My dog Henry is getting old. We picked him up at the rescue shelter almost 10 years ago after he had been found wandering the streets of Santa Maria, hungry, scared, his fur impossibly matted and filthy. He was 8 months old, a bichoodle (a wonderful mix of bichon and poodle), hypoallergenic, and housebroken. He had been shaved, so his ears stood out like two sails in the wind; he sported an impressive mustache that belied his puppyhood and a quill-like tail that would look good in an inkwell. It was love at first sight.
Henry likes to settle comfortably in my lap as I sit at my desk. He is (in my opinion) the perfect size and weight (16 pounds — could stand to lose a bit, like the rest of us); as I bury my face into his fur, he rewards me with soft, warm licks and deeply adoring looks. Because he’s a dog, Henry’s passion for me is unconditional; whether I’m gone for five minutes or five days, the response is the same: paroxysms of barking, tail wagging, and an overall body wiggle that exudes joy. He has taught me to live in the moment, to not hold a grudge, and to stretch on a regular basis.
We’re now buying senior dog food. Jumping up on the bed has become difficult, but he’s not yet ready for the ramp we’ve purchased, staring at it with mistrust and disdain. Our strolls are more leisurely lately, his zig-zagging-tangle-up-the-leash-peeing-every-four-seconds perambulation. His eyesight may be failing a bit, but that’s hard to tell since he’s always been somewhat clumsy. Some dogs have age-related cognitive dysfunction — similar to Alzheimer’s in humans — and now we both walk into rooms with no idea of why we’re there. He hides in my closet — a new behavior that had my husband driving around the neighborhood looking for him. He sleeps more than he’s awake, and his flatulence has become legendary. He’s not particularly anxious, but the onset of nervousness happens to a lot of older dogs. There’s a drug called Reconcile, which is basically Prozac in a chewable form. I’m thinking of giving it a try. (If it works, then I’ll give some to Henry.)
Holding Henry is one of the joys in my life, and the idea of life without him is untenable. But there it is — some misplaced cosmic calculation that has decreed that a dog’s years are so much fewer than those of the people who love him. And one day, my heart will be broken.