Monday, February 22, 2010

Old Dog : Joyce Carol Oates

From Old Dog a short piece by Joyce Carol Oates in Where Is Here?

There he lies, in the grass, in his habitual place, waiting for you. It has been years. He is aged, near blind. But he waits. In the grass, in his usual place. For you.

He is part collie and part German shepherd. His fur has coarsened and feels like wires, dry and unforgiving, to the touch. Its luster has long since faded; it’s that drab dun color of a deer’s winter coat. He is lying, forelegs extended, shoulders and head quivering erect. His eyes are rheumy, as if covered with a thin film of mucus. His muzzle is gray, his lower lip unnaturally swollen. From time to time his nose twitches and his ears prick up alertly at imaginary sounds; actual sounds, less loud and immediate, he is less likely to hear.

He has become an old dog, you would hardly recognize him now. The bony haunches, the lusterless eyes, ribs showing through his fur. When he’d been a puppy, his small eager body was charged as if with electricity; he seemed never to sleep, nor even to rest. His eyes shone with a doggy intelligence and good will. His feelings were easily hurt but his hurts easily forgotten. He loved you above all things, and has never outgrown that love. You were his fate, you alone. Though this was not a fate you would have acknowledged.


Jonathan Setter said...

Teary eyes and a lump in my throat from here. It is my oldest terriers birthday today. I have seen the changes in him too, not quite so bouncy as he was 9 years ago. I never knew it was possible for a dog to make my life change so much. He is more than a friend...

PBurns said...

The strongest terrier I have ever owned -- a piece of iron in his youth -- is now so old and weak in the back, I need only push him for his back end to give out. He does not like to go up and down even very shallow stairs.

But he is still walking, still grinning to see me, still eating, and he is in no pain.

But he no longer iron; he is rust.

We are both watching the clock and taking the time we have left.


Retrieverman said...

That golden at the top reminds me of one of my dogs. 14 years old, rheumy-eyed, and so lazy that even the simple action of wagging her tail was an effort.

This particular golden was like this at 8 months of age. She never retrieved. She hated swimming. She hated Jack Russells. She hated sultry days in July. She died in her sleep.

But from an accidental mating, she did give me one of the best dogs I've ever known.

Half golden-half boxer. Skunk killer extraordinaire. She never learned to avoid the unpleasantries of killing such animals. Indeed, she seemed to revel in the skunk musk.

That dog died at the age of 11 from osteosarcoma. The vet advised against amputation, which was probably wise. Her swollen shoulder got bigger and bigger. I remember one Saturday morning about two weeks before she was euthanized, that she refused to get up. I went down and talked to her for a bit. I rubbed her leathery ears. I could tell she didn't want to go anymore, but then she got up and hobbled to the door. Tough old dog.

Alan said...

Very sad to see your best friend get that way, but that's life. We lost our part wolf dog last year. She was 15 years old, deaf, almost blind and could hardly get up. One morning she was unable to move so we took her to the vet. Nothing he could do so we had to put her down. Hardest thing we had to do......

Miki said...

"He loved you above all things, and has never outgrown that love. You were his fate, you alone. Though this was not a fate you would have acknowledged."

This is what it means to own a dog. I'm not so sure most people understand this.

But it's not a burden - it's a gift.

How many of these old dogs have I known and, dog willing, will I know?

I don't know.

P.S. Scotty - You owe the semicolon an apology.