In Praise of Older Dogs

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My fondness for dogs is pretty well-known to regular readers. I’ve had dogs in my life since I was a boy, and I’ve had a continuous string of dogs in my adult life, starting at age 22 with Chelsea, a half Chow/half Retriever mix (early viewers of my TastyTrade show saw a painting I have of Chelsea in my office, hanging in the background).

Historically, my dogs have all been large mutts, werighing around 50 to 70 pounds. We peaked at three dogs, but as children came along, this number dropped to two and, finally, to one. As our last dog was nearing the end of her life, we got our first purebred, which was also our first small dog, a Coton de Tulear. Very fluffy. Very cute. Way too barky. Generally a pain in the butt. Once Nikita went to the great kennel in the sky, we were down to just one dog, our little white guy.

For years now, my kids have been asking for us to get a “real” dog again (that is, a big dog, not a 0906-dawgsyippy little purebred). As appealing as this idea was, we resisted, because our lives are pretty complex already.

A few weeks ago, however, a golden lab just a mile from our house was in need of a home. He was very elderly – nearly 14 years old (most labs are expected to live about 11 to 12 years). But we met him, fell in love with him, and decided to give him a really wonderful life for the remainder of his days.

He instantly proved to be the sweetest dog I’ve ever had. His prior owners had him his whole life, but, from what I was told, they basically got too busy for him with kids and so forth, and they pretty much left him in his crate most of the day. They actually brought him to the vet to put him down, but the vet refused to do it, and he gave Kobe (the dog in question) to the Northern California Lab Rescue to find a home for him. That’s how he found his way to us.

I’ve never had a lab before, but one thing I discovered quickly was that, as water fowl hunting dogs, they really, really, really like to be in the water. Even, say, a fish pond filled with koi and turtles.

Now that I’ve gated off my East yard, he has to content himself with the swimming pool, in which he insists on swimming several times a day, preferably with children.

What dawned on me after having Kobe a couple of weeks was how much I actually like having an adult dog. Before we got him, I was a little jealous of our new neighbors across the street, who themselves acquired a yellow lab puppy. As you probably know, there is little else cuter on earth than a pup, but the thing is that it doesn’t take but a few weeks for them to grow out of the adorable/squishy stage and enter the all-legs/awkward/rambunctious stage (which, I’ve read, lasts about two years with labs).

This was illustrated to me in real time when I had the pup, Sammy, come over for a “play date” with our geriatric canine. It was all asses-and-elbows with Sammy; he blasted all around the pool at full speed, sliding, bumping, and many times nearly badly hurting himself. I was seriously concerned he would go flying into a sharp metal corner of a table. It was cute for about ten seconds before it became a combination of annoying and worrisome.

As for Kobe, I severely under-estimated how much Labrador Retrievers like to “retrieve.” Earlier this week he decided to jump in for a swim and chase the exciting cleaning robot around, promptly yanking it from its fixture. This left part of the plastic fixture screwed inside the wall of the pool. Any of you with pools knows that each of those five-cent plastic parts goes for about $15 at the supply store.

0904-kobeI bought a replacement piece, and I figured the only way to get the screwed-in remnants out would be to don my mask and snorkel and chip it out with a hammer and chisel, bit by bit. As I was doing my underwater repair work, I suddenly felt a tug at my snorkel, and a moment later I realized it was Kobe yanking the snorkel away as a toy. My muffled screams through the tube could probably be heard all around the block.

In any case, I finished the job without the snorkel and have decided to remove the cleaning robot from the pool any time his highness wants to take his semi-daily swim. Sheesh.

Kobe is full of nothing but love, and although he doesn’t have the breathless energy of a puppy, he’s still a terrific dog. We are giving him the highest-quality food we can find and 24-hours-a-day human attention and companionship. In spite of his years, I hope he remains with us for a while longer, since I’m already worried about missing such a sweet soul after he’s gone.