Duke is walking more slowly and his breathing is more labored. I noticed last week that he needs more frequent stops to sit and rest. He’s 14 years old; that’s about 98 in human years. At his advanced age, these developments aren’t surprising. The old dog is entitled to plop himself down and catch his breath anytime he wants.
I worry, of course. Duke is my favorite dog-walking client: a big plush, goofy yellow Lab who is generous with sloppy kisses and affectionate nudges. It’s been just the two of us on the midday walks since his sister Daisy died in November. We’ve been heartbroken, but we’ve had each other. Now with Duke slowing down, I worry about how much longer I’ll have him.
During yesterday’s walk, Duke peed on his favorite spot on the curb, took a few steps, then set his ass down like a burdensome load of groceries. He panted heavily.
“What’s up, buddy?” I asked, knowing it’s the years that are weighing him down.
I massaged his scalp gently for a few moments before I jingled the leash. Duke stood in response, paused, then plopped down again.
“Okay Duke,” I said. “Take your time.”
I knelt next to him and was reminded that our time together may be coming to its limit. Time goes quickly and there is never enough of it. I felt so sad thinking of this. I put my arm around Duke’s neck and pressed my cheek against his. He panted and his soft fur rubbed my skin. I listened and realized that though I’d given Duke the command to take his time, he was teaching me to do the same thing.
I watched Duke as he closed his eyes against the breeze that whispered against our faces.
“Smell that?” he seemed to say as he lifted his snout and his nostrils flapped wide and appreciatively.
“Listen,” is what I heard when he raised his ears and the little hairs fluttered along the delicate inner pink.
“Mmm, feels good,” his face said and I wondered if the wind that smoothed the fur on his back felt like my hand.
After a time, Duke opened his eyes, looked right at me, then gave my face a slobbery long lick.
“Woof!” he barked and I smelled Snausages dog treats. He stood and walked toward his home, confident I would follow obediently.
* * *
I always describe Duke as goofy, but he’s just as wise as Daisy was. Our time is running out, but we can’t control that. By plopping his ass down mid-walk, Duke isn’t being stubborn. He’s reminding me, “Hey, this moment is what we’ve got. Let’s share it.”
Watching Duke, I remember there’s more to each moment than what I see. I need to close my eyes and make sure I don’t miss a thing.