UPDATE: 4 JUN 2010

Air Tucker, 1999. This image is not photoshopped. I used to hold a treat up and he'd take a few strides and jump. High.For the last 13 years, my dog Tucker’s been a constant companion who spends his days sleeping next to my desk. He saw me finish college. He was part our great Millennial Day migration from Florida to NC. He’s helped raise two children (and two dogs). And for every year of his life, he’s spent significant time on a certain dog-friendly beach in Florida that he once ruled like a charming prince when we lived there.

The previous post from February (below) ended with Tucker going in for an exam. The results were pretty much what I’d expected – he’s perfectly healthy, but for his hips. At that point, I was just grateful he’d lived beyond last fall’s diagnosis of three months. But lately, things are changing quicker. His voice is gone. He’s deaf. Silver hair is fast encroaching on his deep red coat. His breathing’s grown increasingly labored. His bottom teeth are nubs. But…this dog just keeps smiling. The day he doesn’t is the day I’ll know that it’s time.

Most of the time when I’m working, I don’t even know he’s there. But just now, I sensed some movement in the corner of my eye. He was trying to get comfortable on his dog bed, but couldn’t. He looked at me for a second, and let out a frustrated sigh. So I joined him on the floor and spent a few minutes stroking his silky ears. He smiled.

We’re going back to that dog beach in Florida next month, and all I keep thinking about is how much I want him to make this last trip. Even if it’s for him to simply lay in the cool sand under an umbrella and do nothing more than breathe the air and feel the pounding surf resound in his chest. And then he can fall fast asleep. Maybe forever. That would be the happiest ending of all, I think. We all know it’s coming. The way I see it, we’re stealing time now as it is.

Tucker and Cozette, 2009






Tucker, 2010

I’ve never had a dog get old on me. As a kid, a couple were put down for health reasons and I left home before another one got old, but until Tucker – I’ve never had to care for a senior canine. He’s nearly 13, has wicked hip issues and uses one of his rear legs like an old man uses a cane. But he’s happy. Last fall, when his hips stopped working and he lost muscle mass, I thought it was the end. The vet gave him six months. Well, it’s been more than six months now and he’s still smiling. Sure, I help him up or down the back steps, but mostly, he manages. Slowly. One step at a time. This from a dog that was once the stud of the beach.

What struck me today about how different it is with an old canine is the way I brush him. It wasn’t very long ago that brushing him meant wrestling a strong, squirmy dog excited about getting to go in the house to lay on the sofa. These days, he’s just as excited to go in to lay on the sofa, but the brushing has taken a docile turn. Where at one point when I’d thrash his fur and feel his muscles flex underneath, now I feel bone below his coat and my strokes are as gentle as how you might brush your grandparent’s hair.

Tucker goes for his annual exam next week. Last year I was inquiring about final arrangements. He keeps surprising me.


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Old Dogs

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.