Ode To Old
written by Martin Leadbitter
Tales from Hound Heights AWARE no-kill animal sanctuary Sumpango, Guatemala
I was in the hills along the Thai-Burmese border, planting rice and appeasing the gods. A movement jarred me from my book, and there was Moisey, struggling to stand from his bed in front of the fire. Something about the exquisitely sensual dance of the rice planters had enabled me to see Moisey’s pain as his hind-quarters strove to obey the message to RISE, and failed. Some agonizing moments later, Moisey did get all four paws on the floor and shambled out to pee. I heaved a sigh of relief, put down Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski, and looked around.Moisey was born in 1998. A canine septuagenarian. Lying next to him is Pepper, doyenne of dogs and alpha female, now 14 human—a solid 100 canine—years old. Then there is Cookie, who’s 12; likewise Truper and Lea; Princess, Samuel, Cuti and Zena the Warrior Queen, all 10; Pemba and Olaf, 9; and the youngster Alex is 8. I’m living with a bunch of geriatrics! How do I manage to get out of bed in the morning?
How, indeed. Oh, those aching muscles. Oh, the coziness of the bed and its warmth and comfort, while the dawn barely glimmers beyond the curtains. Wouldn’t it be nice to luxuriate just a few more moments … but no! Some are old and some are young and all 15 house dogs are ready—impatient, even—to hit the trail. “Un-gum those eyelids, Walker!” they bark loudly. “And make it snappy!”
Do they know their age? Is Moisey still a pup in his own eye (he lost one to glaucoma)? Princess certainly has never slowed down and gambols, springs and lunges like Jackie Chan, play leader extraordinaire. Truper—a car accident victim at age 1, bent and crooked ever since—runs and capers with a knowing smile on her white-rimmed face, breathing easily. Samuel, leading male at 70 dog years, has zero trouble facing down these four young athletic males. Are these old dogs yogis?
So what is age? Is it necessarily decrepitude? Is it necessarily a bowing out to youth? Is it necessarily a retreat into the background—an admission of irrelevance? Or is it a continuation, a growth, an expansion—as much of the pouches and the wrinkles as of the compassion and the understanding, the grasp and the reach?
Meanwhile, Moisey lopes off down the track, torn ligament and all. The pups race in chaotic loops until Samuel steps in sternly, and none of the youngsters know which way to run until Princess shows them. Sure, these guys’ social organization is aided by a certain intellectual simplification, a certain emotional willingness, an unconflicted group mentality. Time for them is a continuum, unbroken by thoughts of before or after. I just figured it out: They live until they die.
How old are you?