A Dog Named Turtle
It’s been going on for a few months now, this change in the dog’s behavior. Several things happened at the same time. She started sleeping at the side of the bed, right where we roll out. When we touched her she barked and was indignant.
She began to sleep very soundly throughout the day.
When she was awake she was like a toddler. If you turned around you could fall over her, and she stood and stared at one of us all of the time.
We attributed the heavy sleeping to old age. She is, after all, fourteen now. She has some kidney failure and bad hips and is pretty bony now compared to her prime. There’s not much to do about her kidneys. Dog’s kidneys just wear out with age, and she won’t eat the kidney diet food the vet prescribed. It has the texture and aroma of wallpaper paste. I'd rather die, too. She has never taken pills, so we have crushed tablets and emptied the contents of capsules into a bit of turkey sausage in order to get her to take them. She gets relief.
When we were first left the dog she was a beautiful, spayed, seven year old Australian Shepherd/Husky mix. Her makeup seems more Aussie than Husky, so she is a herder and has strong “pack” affiliation. We have always been able to open the door and let her out since it’s a couple of blocks to the highway and she won’t wander. We live in the county, so we’re not breaking any leash laws, and the pit bull next door died.
When we were both younger I walked her twice a day. Long walks, rain or shine, were the only way to dissipate all of her energy. Now we are down to one short morning walk.
She is one of the two really smart dogs that we have had. The other, early in our marriage, was Gretchen, a German Shepherd/Collie mix. Both were easy to train, mindful, and family oriented. They have been bookends in a way. This will probably be our last dog.
So, the other day I let Turtle out, grabbed her leash off the gate where we hang it, and started up our street. As she got near a busy intersection I called and she ignored me. Finally, I used my COMMAND voice, very loudly. She stopped and came back, not with that guilty look, but with her big smile look. It was then that I realized she is almost completely deaf. It broke my heart. This is one of the most beautifully made creatures ever. I mourn her lost agility, endurance and energy, but perhaps I look at her and mourn my lost youth, as well.
Turtle in a Late Snow
Her deafness means that I can’t start on our walk without hooking her leash first. It’s one more loss of freedom for both of us.
My biggest regret is that we didn’t take the lesson of Gretchen to heart. Over the years we had a succession of hunting breeds - like a setter and a Labrador retriever, a couple of spaniels, and even a German Wirehair Pointer - that all had endearing qualities, but didn’t fit us like the herding breeds have done.
Too soon we grow old, and too late smart.