I intend to have a word or two with my maker when, or if, we meet.
I would like the Almighty to explain to my satisfaction the many, many things in this life that have never made sense. Like cancer in children.
May seem a bit jarring to read when I say I also really want to know why the Creator made dogs of such short life spans.
It is plain to me in looking at dogs small and large that a decent share of them are exemplars of love on Earth, innocents who love unconditionally and love their chow.
I think we begin to see just how brief a dog’s life is when we get a little gray in our hair and notice that the years, as the late, great John Prine wrote and sang in his “Angel from Montgomery,” just fly by, “like a broken-down dam.”
Ann and I have a dog, a Golden Doodle. Her name is Xunna (pronounced Zunna). She came to us with that name 12 years ago as a one-year-old. Rather than change the name, we kept it. Perhaps if we’d asked the dog, and she’d been able to answer, she might have told us she preferred Charley, like Steinbeck’s dog. But she hasn’t complained. She answers to that name right away with a proper dogly snap of the head — especially when there’s a bite or two of something good to be had or there’s a chew toy about.
Her first owner had clapped up this creature of unbounded energy in a small cage. We did that for one night, but when she growled and bared her teeth at being squeezed again into such a space so ill suited to a puppy’s big soul, we let her roam. And so the world became her playground.
At the beginning, I was a bit indifferent to Xunna. I had my reasons.
One of her first acts was to take in-jaw my stepson’s new glasses when the boy’s back was turned, and chomp them into an unusable mass. Took all of three seconds.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen such a thing happen. I recalled at that moment the afternoon when the dog next door meted out the same toothsome fate to his master’s dentures, and the old man gummed in distress, “What am I supposed to do now?”
Neither did Xunna show what seemed to me proper doggie deportment when anyone came to our house. She never bit anybody — on the contrary, she always jumped on the visitor and drenched the floor with pee at the sheer excitement of making a new friend.
In time, my attitude changed. She developed this habit of flopping onto her back and, with tail slowly a-wag and belly exposed, she’d look up at us with pleading eyes for attention. Damn her, I said to myself, she knows how irresistible that is, and she thinks we’ll be putty in her paws. So I dug my heels in, determined to hold out, to refuse to … refuse, oh what the hell, what’s one little scratch? Of course, 20 minutes later I said to myself, “got me again, you clever beast.”
I noticed also that every gray-haired woman Xunna met fell instantly in love with the dog and wanted to take her home. In time, the dog caught on to this tendency of the gray-haired ladies set and would stop whatever she was doing to accept the adoration. Very endearing.
Now it’s 2023, and the sweet beast that used to romp over field and floor with ease has a tough time commanding her aging bones to climb the the stairs. She is blind in her right eye, and her hearing and even her sense of smell are abandoning her. Lately, she’s taken to leaving what comedian Rodney Dangerfield described when he cracked that he’d started calling his old dog “Egypt,” because of the “little pyramids he’s been leaving around the house.”
I do not claim that this particular canine possesses charms and allurements her doggie brethren and sistren lack. But she has my heart. I think no one has expressed the bond between human beings and dogs better than the late Bill Staines in his tune “Old Dogs.”
“Old dogs come and old dogs go, old dogs always seem to know,
That love is life’s most precious flow and love is worth the waiting.
And when their time on earth is through, old dogs are forever true,
And ‘round the bend they wait for you come some tomorrow morning.”
So go on, scratch those ears, chuck that chin, and let fly a treat or three. The dog’s worth all of it.
Robert Whale can be reached at email@example.com.