How to Enjoy an “Old Man Dog”

At first, I was in denial. Kirby can’t be OLD!

When the kids would innocently mention something about when Kirby is gone one day, I’d jokingly yell, “No! No! No!” and cover my ears. It wasn’t exactly a joke.

But now I’ve decided that ignoring the inevitable is throwing away something valuable. Instead, I’ve taken to making Kirby more of a priority. Like for most of you, I’m sure, that isn’t as easy as it sounds. But I’ve carved out some special time in my life for him and both of us are enjoying it. Every night, after my kids are in bed and the thousand other tasks are done or officially ignored, I have Kirby time.

And even though Kirby has turned a bit crabby as he’s aged, our new alone time proves that Kirby still loves me fiercely. He’s still my boy. He’s just in a different season. Which I now talk about with him in our hang out time each night, snuggled up together on the floor.

“Kirby Lou,” I often ask him, “Are you enjoying your retirement? I hope I’m making your golden years as happy as they can be.”

While he can’t actually answer me with words, answer he does. I swear he knows what I’m asking him. There we lay, bridge-of-nose to bridge-of-nose (if you’ve never done this with a Dashchund, you must!) Our eyes stare back over the centimeter of space between them. And in those deep brown pools, I see my answer.

The thing is, he didn’t want it at first. No, as I mentioned, Kirby is an old man dog now (as we affectionately refer to him at home.) He has gotten a bit crankier, a bit less playful and more stubborn on a scale that they could use to measure the sun’s heat. Seriously. The dog had been the model of behavior until his 12th birthday last December. It’s as if he celebrated his birthday and decided he was the BOSS. As in, Sopranos-style boss.

I think this is what’s going through his head, in a Jersey accent, when he’s naughty now. “Whaaa? I’m old. I don’t hafta listen to anyone. Mind my manners? Fugittaboutit. Stop begging, stealing and eating unsavory messes in the yard? Make me. I’ve paid my dues in this family, and if you don’t agree, BLEEEEP.” (I think he has taken to adult language as well, so I had to censor that out.) The good news is that over time, he has grown to love these nightly one-on-one times. Or should I say he has grown to DEMAND these times?!

At first I would spend perhaps 10 minutes of alone time with Kirby, but our hang outs have inched up and up in duration. Now, Kirby and I spend about half an hour together each night. His wiener dog pal, the always neurotic and energetic Zelda, is happily asleep upstairs with one of the boys. He has his mama all to himself. And his mama cherishes these nights more and more.

Because I know, though I tear up even typing it, that they won’t last forever.

This beautiful, kind-hearted soul that has been a best friend to me will be gone one day. He’ll celebrate his 13th birthday in December and is still in pretty good health. But eventually, far sooner than I care to think, Kirby will pass on…and I will be here.

The year-old rescue dog, so skinny from malnutrition he looked like a fur-covered yard stick, who jumped up into my lap at first sight won’t be with me forever. That brute who knocked over the score of other, smaller foster care wiener dogs like bowling pins to get to me won’t be with me forever. The three-year-old trooper who relocated with me to a new city (cue music: ‘You and Me Against the World’) who literally let me cry on his tiny dog shoulders when I lost my mom to cancer, will one day be a memory – not a long tube of howling, joyous fur greeting me every evening when I arrive home. This is the sad fate of everyone who loves a dog. They just don’t have our life expectancy.

I try not to think too much about the inevitable, but I’ve garnered something important, vital, even beautiful from accepting it: it makes me very aware of the profound nature of dog-to-human relationships, and very appreciative for the time I have left with my old man dog. Perhaps, in some way, it is also helping to prepare me for the day I have to let go.

I have no idea how that will work, the logistics of it. I’ve never had to do that before. But I’m lucky: I have a lot of pet lovers and experienced, compassionate veterinarians in my life, so I can leave those questions until later.

For now, I must admit that I am looking at the clock and counting the hours until I get to have some Kirby time. And no, I’m not a deranged wiener dog lady! I’m just a human being who recognizes that somehow, some way, I lucked into finding the best dog ever to live. And who wouldn’t want to hang out with that dog? No matter how repulsive his old man dog breath has become?

Hug your pet extra close tonight. I know I will.

PS. Because I know someone will (rightfully) taunt me for admitting Kirby has bad breath, I will share that giving him dental treats has helped, as has dental spray. Sadly, science hasn’t given us a good answer yet to prevent his peculiar outdoor dining choices!

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