My best friend is getting old. It’s been coming on for a while, but this cold weather is confirming this reality like never before. In my heart he’s still a puppy… despite the pills he takes for a heart murmur, and the extra hours he now requires for resting. There are times when I can forget…. when he still goes nuts in the backyard; chases rabbits; catching the occasional bird. A few months back while we were down in the basement, he dragged a garbage bag of insulation from a crawl space. Working on something with my back to him, I didn’t notice right away. I was alerted to the danger when I heard the sound of a beagle rump repeatedly smacking into the dryer. My horror was a living and breathing thing as I turned to see him joyfully shredding the dangerous material….. happily flinging it into the air. (I got it all out of his mouth… freaked out…. called the vet…. but in the end, everything was OK.) I’d thought one of the advantages to having an older dog is that we wouldn’t have to worry about these puppy-antics-inspired dangers anymore. But with Ichabod? Not so.
Over the last few weeks it’s gotten very cold outside, and I’ve been cautious in allowing Ichabod’s favorite activity…going outside 15,000 times per day. I’ve thought of how he’s nearly 12 years old now and wondered whether his stamina was enough to allow for extended backyard adventures. And while I wonder…. I remember…..
Ichabod was born in the spring of 2004. I was in my mid-twenties at the time, but found myself having to move back in with my parents. Luckily they allowed me to bring my new puppy without raising a single objection, though to be sure, he was a handful…. Like that time he started a fire, and that other time that he ate part of the couch, or how he regularly ate my sister’s possessions, which I constantly had to replace, even though i was trying to save money. I could go on and on…. (sigh!)
The winter of 2004-2005 was particularly harsh, and right before Christmas, a winter storm dropped a couple of feet of snow on us. This was Ichabod’s first winter, and to say he was delighted by the white fluffy stuff would be an understatement. My parents had an entire pack of pomeranians, the oldest of which, Missy, was nearly 14. She was frail, nearly deaf and blind, and couldn’t stay outside for more than a few minutes at a stretch. Late one night during this painfully-snowy period, Ichabod wanted to go outside. The temperature was well below freezing, and the wind was ferocious. Resignedly, I opened the door for him, and grimaced as Missy hopped up from her dog bed and trotted out the door. Understanding I’d have to carefully monitor the situation, I closed the door against the swirling cold, and watched from the window.
By the floodlight illuminating the yard, I watched Ichabod prance happily back and forth. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Missy, however, did something confounding. She didn’t pause just beyond the porch to do her business and return to the house, as I’d been hoping. Instead, she marched determinedly to the very end of the yard, and just stopped, staring into the white oblivion. When she didn’t move, I think I uttered an expletive to myself just before I yanked the door open, feeling the stab of cold on my face and screamed, “MISSY!!!!!” before slamming the door closed, once again, and returning to the window.
No movement. No acknowledgement that she’d heard me at all. After a few more unsuccessful attempts, I couldn’t put it off any longer: I’d have to go after her.
I pulled on my winter coat and boots, (a nice complement to my shorts) and steeled myself for the frosty rescue mission. The moment my feet hit the frozen snow, Ichabod was ecstatic. Thinking I’d come outside to play with him, he tried to get his favorite game going: Chase. He feinted left, he feinted right and crouched down, tail wagging, eying me over his paws.
“Ichabod, I didn’t come out to play,” I said, smiling at his cuteness.
His eyes seemed to say, “I don’t believe you!” as he looked around the yard for something, anything to grab hold of. (This was his favorite game… grab something, take off running, and have me chase after him.) Unfortunately for him, all of his toys were frozen under two feet of snow, but he improvised. As his gaze landed on something, I could see the light of triumph on his face. “Surely not,” I thought in horror, even as he lunged for it. Yes, the title was a spoiler alert…. the object he settled on, believing that I would chase him and try to take it from him was, in fact, frozen dog poo!
“ICHABOD!” I shouted in disbelief as he happily threw the thing in the air, caught it in his teeth, and trotted around with an air of intense pride. “DROP IT! YUCK!”
A moment later, he realized I had no intention of playing a game of poop-catch with him, and he began looking sad. As much as I hated feeling responsible for his sadness, I just couldn’t indulge him. All this time, Missy had not moved from her perch at the edge of the yard, staring into the bleak night for reasons only she knew. I rushed to her and pulled her shivering body into my coat, asking, her, “What the heck, Missy?”
She didn’t answer.
The three of us returned to the house, and it was at least three days before I would accept beagle kisses.
All of that was just over 11 years ago. Missy is long gone, and Ichabod’s once brown face has turned snowy white. Though more than a decade has passed, and marriage (for me, not Ichabod), another dog, and the birth of a human little brother (for Ichabod, not me) separate that time from now, it seems to have sped by in a relentless dizzying blur.
Today is a cold and snowy day. I peaked out to check on Ichabod, and saw him sitting on the cold hard ground, staring at nothing. And I thought back to that night. All too soon that carefree pup became the old man. Though it all seems to go by too fast, I’m grateful for the time that I have.
And the memories.