The cobbler raised bushy eyebrows. He examined the shoe I lay on the counter. “Always the left shoe?” He chuckled. One week later I picked up five left shoes, new insoles replacing the ones our new puppy chewed.
Tissues trembled. Every night, wastebaskets were raided for worthy prey to chew in triumph at the top of the stairs. Clever boy! Shreds of tissues would be exchanged for chunks of carrots and treats — until his humans figured out his nightly routine and put an end to it.
When he tugs to the right side of the road, it means he wants to take the two and a half mile loop around the beach. For years, he tugged every other day. Now it’s once or twice a week. Some days he’s done walking before he makes it down the driveway to the mailbox.
No matter. He’s an old dog. Sweet, mischievous, playful, face wide open to the wondrous world and new friends, he cherishes sunny places for naps rather than explores. He still guards us from marauders, but with greater wisdom and tolerance.
Long habits are treasured. He sits beside my husband’s armchair for head rubs. He shuffles from one bedroom to another during the night, keeping us safe. Every meal is an opportunity to lick a plate, a serving of ice cream is a glorious time because he gets his own small bowl.
New words are learned, new habits formed, but only the ones that serve. He has taken up barking when I forget to let him in the back door which is especially useful because it’s been a rainy spring. Weary of following us up and down the stairs, he stays where he is before coming to see what we’re doing. Each of us is treated with specific, individual attention; he is willing to play dumb if that’s how you want to play it.
On one of our first walks, a red pick-up truck rattled to a stop beside us. An old man with tangled white hair and a thick white beard leaned out and grinned, introduced himself as the caretaker for a property down the road. He looked down at the puppy looking up at him.
“Old dog, huh? Cute little guy. I once had a dog just like him. Died.”
My dog was only a few months old. Apparently to this man, white meant old. Fluffy and buff, looking more animated toy than purebred bichon, he is mistaken by many for a puppy and I am assured that he will grow up into a beautiful dog. Friendly and happy, he has delighted children and enchanted adults, bringing cars to a stop when he is ready to cross the road on our walks (alone, I have to fend for myself).
There are beds for him and favorite sleeping spots in every room. His snores are loud. He runs in his sleep, moaning during dream hunts. Now and then his breathing pauses, our hearts stop. It resumes and we all sigh together. Many nights he produces fantastically pungent, room-clearing gaseous horrors while we’re absorbed in a Yankees baseball game and we change seats and open the window.
Before him, my favorite dog was a sweet, slow yellow lab. In his later years, he was blind and deaf and we knew to drive slowly in case he was sitting in the middle of the road enjoying the sun and fresh breeze. If you did find him sitting in the road, all you had to do was gently greet him, point him toward home and he would amble back to his house, tail wagging, knowing the way by heart. the garage. He spent his days face turned up to the sun, greeting his family, and dreaming on the warm driveway.
Every morning, we are both overjoyed when he wakes up. An energy healer once described his love as powerful, bright golden like the sun. That’s dog love for you. It’s changed shape and form in the years we have had together, but it’s still the same loyal, glowing warm, joy in being together.
My left shoes are intact and the tissues are seldom attacked. We are all of us safer and well-loved by this old dog, writer’s muse and lively ally in all things ice cream.