One of those memories came up on Facebook yesterday, ‘Six years ago today…’, and I smiled. It was a photo of our Border Collie mix, Sophie, now ten years old. It’s funny how when you live with someone- human or animal- it’s easy not to notice the effects time has on them. The same goes for our own selves, as well. I knew intellectually that Sophie was aging, knew her face was getting white, but seeing the stark difference of the gentle young dog with that of the wizened face of my sweet older dog was a shock. I felt a wave of tenderness and compassion flow through me as I thought of what a great dog Sophie has been, and the realization that our time together is passing all too quickly.
I adopted Sophie from the Birmingham Humane Society to be a companion dog for my mother soon after she moved here and lived just down the street from me. I can still see seven month-old ‘Lily’ laying on the cement floor of the shelter, her sad brown eyes looking intently at me. I knew that a Border Collie puppy was probably the worst possible match for my then 86 year-old mother, but something about her gentleness told me otherwise. I brought Mom to meet her, and Sophie walked up to her, gently resting her muzzle on Mom’s knee. We both melted. I knew that Sophie would come to live with us in time, but for four years, she faithfully looked after my mother- her work. She was always an old soul in a puppy’s body. I promised her that she would never need to worry, that I would take care of her and love her to the end of her days. The time passed so quickly- both with my mother and with sweet Sophie.
Sophie has grown noticeably ‘old’ over this past year. Aside from the white around her eyes and muzzle, she is slowing down, and perhaps a bit of dementia is settling in. I love her all the more for it. I look at the simple devotion in her trusting brown eyes as she follows me everywhere, and I feel such tenderness. I wrap my arms around her every day, kissing her nose and telling her I love her; she sleeps pressed against my side at night, and when I awake with nightmares during the night, the touch of her fur calms me. I am her work now, and she takes her job seriously as she always has. We will give her the best life possible to the very end.
I have had one other old dog, another dog that had my heart and that I did not see get old until it was past time to deny it. I had Guinness for almost sixteen years, my soul dog who saw me through so much life. He walked beside me, ferried me through my phoenix period where an old life crashed and burned and a new and beautiful one began. Dogs are so often markers of our lives, helping to define periods of transition, of peace, and of change.
I have always felt a special connection with old people and animals. Maybe it’s because I grew up with an older parent and older aunts and uncles- even older siblings. Whatever the reason, I feel a tenderness and level of comfort with the aged that I don’t often find with those who are younger. So often society treats the old among us as throw-aways, used up, useless. That is far from the truth. Old people and old animals have so much to offer us, so many gifts of knowledge and perspective to enrich our lives. They also teach us compassion, patience, and gratitude. Their time with us is all too brief, but their precious lessons are timeless.
Each time that I hold Sophie close to me and whisper words of love to her, I will also listen to her. She won’t have words to share with me per se, but her message will be the same as it has been from the beginning – love. Always love. And I will hold that message in my heart.