Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mi Viejo

My heart-dog puppy is stretched out on the coolmat bed I keep next to the loveseat, sound asleep. I know he's hot, even though it's only 65 degrees--when he's cold, he curls up like a sleeping sled dog or cuddles at my feet.

Casey will be 14 this Thanksgiving--plenty active but no longer the little red demon I brought home during a blizzard, the english cocker puppy who fit into a 100 airline crate and chased tennis balls for hours. He'll still ask everyone he meets to scratch his stomach and toss his tennis ball--but these days, he does finally relax after 25 minutes or so. He's slowed down and sometimes tries to go his own way during our walks. It's no longer safe for him to roam around me free-ranging on his electronic collar--when we're separated by more than a 15 feet or so, he can't hear me. Using his e-collar startles him now; he's more self-absorbed and nose-focused (you gotta use the sense(s) that work!) If he's followed his nose out of my sightline, he gets visibly disoriented when he looks up and realizes he's lost me. So I decided it was time to keep him closer on walks, and reinforce the attention to me that's been standard for most of his life but is slowly losing out to his failing hearing and eyesight.

Given the chance to follow his nose, which has a direct line to his stomach, Casey would always get himself into trouble even as a youngster--only a strong 'Come' command and the reinforcing e-collar kept him safe and close. Now, it's even more important for me to be able to guide him. So outdoors, he's back on a long line so I can remind him where I am, and which way is 'here.' But mostly to others, Casey doesn't look old. Unlike a lot of red dogs, Casey's version of gray is a colort that passes for blonde...and maybe it's causing more 'blonde moments.' Moments of sparkling puppy burst out of his old dog body when I'm least expecting them. He's not too stiff to burst into a run and or surprise me with heel position or a flying leap through my tire or cavalletti--usually because he thinks Madison is getting his share of treats.

But at 3 a.m. today I woke up, riding a new speed wave from the Decodron in yesterday's chemo treatment, Madison opened her eyes, rubbed her muzzle on my face, stretched, and pushed closer to get her morning kisses. Sure, the speed woke me up a couple hours early, but if I'm up, so is my little spotted girl, mi punta nina. We hugged. We cuddled, I got up and moved off the loveseat, heading toward the bathroom with M. ahead of me, bouncing off her crate door, asking to get lifted up, expecting breakfast. I tucked her in and told her 'it's not time for breakfast yet, go back to bed, mi punta." Made my way back to the loveseat and laid down again.

Casey snored on through it all. He's still snoring.

All of the dogs--Taryn, Jazz, Muni, Nola, Bard, Reuben, Madison, and Casey (until tonight) -- always followed my movements around the house. When I worked from home, and moved to get a new bottle of water or cup of coffee, the entire dog posse would rouse themselves and follow, bumping my legs and wondering if there was anything in it for them (food? are we going out? is someone at the door? why are we getting up again?) To do anything that required a lot of moving around from room to room (cleaning, cooking, laundry), I had to put them on long downs, or put them in crates.

My clue that a dog was getting older was reluctance to limit their own beauty rest just because I was on the move. That sleepy-headed "don't get up on my account" look was always followed, sooner or later, by the day when they became completely oblivious to my movements (unless I actually touched them...)

The dogs who grew old in my house before him have taught me the next stage for Casey--he'll start waking and sleeping on his own schedule. On the days when I don't crate him together with M., Casey already protests with that old-dog, I-can't-even-hear-myself bark. He can't hear me telling him to be quiet, and he's not done making noise until HE's done. On his own schedule, he'll settle down and be curled up asleep by the time I come downstairs from my shower.

Today, Casey slept through my early morning speed-rush. When I came back to the loveseat, I nudged him and he sleepily moved up to snuggle. Now he's stretched out at my side, head resting on the loveseat arm that is his favorite pillow, fast asleep again. So unless Madison hears the mourning doves and tells me she's ready for breakfast and a walk, I'll write until Casey wakes up, and then our days will get into motion. First their breakfasts, then our morning walk, then I'll dry the dew off their feathers and put them in crates while I get ready for my own day. My new day. My time used to be controlled by chemo, then work, then radiation, surgery and now more chemo. But while chemo still chimes in, I'm now on Casey's schedule, and we only get up as a group when he sees fit.

My heart dog puppy, my red demon, my cuddler--now truly an old man, mi viejo. Sleep tight, Casey. Breakfast and your tennis ball will be waiting when you wake up.

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