I am staying at my parents’ house this week while they are on vacation, looking after my dog. Mum warned me that he is no longer the dog we once knew. He has grown old without me noticing. I knew when he became deaf, almost blind, wanted to sleep more than he wanted to romp in the garden. But somehow, somewhen, he slipped from his autumn into his winter.
He still looks healthy. We have not taken him to get groomed because of his ear infection, and the fact that he no longer can deal with that kind of stress. It seems kinder to let his fur grow long and allow him to stay indoors, downstairs where it’s cool and he won’t overheat.
It’s only when I lie down beside him and stroke him that I can feel how desperately thin he has become. I could count every rib and every knob on his spine. The spot above his tail where he used to love to have firmly scratched is now sunken between his hip bones. His shoulders stick up and it’s no longer funny to grab all the loose skin at his neck and shake it because he is all loose.
He still comes running when he smells food, and he still knows that if he stares at me long enough, even with his blind eyes, that I will cave and feed him from my plate. It’s a bad habit but it’s a 16 year old one and I don’t plan on breaking it now.
He still gets excited when he sees me pick up his leash and harness, only now as an old dog he stays still enough for me to get it on instead of dancing around. We have been going for walks around the block every day, a habit my parents have gotten out of because they think he can’t make it. He can, but at his own pace. I no longer try to hurry him when he wants to sniff a bush for three minutes. If he wants to sniff every blade of grass on someone’s lawn I stand there and watch him, trying to live as he does, simply in the now.
Mourning his loss before he is even gone seems pointless but more tears have fallen this week than I can remember in the past six months. I’m trying to store up memories – the way his fur feels when I ruffle it the wrong way, the shape of his paws, the way that his tail wags – but I know it won’t be enough. So I try to think that for right now, he is content to be lying on his quilt with me to come and scratch his belly. He needs no more than this moment and so for this week, I am trying to need nothing else.