Young At Heart

“And if you should survive to a hundred and five, look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive,
And here is the best part, you have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart”
~ Frank Sinatra

Tonight my 13 year old puppy did not want to stop playing with her squeaky squirrel. I finally had to take it away from her because she was panting like crazy. Over the past couple months since we learned she was in kidney failure, Ruby has become more puppy-like than she was, even as a puppy. She walks 2-4 miles a day. She’s finishing all her food in record time. She’s rooting through the trash can. It seems she is Benjamin Button dog, aging in reverse. She’s clearly unaware of her age and condition.

Once again, this old dog seems to be teaching me a new trick. Age is just a number that only matters if you are a cheese or a bottle of wine. The young at heart never truly get old.

Looking For a Close Second

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” ~Josh Billings

Our family pet, a beautiful, smooth coat Border Collie is thirteen. We recently learned, not surprisingly because she is 13, that she is in kidney failure. We’ve got her on a special diet and have been doing all the recommended things to make sure she is healthy for as long as she can be, but we know that she is not long for this world. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s part of the great journey each living being undertakes. While losing any pet is devastating, this particular situation is even more difficult because we’ve had this puppers since the boys were 8 and 6. Our girl has grown up alongside our boys, and soon she will be leaving us the way the boys are now that they are grown. I’m grieving her already, the same way I’m grieving seeing our sons grow up and move on. It’s a bit much to pile on one momma’s heart.

Ruby is what my friend Kari calls our “heart dog.” A heart dog is the best dog you’ve ever had. It’s the one that, above all the others, was your favorite. She is very much a typical Border Collie. She is energetic, She is independent and keeps to herself until she is ready to be loved on. And she is wicked smart. When we weren’t training her, she was training us. When she was younger and we had to leave for a while, we would try to put her either outside or in her dog crate. She quickly figured out what the normal course of events were when we were leaving and she would decide for herself where she wanted to stay while we were gone. Once she had made up her mind, we were stuck with her decision. Still, I’ve never considered her stubborn. She’s simply a strong, independent woman who knows her own mind and won’t be cajoled into doing something she’s not interested in. Like I said, typical Border Collie.

As much as it breaks my heart that Ruby is in her final year and as much as I wish we could keep her forever, I know it’s time to start looking for our next pet before Ruby crosses the rainbow bridge. Steve and I have never been without a dog, not for one day since we met in 1993. So, we have been considering what comes next for us. Previously, we owned labs and lab mixes, but we have fallen in love with herding dogs. We are finished with sporting dogs who love to be wet, have no interest in toy breeds who want to be in your lap and sleep in your bed, and are not ready to take on a terrier. Hounds can be smelly and they like to run off after things. We don’t want any dog bred to have a smooshed face and breathing problems, so no pugs, French bulldogs, or Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. And we don’t want any dog that needs haircuts, so that eliminates anything with “oodle” in its name. We’re currently going back and forth between another Border Collie (since I no longer have young children to worry about, I have plenty of time to train, amuse, and exercise a smart, active dog) and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. We’ve thought about a rescue and have rescued in the past, but we’re specifically wanting a puppy, and puppy rescues are hard to come by.

I am throwing this out into the universe. Does anyone have a dog breed we should consider that you can sell us on? Tell us about your favorite dog breed. Why are they the best? Please don’t bother suggesting a cat. My husband is highly allergic. I can’t have him and a cat, and I still want him around.

We will never be able to replace Ruby. She will forever be our heart dog. But, we’re open to finding a close second.

Both Of Us Are Dogs In This Scenario

I am a border collie.

Emphasis on the word border. I know my job. I herd. I round the family up. I make sure no one gets left behind and that we all proceed according to a plan. I keep us moving. When I am not herding, I like my space. I am affectionate, just on my own terms. I am reserved around strangers. I am smart, adaptable, energetic, and driven. I know what I want and what I don’t want. And I’m not doing any tricks or jumping through any hoops unless it aligns with my own agenda.

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Current mood

Our dog, Ruby, is also a border collie. I can tell you everything you need to know about Ruby (and, by proxy, me) in a few anecdotes. At Puppy Kindergarten, Ruby would practice the new trick we were working on 3-4 times for a treat. Then she would walk away and curl up in the corner with her back to me as if to say, “I got where you are going with this. I’m done with your reindeer games.” Ruby likes her space. If she is on her bed in the living room and I come and sit down on a chair next to her, she will get up and go to her bed in the other room. We used to try to leave Ruby in the yard when we would go out. Sometimes she would oblige. Sometimes she would walk to her kennel, curl up inside, and obstinately refuse to come out. Eventually, she trained us to ask if she wanted to be inside or out because it became clear she would only do what she wanted. Ruby is my spirit animal.

My husband, Steve, is a Labrador retriever.

He is all the things that have made Labradors the most popular dog breed in the United States since 1991. He is cheerful, affectionate, and active. He loves to be around people and is eager to please. He looks forward enthusiastically to all things, meals, walks, sports, and social activities, in particular. You never have to go looking for Steve. He is right there when you turn around, always. And, much to my delight, he does retrieve things including groceries and my morning latte. He is amiable, sweet tempered, easy going, and happy to a fault. Everyone loves Steve. He is inherently lovable.

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Boy’s best friend

Our first dog, Machiah, was a Labrador. I can tell you everything you need to know about Machiah (and, by proxy, Steve) in a few anecdotes. Machiah hated to be alone. She would let loose with the most pathetic, heartbreaking howl when we left the house with her behind in it. Machiah never missed a meal. In fact, an hour before mealtime she began reminding us that mealtime was on the horizon. She ate like she’d never see another bite of food, and then she ate things that weren’t her food or even food at all (including, but not limited to, a lampshade, a bike seat, tissues, and bottles of contact solution). Machiah, in her older years, would rest in the grass in our backyard and let our two year old use her as a pillow. She just wanted to be close to you with her heart of gold. Sometimes I wholeheartedly believe that Machiah lives on in Steve from beyond the Rainbow Bridge.

I write all of this both as an homage to our dogs, past and present, but as a way to explain to you what life locked down in our house right now is like. Picture that exuberant Labrador, full of energy and excitement and love and affection, following that border collie around in 1300 square feet, 24/7. Imagine that border collie slowly realizing there is no place to which she can escape. That is where we are, folks.

Welcome to Day Two of the Occupation.