Rudy At 105 Years-Old
He walks into the room limping from age and a repaired ACL tear suffered a few years ago during a ball-chasing accident. His facial hair has turned gray. His hearing is gone. His eyesight is half what it used to be. He is sporting oddly shaped lumps that dogs get when they reach retirement. He falls down stairs so easily that he’s developed a stuntman’s adept handling of his awkward plunges. But he is not ready to retire. Rudy is fifteen years old, 105 for a human. Yet, somewhere inside him, he is still Rudy.
Jack Russells are a different brand of animal, even as senior citizens. He may snack on his own poop from time to time when the mood strikes him, not that the disgusting act is dissimilar from the job requirement needed to survive in advertising for decades. My old friend goes to work with me now. He sleeps behind the chair in the corner. He roams around the building thinking he is in charge. He howls at inappropriate times like a goat yodeling. But that old, familiar spark is still in his eyes. Or at least the one eye that is not blind.
Years ago, he was as fast and as strong as Troy Polamalu in his prime. He could run like a shutdown cornerback, cutting sharply, chasing cats, squirrels, chipmunks and anything that could be thrown or bounced. He has chased, at my best estimate, 10,000 tosses of tennis balls with a ferocity that can only come from an intense focus on his bright yellow goal. He once tended a Twitter feed with 1,500 followers more astutely than Trump and held a grudge in a similar fashion. He had a Letterman sense of humor and the confidence that rivaled bigger dogs. In his mind he was a bull, a quarterback, a linebacker and a hit man. Now he gets senior citizen discounts on dog biscuits at CVS and free biscuits at the drive thru.
His travels took him all over the east coast fertilizing every gas station grassy patch and rest stop from Connecticut to Orlando. Riding in the passenger seat of my car every day, he still loves to prop on the armrest and watch what he can see of the world going by, sniffing the air, trying to figure out the source of smells blowing by his snout at 60 mph. Through it all, his olfactory glands seem pretty much intact. He can tell what another dog has eaten during last month and decipher that canine’s life history from a snort of a lone turd on the sidewalk. He has Hoovered his share.
By his own rules, Rudy was never a pet. He is a friend, family, confidant, priest and comedian. Rudy is beyond what most people consider a dog to be in the perfunctory sense. Through heart attacks, deaths, trauma and horrific accidents, good days and bad, he has been there for our family to make our lives better in his unique way. His nasty, pink chair, so dirty and stained from his constant vigil at our front window from back when we could leave him alone in the house, is gone now. He did his job as a four-legged security system scaring away prowlers, UPS delivery drivers, Girl Scouts, magazine salesmen and unsuspecting visitors. He wore out that piece of furniture as only a Jack can do. It is unlikely he could jump on to it anymore anyway. He needs help to be the dog he thinks he is.
The conversations we have now are still filled with nuance as I rub his ears and he looks at me like, “What is going on with me? Where did the immaculate beast go?” He has taught me to be a better person in our old age, a lesson I should have learned from him years ago. He tried everyday to impart his wisdom. And I have grown to relish listening to him. I tell people he is the better part of me. That is no exaggeration.
When he barks it sounds like Joe Walsh after a bender, but I love every tune he sings. I owe him those listens. He has tolerated my often incoherent ramblings for years. These days, he watches us more closely, follows us more intently, not wanting to be far away in case something interesting happens. It is as if he feels us more than sees us. He definitely cannot hear us. We hear him, however, his toenails clapping along the wood floors, his grunting from worn bones, his barking at invisible threats.
Yesterday next to a campfire, he told me, “Just enjoy it out here, look at the trees and the sky. See those pine cones over there? Let’s toss them in with the burning logs, see what happens. Hey, want to go for a ride? Are there any hotdogs left in the fridge? I found a hole, lets go in it and see what we can find.”
People tend to get caught up in work, guilt, fear and worry. We drag the past into the present and use the future to rip out our souls. It takes us away from the only thing we really have: this moment right now. Rudy understands the moment. Even in his incapacitated state, he squeezes out every last joy in the now.
“Why do you look so down?” he asked me this morning in the dark as we got into the car to go to work at 5 am. “This is an adventure right here. We are going to feel and see all kinds of things. This is life. We’re breathing. Don’t waste it thinking about all you have to do. Just drive the car and look at the other cars and imagine all of those aromas out there. By the way, I just farted, so you may want to roll down the window.”
When our grandchildren were born, Rudy took them into his pack, knowing his family was growing. Our oldest grandchild called him Uncle Ruru. Our youngest boxed with him as he tried to lick the little hands of our newest Taylor.
Rudy was with me through a heart attack, laying his head against my chest listening to make sure my ticker was thumping along. He sat at home patiently alone for a couple of years as our daughter fought for her life as we stayed in the hospital through 13 surgeries and countless setbacks. When she finally came home in a wheelchair, he burst through the door to greet her at the car. We wondered if the big wheeled chair would frighten him. He ignored it and only saw her, never leaving her side, sleeping next to her in the hospital bed we had set up in the den. I slept next to her bed on the floor for months and he was right beside me, watching her, doing his job. His tail never wagged harder than it did the day she walked away from that chair and they removed the ramp from our front door. That is what a dog can get you through.
Now and then, perhaps, he feels what is coming. He is nearing the end of his journey with us. I am pretty sure he knows the exact day it will happen. Typing those words hurts me inside. Before that time comes, as hard as it will be on our family and especially on me, I hope I can tell him what he has meant to us. Tell him what a friend he has been. The love of a dog, if you pay attention to it, will heal just about anything we can screw up in our lives. Knowing Rudy, he already understands what I want to say to him. He has always been smarter than me in that respect.
On the day he leaves us, I may not be able to write about it. I have only a few friends whom I know and trust like Rudy. The day we picked him up at an old woman’s house in King William County began our grand adventure together. It is hardly ironic that we did not choose him. A gaggle of Jack Russell puppies ran around us yapping. The mother dog eyed us wearily, knowing one of her babies was going to go out into the world without her. One little demur rambler, the smallest one, the quiet one, came to me and stuck his nose in my side saying, “I pick you.”