There have times when I didn't think Buddy would make it all the way to his nineteenth birthday, but against all the odds, he's done it.
His carriage is still regal, but under that glossy black coat, Buddy's skin and bones. I wish he were a bit heavier, but his frail digestive system suggests otherwise. The vet has removed a good many of his teeth and the sad old eyes are watery and opaque with cataracts. He'll climb a set of stairs with some encouragement, but he has to be guided or carried down.
With his swaying, halting gate we've nicknamed Buddy "Old Man".
When I sit to put on my sneakers Piper, the young upstart, notoriously swoops in to grab one of my house shippers. With my slipper held high like a trophy, he will then prance in a circular tour of the main floor of the house. If I manage to wrench my slipper out of his mouth, he'll pounce on the slipper's mate and do a fresh junket with it instead. My husband urges me not to let him get away with such bad behaviour, but I know it is Piper's way to tell me how happy he is that I've decided it's time to go out and play.
And where is the "Old Man" in all this excitement?
Usually he's lying fast asleep on his bed enjoying a very sound post-breakfast nap. How he sleeps through all the barking I'll never know!
"Come on Old Man," I say, bending to attach his red leash, "It's time to go play ball." The lead is necessary or Buddy would get lost on the way to the back gate. He can see what's right in front of him, but not much more.
Feeling the leash being clipped onto his collar, the old dog sits up startled and a little confused. It takes him a few minutes to get his bearings.
For me this is a telling moment. Right now, there is still enough joy in the old dog's life that he rises to go out to play, but I know there is a time coming soon when this may not be the case. How I dread the day! As he nears the end of a very long life, I know there will come a day when he is no longer able to rally and stand to do the thing he loves best in the world–play ball.
Scarp is himself as old as Sheltie's usually get (he's twelve), and Piper will soon turn two.
Sometimes when Buddy is in one of those deep, deep sleeps, I'm torn with mixed emotions. My own breath catches in my throat as I wait for his chest to rise and then fall. And then there is a part of me wishes he could drift into death as easily as one drifts into sleep.
Sadly death is rarely that kind.
Like most people, I want to do what's best for my dogs even if that means making a gut-wrenching decision. It will break my heart, but I will not let him linger in pain or discomfort. We'll face our loss head-on and do what's best for him.
But for now, I'm so very glad for a raucous, three-way game of soccer while I attempt to get in the last of my spring bulbs.
Buddy may be ancient as Shelties go, but his days are happy and I think that's what I think keeps him going.
Piper smiling for the camera.
Buddy has achieved an impressive milestone (the average lifespan for a Sheltie is twelve or thirteen years) and I just want to take this moment to celebrate it. Nineteen years!
Well done "Old Man"!