Old Dogs and Old Men

Her heavy hips remind Angel Girl not to rise needlessly, so she lies on one side with her front paws splayed around her water bowl, lapping the cool liquid greedily. Her thirst hasn’t changed over her long life. Nor has her epicurean delight in all things food related. Whether it’s a meal that’s devoured in a flash or the rhapsodic sniffing of tantalizing kitchen aromas, the old girl hasn’t skipped a beat.

The same can be said of Dale. Give him a well-done steak and a baked potato, or a juicy cheeseburger and fries, and all is right with the world. I’m grateful for this because I know that the difficulty with swallowing, a prominent symptom of PSP, is possibly lying in wait to make our lives more miserable.

Over fourteen years ago, I tucked a little 1 ½ lb. mutt inside my hoody after finalizing the adoption with the ASPCA. Dale proudly drove Mother and baby home where we immediately bathed the new addition because she smelled like she’d lived her first weeks in a compost heap. Our only regret about that day is that we didn’t also adopt her yippy brother. They would have been fast friends during those early years of chewing up all un-closeted shoes or pulling unguarded toilet tissue rolls from their dispensers.

Without a playmate, we tried to make up for any loneliness our 8-to-5 schedules caused by creating an environment of entitlement for her. We often, of course, rued that decision. In fact, a friendly observer once remarked, “After I die, I want to come back as a dog in the Shorts’ household.” She took our largesse and our love for granted and in turn offered total devotion and frequent wet kisses.

On many a summer day I’d admire them from the kitchen window -- my bronzed, shirtless husband striding across the expanse of our backyard with a short-legged ball of fur trotting behind. I couldn’t imagine life without either one of them. (Actually, I think Dale was a forerunner to today’s hip-hoppers who carry their dogs as accessories because his full head of near-black hair was complemented by Angel’s ebony plumed-tail.)

When Dale would pause for a dip in the pool, a frenetic puppy would follow him around the deck, never diving in, but begging to be splashed. It tickled us both to watch her gleefully jump and lap at the explosion of droplets raining down on her -- quality time with her Da.

But that was the past. That was before a milky cataract obliterated vision in one eye, and now threatens to do the same in the other. That was before arthritis invaded her joints, making jumping impossible, and walking painful.

These days, Angel spends the better part of 24 hours sleeping, sometimes deeply with a distinctive little snore, sometimes a light snooze with her good eye cocked for activities around her. She goes outside reluctantly to potty and occasionally to lie in the shade for a few minutes while I garden. When she’s ready to go back inside, she hesitantly extends one paw as a feeler toward the back stoop, ensuring it’s there and gauging its height before clumsily hopping up and through the door. She limps toward her next nap, often beside Dale who regularly “rests his eyes” while his broken body leans over the right side of his chair.

After a good afternoon nap, all three of us will parade to the bathroom for Dale’s shower – he on his scooter, Angel limping up the rear. No matter what, she’ll never retreat from her perceived duty as shower guardian.

I often wonder, “Where did the days go when I watched my husband ‘stride’ or my puppy ‘trot,’” movements once as natural as breathing. The images are fuzzy now and I question my memory. Did I hallucinate that these two loves were once so vital? From a distance Dale’s hair is still near-black. Upon closer inspection, the strands of silver are evident as are the myriad facial lines reaped from a life fully lived.

When the two are napping together, the rhythm of their snoring duet fills my heart with a mixture of joy and sadness. Is he dreaming that he’s still behind the wheel of his macho truck? Is she dreaming of the mischievous antics of her puppy days? I hope so. In dreamland, they can re-live their days in the sun for a while longer – at least, until the Sandman’s last call.

14 Replies

  • Carla

    You have a magic pen, I only wish I could put words to pen like that .

    I enjoyed it very much.

    Dee in BC

  • Thank you, Dee. It's cathartic for me to write what I feel, and I suspect many of my feelings are shared by others with PSP, or any progressive disease.

    Here's wishing you a smooth weekend -- and grab some enjoyment if you can.




  • Oh, Trish, God love you. I am so sorry for all the sorrow this awful disease brings to us all. I believe you'll see your precious poodle again, but that doesn't help much here and now. I'm praying up strength for you and your hubby, dear one.



  • Thank you Carla, i pray for you too xx I am hoping it will be a long time before i join my lost ones.

  • Hi Carla, You are correct when you say your feelings are shared. You have brought back so many memories. Years ago my friend phoned in tears to say a dog she had brought home from Battersea Dogs Home ( I went with her to collect it) had fought with her dog she had owned for 2 years. She sobbed as she said Rosie would have to go back but could I look after her for the night as she had to get her out of the house. I told her to bring her round. Colin had never owned a dog, and when I visited Battersea he told me not to come back with a dog. That evening, after Rosie had been dropped off, Colin phoned to say he was on his way home. I told him about Rosie and he said, "One night and one night only". He tried hard to ignore Rosie but when I left them alone I could hear him talking to her. The next evening he came home with a big dog bed, new lead, dog bowl etc etc. She was his constant companion for 12 years and as he worked mainly from home, would spend most of the day on his feet under his desk. She was about 15 when sadly she collapsed in our kitchen and we both stroked her as the vet put her quietly to sleep. That was in May, 4 months before Colin was diagnosed.

    Keep writing Carla. You are a blessing.

    In my thoughts and prayers.

    Nanna B

  • Nanna, dear --

    I'm wiping my eyes and reaching for another tissue after reading your post. That was a wonderful, heart-warming story about how Rosie entered your family. It is truly amazing that folks like Colin can completely melt when confronted with a sweet animal like Rosie. I'm sure Rosie had a wonderful life and I'll bet she'll tell you that when you reunite in heaven.

    You, too, my precious friend, are in my thoughts and prayers daily.



  • how do know how to bring tears to our eys carla _ I LOVE THE BLOG

    shasha xx

  • Shasha, sweetie. We definitely share many of the same feelings. I'm praying for you today and sending lots of love to all our PSP family.




  • Hi Carla,

    Another fabulous post! :-)

    What is it with men and their dogs?!? My Dad and his retired greyhound are exclusive members of a mutual adoration society!! We often say that the dog is what keeps Dad sane when we're having a tough day with Mum. Having the dog also gives Dad a much needed break each day as one of the family will go and sit with Mum so that Dad can walk the dog :-)

    Much love to you and Dale and doggy kisses from Skipper!!


    Kathy xxx

  • Precious Kathy -- Let's face it. A dog's love is unconditional, they never nag, and they're oh so grateful for a walk, a belly rub, a kind word or a treat. I'm glad your Dad has Skipper -- and if we were closer, I'd collect on those sweet doggy kisses.

    Much love right back at you, and I'm praying you have a "loverly" weekend.



  • A post like this, Carla, can make my day! You do have a magical way with words.


  • Thank you, Caroline. Hope you're still getting a bit of help to ease your daily burdens, dear.



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