My dog Jake has gone deaf. It happened all of a sudden at the end of last summer. At first, I thought he was just having one of his streaks of stubbornness in which everything I tell him is ignored, and he knows he can get away with it because he's the most handsome pup on the planet.
Soon to be 17 years old, Jake is fit, feisty and still running around the house with a stupid teddy bear in his mouth. He has so many toys his name should be changed to Fisher Price.
The last few years, I've noticed him staring off into the distance a lot, contemplating life. So, when I called him and he didn't respond, I assumed he was deep in thought, lost in a daydream.
Aging gracefully and enduring with style, Jake is the only dog I know who can exhibit great wisdom while taking a whiz. When he first failed to respond to my instructions, I began to shout them out. And seeing this, he would look around the room inquisitively like: "Hey, is there an echo in here?"
I took a lot longer to adjust to his deafness than he did. About the same time he was losing his hearing, I noticed him staying closer to me. Soon his head and my right knee were one.
That little bugger quickly figured out that if he couldn't gather information from his ears, his eyes seeing what my eyes saw, compensated for the hearing loss. With his head at my knee, he was translating my body language and moving in the same direction.
And for the first while, with his head to my knee, I was picking myself up from the ground a lot because I kept tripping over him. No longer hearing doors open, he now sleeps with his head resting against them so as not to be surprised.
Jake doesn't seem to mind his new handicap and I have to believe it's because for the first time in his life he's got a legitimate reason not to do as he's told. He sleeps sounder with fewer nightmares, and squirrels running through the eavestroughs no longer make him crazy.
Every so often, I catch a little smile on his face while I'm yelling at him and I wonder if he's faking it. Not likely. He's probably thinking about all those years of being shouted at and scolded and how they could have been easily avoided by premature deafness.
Not hearing a word, I'm sure he's saying to himself: "Bill, you gotta get more sleep. Every time I look at you you're yawning!"
Finally, I had to stop yelling at him, my voice going the way of his ears. This is the consequence of an old dog being ordered around by a man who's no spring chicken.
He still responds to my whistle when we walk and the clap of my hands in the house, but normal verbal communication no longer works. So, I've become pretty proficient at hand signals.
Being half border collie, with an ancestry of working dogs but no history of employment himself, he's quick to follow hand gestures. Right, left, stop, come, get your head out of the fridge, don't you dare take another sip of my beer.
Nonetheless, deafness can be a career-ending ailment for a dog who's head of household security. I spend most days writing in a small office near the house and Jake assumes a protective position nearby, intercepting all intruders including Mike the mailman, courier drivers and meter readers. Most bring him treats to move the inspection process along.
Lately, he looks embarrassed as one of these visitors wakes him up by dropping a treat at his feet. Forget teaching an old dog a new trick, I'm just trying to get this one to maintain existing routines.
Sometimes, just to trick him, I'll pretend to talk to him but really mouth the words silently. That's when he becomes indignant.
"If a tree falls in the forest and I don't hear it or see it, who cares? I'm 85 years old for Dog's sake - cut me some slack!"
So, I do. Deaf for sure, but Jake is definitely not dumb.
The bonus? I'm winning at Hide & Seek for the first time in 12 years.
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