Old Dog Lying In The Sun

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

- Robert Frost

If you live in a multi-pet household, as I do, you will know the one I am talking about.  The dog that never caused anyone any trouble, never barked, never bit, never peed in the house, never strained at the leash or dragged you across the street on your elbows or knees, but also never caught your attention by his rare antics and sense of humor.  Or the cat that never came when you called, or greeted you at the door, or liked to be picked up, but who came into your bed at night while you slept and cuddled until morning before disappearing behind your laundry hamper long before dawn.  The silent ones of the household, the invisible ones, the ones sadly, that you paid the least attention to.  It is the fallacy of the multi-pet household—we like to believe we love them all equally, but we never do. Our time is limited, and sometimes the quiet ones are overlooked.

I run errands on Saturdays and sometimes Saturdays can be even more hectic than my weekdays.  There is the grocery shopping, the laundry, the dry cleaners—things to be dropped off, picked up, and in weekend warrior fashion, there is exercise that needs to be done. As I headed out to the hardware store this afternoon, I realized that two of my dogs—Magic, the largest and Yoda, the tiniest had not been outside for a while.  It’s a beautiful day here in sunny Southern California, 70 degrees with no clouds in the sky and a light breeze.  When we stepped out the screen door, Yoda immediately ran to “do his business”, which besides the obvious includes chasing lizards, grabbing twigs, snatching low hanging rosebuds off the bushes and barking at the old horse, Dash, in the pasture.  As I walked towards the little dog, I realized Magic was nowhere in sight.  Turning around, I saw that he was lying peacefully on his side on the little hill that leads down from the house, basking quietly in the sunshine.

When did my oldest and largest deerhound get so old?  Magic, aka Champion Caerwicce’s This Rough Magic, was a magnificent animal in his prime. At thirty four inches at the shoulder, and 125 pounds of pure muscle, he fractured a metatarsal bone in his foot running through the pasture as a six month old and had it surgically pinned and repaired.  He quietly bore his six week confinement with nary a complaint, and when the cast came off, his toes were lax, his foot terribly deformed. Within weeks he was off and running again, and when we brought him out to show as an eighteen month old, not a single judge ever commented that his left front foot was flatter than his right, because he floated with the movement described in the Scottish Deerhound standard—“easy, active and true.”  Being a homebody, when he finished his championship easily we brought him home, where he has remained, happy, quiet, healthy, and no trouble at all.  Today, for the first time, I looked at him lying in the sun, on his side, his eyes clouded with cataracts, his once dark mane silver with age, and I saw a very old dog.

Treasure them all while you have them, the big ones, the little ones, the funny ones, the ones that do tricks and always make you laugh.  But also cherish the quiet ones, the shy ones, the ones that never grab your attention—because they too, age and will be gone and you, like me, will wonder why you did not appreciate that they, of all, loved you best.


When I was young and foolish, or very smart depending on your perspective, I married a man who is five and a half years older than me. When my husband was my age (and never trust a woman who will tell you her age, but between you and me I am 58), he started to say something quite often whenever he would get annoyed.  He would say, “I’m too old for this!”  This would irritate me no end because I thought that I would never be too old for ANYTHING, and if I was I would never admit it so freely.  I would reply, “If I ever start saying that, just take me out behind the barn and shoot me!”   Now that I am exactly the age that he was when he started to say it, I find myself saying it too.  Luckily for me, he hasn’t gunned me down yet!  Our tolerance for little annoyances seems to lessen as we age.  In other words, we become a lot more like our least favorite parent.

There is another curious phenomenon I have noticed. I had to put one of my all-time favorite dogs to sleep in July.  He was old, for a deerhound male and he had lived a wonderful life as the “patriarch”, the alpha dog and the undisputed best puppy raiser ever in our household.  As it turned out, we had to do the deed on our thirty second wedding anniversary, July 13.  This year, fittingly, that day was a Friday and I didn’t much feel like celebrating after that.  I am always sad when we have to put a dog or a horse down—it’s natural to feel that way.  But I am finding that the older I get, the harder I am taking each loss.  I’ve thought about it and I think the reason why is that I am staring my own mortality in the face when I watch another beloved pet die. When you’re a kid, you just don’t see how these things could be applicable to you.  When you’re older, you think you should get used to it, but the funny thing is, you just never do.

When I started in radiation oncology, most of my patients were older than me, in fact, a lot older.  Now each day I realize that many of them are younger than I am and that is a sobering thought.  In college, one of my favorite quotes was from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” –“But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”  I know what it means now.  It’s why I stay up late; it’s why I am writing.  The company No Fear updated Marvell’s sentiment on a T shirt that I wore until it wore out after too many washings.  On the front it said, “It’s not the pace of life that concerns me.  It’s the sudden stop at the end.”

Nothing like taking care of cancer patients to give you a little perspective.