let me put her on a blanket on the floor. You two can be with her for a few minutes. Then Iíll come back and weíll let her go.

Itís as it should be. We should never leave our dogs. They leave us. Itís something that we do to repay them: we see them gently out.

Later in the day, a lovely day, cool and sunny, as I walked around the neighborhood and sat on the back porch, I found that I was flooded with memories of how sheíd been.

I had come to see and think of Wily as she was at thirteen years, an endearingly demanding, somewhat overweight, arthritic old lady with a tattered coat and newfound tendency to skate on smooth floors. But now that she is gone, Wily in my mind and heart assumes her full completed image. I remember her as strong and fast and full of fun. Her coat was thick and groomed to perfect fluffy fragrance. She was fearless and sweet and playful and game.

She lived the life of Wily, too. She traveled, went to work with Craig every day, stayed in fancy high-rise hotels, liked to shop for bones at pet stores and for flowers at the nurseries. She competed in obedience trials and costume contests, and flew on airplanes to romp in Pennsylvania and Virginia. She gave her all for thirteen great years, and now sheís gone.

You were a good girl-dog, Wily, as I told you every day, and we miss you.

Related: Wily's Ruff, Tail


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