Old Dogs

Whether All dogs go to Heaven is no more certain than whether all people go to heaven. In our line of work - farming - the circle of life is ever present. We witness the miracle of birth on a weekly basis. Calves, kids, chicks, kits, kittens, and puppies frequently show up, and each is a happy occasion. Each grows towards a purpose, some to the grim reality of becoming our food and economic base, some for breeding and production, and some, like the puppies, to be ambassadors, companions, and working staff for other families. All are welcomed, nurtured, and loved during their tenure, long or short, but it is the puppies and dogs they grow into who capture our hearts.

For puppies we keep, we get to watch our dogs mature through the awkward teen-age years when impulses are hard to control, disciplines are resisted, bad habits abound - but more than compensated for by exuberance, energy, and doggy delight. They become the friends who love us through their adult years, the steady companions, the faithful workers, the family members whose years intertwine with our own, rooted in our memories, and thoughts, our routines, our lives. It is too easy to forget that our biological clocks run at different rates - the decade that passes for a phase of our life consumes most of theirs, and the cycle of life being what it is, they become old dogs, more quickly, but just as surely as we become old people. It is part of life.

Because we breed dogs, and many of our puppies are adopted locally, we are often privileged to participate in the lives of our "grand-dogs". Sometimes they come home to the farm for sleepovers, or play-dates, or just drop-in visits. They remember the smells, the voices, the routines, and us, I am sure - the people who first loved them. Eventually, they become old dogs too, and the visits become less active, more of a "rocking chair" than a "Frisbee" visit. Either way, these visits are cherished as much for the relationship with the families involved as with our grand-dogs. We love them both.

Old dogs teach us important lessons. As their energy flags, they remind us to slow down, for them, certainly, but if we are wise, for ourselves as well. As their health suffers they teach us compassion, and caring, and acceptance. They model conduct we can, or should, aspire to in our old age: courage in the face of pain, gratitude for the least attention, faithfulness to our expectations as they understand them, and most importantly, a day-to-day trust in us to love them, to hold their lives precious, and to help them leave when the right time comes.

This week one of our grand-dogs took that journey. She came to say good-bye last week. I'd like to say she remembered me, but it was obvious not much in her aging body was working, and loving her meant letting go. By all accounts, it was perfect: she went to sleep in the arms of her family, trusting and loved to the end. Whether dogs go to heaven is a matter of personal doctrine, but her life is inextricably bound with her Friend's, and her family's, and to no small extent, with mine. If we live forever, as I believe, so will she.

I too have an old dog approaching this time. I am delaying the inevitable only because he is not, apparently, suffering - just very old. So, I am going to let him sleep away a few more days. I will pat him when I pass by, and give him a bath on warm days, and feed him special things. Perhaps he will quietly leave us while sleeping, but I'd prefer it to be with me, with my voice in his ears.

That is my own blessed hope too.