This Dog Is All Heart
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” — Will Rogers
It sounded worse than it was, when Penny fell down the tile stairs today. Like a plastic laundry basket bump bumping, step-by-step all the way to the bottom. She recovered her dignity in seconds… her head held high, walking on wobbly legs. My three-year-old granddaughter said: “Penny is a really old dog, isn't she? And you’re old too.”
My golden is stretched out in one of her favorite spots: under my desk; at my feet. I smell her before I’m aware she’s there. It’s a distinct, not unpleasant odor: grass, with a stagnant hint of sage brush. I touch her with my toes; her once thick silky fur is coarse and thinning, feeling more like wool. Daily, the pitiful glances from other hikers on the trail, surprise and sometimes anger me. I realize I’m blinded in my perception because I see her as she was.
I look at her now, lying languid on the floor. Her coat is a little mangy, but it’s still a deep rusty red down the middle of her back. Most of her coat grows in irregular tufts, like an old man’s hair. Her color is no longer shiny like a copper penny; it’s matte with blonde appearing in uneven clumps. Oh! But her ears remain the velvet they’ve always been, I stroke them and I’m grateful. Penny looks up at me: expectant, with the same amber eyes. No, not the same, I know that. They’re opaque with the bluish halo of cataracts.
I love this gesture of hers: her head remains flat on the floor, while she moves only her eye brows, reminiscent of a seal pup. I’m consistently charmed by that look. I know what she’s thinking: Are we going on a walk? When? Soon? Her face is a white mask. When did that happen? I notice the way her front legs curl arthritically. Even her feet have succumbed to age, not the rounded, padded paws of early years. They’ve become almost claw-like. Penny sighs every now and then: long deep sighs and I see her pronounced ribs; her sunken hips like they’re collapsing inward. She is all bones.
But wait… I reach for my tennis shoes and she jumps! I’m sure she can smell the shoe laces; it’s as if ten years melted away. I grab my sweatshirt as we walk to the back door; she’s in such a state that she’s prancing, toe nails clicking on the floor. Penny’s panting, pawing, so anxious that she bursts through the garage, sliding as she rounds the corner to the driveway. She’s off and running down the road. Fast. Yes, I am old, as my granddaughter stated. But in that single moment, I’m there with her: young. Imagine a dog kicking up its heels. This dog is all heart. Her tail is a flag waving and wagging all the way down the road.