Barking with Joy

I don't take even a single day with my lumpy old dog for granted


I adopted my dog Otto, seen in the photo with me, from my local shelter. He had been brought to the shelter by a person who said she found him in her chicken pen; allegedly, he had killed some of her chickens. The shelter estimated his age at 6 months; his adult teeth appeared to be newly erupted, and 6 months is about the time this happens. 

I fell for him the minute I spotted his scruffy visage on the shelter website. He had been in the shelter a month at that point, and so was about 7 months old. I gave him my dad’s birthday, which was November 30. That was in June 2008. This means that at some point this month, whether on his made-up birthday or the actual, unknown date, he will be 14 years old at some point this month.

I’ve never had a dog make it to 15 years old. The Border Collie I owned when WDJ was launched made it to just past 14. While achieving 15 years of age is not impossible, for a big dog (70 pounds), it’s not the norm. And he has some health issues. He has severe arthritis in his front paws and shoulders. He had a benign tumor sliced off his liver a few years ago, and he’s covered with lipomas – more every day! He often pants for no particular reason, even when it’s not remotely warm. Anxiety? Some other issue? I don’t know, and the chest x-rays and abdominal ultrasounds I schedule for him annually don’t show anything amiss. 

And he’s lost a huge portion of his hearing. It seems to me that the hearing loss accelerated exponentially over the past year. He no longer hears our squeaky doors open and close, my calls for him to stop barking at the feral cat who sits in the orchard across the street, or the crunching of gravel as I walk by his shaded sandbox; if he’s napping there, he will no longer wake up and get to his feet to join me on my 100-yard walk to my office. In fact, I can walk right up to his sandbox, sit on the edge, and call his name several times before he awakens with a start. It breaks my heart to see the startled expression on his face when he wakes up and sees me close by, or when I enter a room and he suddenly sees me, not having heard me coming.

But he’s still enjoying life. He still watches for and barks at that cat in the morning, when she warms herself in the sun – and he keeps a vigil for each of the two post office trucks that pass our house daily (we live on a corner and each street is serviced by a different truck), so he can roar down the fence line “chasing” the trucks away. He’s good at it; they always leave! He may limp and pant afterward, but it clearly brings him joy. Years ago, I would have yelled for him to stop; now I cheer him on. You go, Otto! Keep going for as long as you are having fun. Happy birthday, my beloved scruffy wonder dog.