Simba is asleep, snoring softly into his plush dinosaur toy. The fourteen-year-old dog is not bothered by the early arrival of our lawn maintenance crew and their noisy leaf blowers. The Golden Retriever’s total deafness requires a careful approach, so as not to startle him into wakefulness. I slowly scrape the desk chair across the tile, and the vibration tickles his whiskers, which twitch briefly before his head lifts. His face registers confusion, but when he looks up at me, his eyes soften and he smiles, ears folded back in sweet submission.
This old dog is a short-term guest in my house for just two nights of care while his owner is away on business, but the preparation that went into Simba’s visit resembled that of a visiting king. My husband and I shopped for carpet runners to lay a path along our tile floors, so the dog could move at will without so much as stubbing a toe. We secured an elevated holder for his food and water bowls and bought a night light in case he awoke in the dark and did not remember where he was. Rather than view these tasks as chores, we completed them with light hearts, anxious to show our appreciation for Simba in the twilight of his life.
I became friends with Simba’s owner after training her two younger dogs on manners and an adorable dual-rollover trick that never failed to impress. Simba came into her life when her son’s work hours increased and the senior dog was stuck in his Manhattan apartment for ten hours a day, so he came to live with her. I fell hard for the big dog when I saw him fall fast asleep in her living room with a ball in his mouth, paws curled around the prize.
One year earlier at his summer home in Vermont with his owner and extended family, Simba waded into the pond as he had done each summer for many years, paddling lazily toward the ducks he could never quite catch. This time, he tired quickly and rested his feet on the pond’s mud bottom, but soon found he could not move. Stoic as ever, Simba merely stood as his feet stayed mired, unwilling to disturb the peace of the day with a bark for help. Instead, he simply had faith that someone would come along and free him. Simba was rescued in short order, and after a thorough rinsing, napped on and off for several hours in his favorite shady spot, while grandchildren ran and played without him.
What is it about old dogs that draw us in? Time seems to slow in the most pleasant way when petting an older dog. Their eyes droop, and they sit contentedly, in no hurry to move on to another activity. Senior canines seem to deeply appreciate the smallest events, as if savoring moments that may not be repeated. A light grooming with a soft brush. The sun spot that streams through a glass door onto the carpet. A deep stretch upon waking in the morning. Lifting the nose to parse the dinner smells on the stove.The joy of old dogs is a lasting gift that endures well beyond soft, graying muzzles to bring us treasured memories far into the future.