“He aches in the places where he used to play, he wanders into crowds when I tell him to ‘stay!’ but I love him like a brother. And no other dog’ll do. Nearing the end of a road that’s been both joyful and long, it’s official, my dog Jake, has become a Leonard Cohen song.”
Nobody asks how I am, of course, but wherever I go the question is: “How’s Jake?”
Born January 1, 1992, the handsomest half Border Collie/Australian Shepherd in the world is now 17 years old and soldiering on with dignity. He’s slow to get up, but quick to his food bowl. He sleeps a lot better now that he can’t hear and he’s playful as a puppy but not nearly as spry. He stands up in bed first thing in the morning. Down the ramp he bounds and out the door to do his business like there’s no business like show business - a tinkle here, a poop there and like a puppy he’s off and running in all directions. And I’m laughing as he picks up speed to impress me.
Staring at his breakfast from the patio, he threatens to come through the screen if I don’t open the door already.
I work at a long oak table while he naps at my feet until – what’s this? It’s walk time. Trail? Beach? Okay both.
My mid-morning, breakfast is his treat time: I get two pieces of toast with peanut butter and he gets one, which he takes to his favourite shady spot to munch and crunch.
The half-day hikes are now one-hour walks pleasantly interrupted by plunges into the water. Not so steady as he once was, yesterday a wave wiped him out; it broadsided him. He rolled out of the shallow water onto the beach. Up he got, shook himself off and toddled down the beach with that distinctive spring in his step. This dog is wonderful!
Swimming done, I carry him up the 10 beach stairs and place him on the lawn. His embarrassed look from having to be carried disappears as he inhales the freshly cut grass and decides to roll around in it. But first, he has to get down. Whereas before he would just keel over sideways, he now sits and gradually extends his front paws forward until he looks like he’s leading a yoga class. Then he rolls to one side with enough torque to get on his back. Then it’s wiggle time - doing the horizontal twist with moans of pleasure amid a flurry of grass clippings.
Now the getting-up part; he used to spring to his feet and shake all in one motion but now he rocks side to side and when the momentum’s good, he thrusts his back paws into the lawn to get back to that sitting position. The front legs inch backward to the body, the back legs go into full thrust mode and damned if he isn’t up on all fours and shaking off water, grass and self-doubt. He smiles, wants to play. He’s wonderful.
Playtime is kind of an animated cartoon version of what it once was. All I had to do was give him the evil eye and approach him with menacing gestures and Jake would tear around the backyard in big circles, growling and barking. Now, he instinctively tries to mimic his youth but winds up, not so much circling as turning around in a circle. But he growls in jest and still does an awkward turn or two.
His supper, which is exactly like his breakfast, comes at precisely 6:20 p.m. If his evening meal is not down on his mat before then, the bowl is dropped at my feet. Jake’s heart is strong, the spirit is supreme, the pride manifest in a tail held high. It’s those once-powerful back legs that are now bent on betrayal.Two measurements I find incalculable - the number of days we have left and the amount of sheer, simple joy this dog has brought me.
Some time after the headlines of the evening news, the head in my lap tells me it’s time for bed. Off goes the TV, on goes the reading lamp and Jake wanders down the hall, in the opposite direction of the bedroom. He used to walk up the ramp and into the bed but, these days, the runway starts in the bathroom.
I can hear him coming as he hits top speed at the bedroom door. I’m propped up against the headboard with a book and four crossed fingers - please let him hit the ramp fair and square and – “Yes!” He’s up, he’s proud, he’s down beside me with all four paws in the air. Goodnight sweet prince. Hopefully tomorrow is another day. Jake? He’s wonderful!