Lessons from an old dog

Of course he’s had plenty to learn from me too.

Whether Quillow was 9 or, as suspected, a year or more older, he had to adjust to living in my home with Minor and, a bit more problematical, the cat.

Coming just before Christmas 2012, the gorgeous golden (more red than Minor’s yellow) had to learn my ways – where the treats were kept and what was expected in exchange, meal times (more variable due to my schedule than the dogs would have preferred), property boundaries, bedtimes and their own quirky rituals and all that came with living with somebody new.

Parts were more difficult for the old dog. For the first month or two he wailed whenever we drove away from the house but settled down quickly when he knew he was homeward bound.

Bedtimes remained more of a mystery for, given a choice (he wasn’t), he apparently would have preferred to hunker down in – or near – the kitchen. I sleep better knowing exactly where all the creatures in this house are – in and safe – before I close my eyes.

I do not recall Quillow having a single grey or white hair on that lovely muzzle when I picked him up. Now he’s starting to get some, just around his nose. I’d prefer to attribute that to advancing years though admit he’s also added a few to my collection.

At the beginning he had a tendency to get lost. Worse (from my viewpoint), even in the severest winter weather, he somehow burrowed beneath the deck, disappearing for all intents and purposes. It was ultimately Minor who “squealed,” pointing at the deck’s edge as I continued to frantically call for my new dog.

Rack up more of those white hairs for every time Quillow would race out onto the frozen lake. He had no way of knowing there was water underneath … but I did. Much to my intense relief (and a lot of prayers), it thawed – once it got started – quicker than I have ever known it to do. So, basically, safe one day and water the next. Hallelujah!

Quillow has had much to teach me too.

From the beginning his love was unconditional. Unlike Minor, he never begged. All he asked was to be treated fairly: brushing, a treat, pats, whatever the other dog got he wanted too. He asked for nothing but expressed extreme gratitude with the wild wagging of his tail. In fact, he’s the most tail-waggingest dog I’ve ever encountered. A joy to have around indeed.

He came gentle. That’s a trait I have doubly appreciated, especially when – again – compared to Minor. The latter has grabbed food (offered) from my hand leaving streaks of blood (never a lot) and more bruises than I’d count.

Quillow is every bit as enthusiastic – actually, I could swear I’ve seen him bouncing up and down with glee – but I have never felt his teeth, just the most gentle gums. (He isn’t that old, I guarantee, for they are there.)

I think the biggest gift Quillow has brought me, however, is a renewed – no, not that – but a heightened appreciation of life. I can certainly share his joy, if not the activity, when rolling on his back in the yard. His murmurs then are happy to behold and I would join him if I thought I could get away with it.

I watch him, particularly during the hottest parts of the summer and pray it’s only heat which makes him seem to be slowing down. Still, for a golden retriever, he has already lived a pretty respectable number of years. I do worry. But then a friend arrives or he spies the cat across the yard (and I mean waaaay across) and he’s back to his early teen abilities.

So every morning I open my eyes to Minor who can be on the bed giving me the nose-to-nose. But I know Quillow is right beside, head up and paw raised to greet me too.

His tail wags crazily. Let’s get moving, I can hear him saying. Lots of good coming today. He’s raring to go, certain that new discoveries await.

I give him a pat, then a big hug. I’m grateful we have another morning to share.

Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com