Even in the midst of all this trump bullshit, I can’t ignore the fact that our dog, Rocky, is getting old. I almost said “my dog,” which is kind of the truth. He is my familiar. He follows me all over the house. Sometimes, he precedes me, walking at a mind-numbingly slow pace, turning around occasionally to see if I’m still behind him. He has bumped his head on the walls of the hallway many, many times while doing this. He’s not the smartest dog I’ve ever owned, but he may be the sweetest.
Rocky wasn’t supposed to be my dog. We adopted him from the shelter with the intention that he’d become our daughter’s companion. But since I was the one who ended up feeding and walking him most of the time, he figured out where his loyalties better lie, real darn quick.
Rocky is a medium-sized, flop-eared, tri-colored mutt. He weighs 50 pounds. The shelter thought he was a mix of collie and Australian shepherd. I think he’s a mix of Border collie and Australian shepherd, though his vocalizations make me wonder if there isn’t a little bit of beagle in there, as well.
When we first brought Rocky home from the shelter, we were given documentation with three different estimates for his age and the amount of time he’d spent at the shelter. He was either 6 months old or nine months old or maybe almost a year. He’d been at the shelter at least 3 months, maybe 6, or maybe he’d lived most of the first year of his life in the shelter. All I know is, however long it was, was too long.
When we brought him home it was evident he’d never been in a house before. He had no idea how to navigate stairs. The regular noises of a home shocked and surprised him: the toilet, the ice maker, even the clicking on and off of the air conditioning. At night, the windows became reflective and he would bark at the ghostly dog in the windows. He was edgy and nervous. He had terrible separation anxiety. Once when we left him we returned home to find he’d shredded a brand new 24-pack of toilet paper, making it appear as though it had snowed in our living room.
When he was young, he was incredibly fast. He would tear around our back yard joyfully, digging in and staying low, his body stretched to the limit. When he felt like exploring the neighborhood, he could launch himself over our four-foot fence, go on walkabout and then come home, if we hadn’t tracked him down first. He can’t run like that anymore. He stopped jumping the fence years ago.
As he has aged, his love for me has grown ever more intense. Not only does he follow me everywhere, he is quite literally underfoot, much of day, especially when I’m cooking. I have nearly stepped on him thousands of times when getting up from the couch. He is at my feet as I write this.
Our teenage daughter has made up an inner monologue for Rocky, and on the rare occasions when she blesses us with her presence, she sometimes narrates Rocky’s world. It’s not only hilarious, but it seems so probable, it’s eerie. “Momma? Momma. Momma I love you. Momma, where are you going? Momma I will follow you. Can I please have treat, Momma? I love you, Momma. Please pet me.”
It used to be I’d have to be gone a couple of hours for him to be excited to see me come home. Now I can run to the grocery store, be back home 20 minutes later and he behaves as though I was in Europe for a month. When I walk through the door, he bays and howls until I bend down to hug and love on him and tell him he is a good boy. He buries his face into me, nuzzling and snuffling and talking loudly, not unlike Chewbacca. ROWRrrrrrROWRROooorrrr. *Snort.* If I stand up too quickly before the required amount of loves have been administered, he howls at me again, loudly: RooRooROOOOO!
He developed arthritis a few years ago. These days, his legs occasionally fail him, buckling out from underneath as his face contorts into a grimace. “Oh no!” I always chirp out, in baby talk. I don’t mean to, but for whatever reason, that’s the noise I make when my baby boy stumbles.
Because he is still my baby boy. Even though he’s an old dog now, he is exactly the same in temperament as the day he came home with us. Most dogs and cats I’ve ever owned “grow up,” in personality. Not this guy. He’s definitely slower in speed, but in spirit, he’s the exact same naïve goofball he’s always been. Rocky is forever my arrested puppy.
Rocky sleeps with my husband and me every night, though I think he’d be happy if the husband would skedaddle so Rocky could share the bed with me by himself. He cuddles up next to me, leaning in hard, and most mornings I wake up hugging the edge of the bed where we’ve migrated overnight. In recent months, sometimes when he attempts to jump up on the bed he’ll miss and go crashing to the floor. So now I lift him onto the bed while his paws flail in the air, because he’s not quite used to this new arrangement between us.
His favorite food is cheese. His favorite daily activity is to go for a walk, and he likes to hold his end of the leash in his mouth until he needs to pant, and then he lets it drop. He loves to splash in creeks and chase squirrels.
His face, which was once brown and black with a white stripe down his nose, has lightened over the years. His whole muzzle is snowy now, as are his eyebrows, and it breaks my heart. It seems so unfair that my life will continue far beyond his, when he is so full of pure goodness.
I have always believed that dogs are the best people. Dogs are what humans should strive to be: the kindest, most loving, most vulnerable parts of people. If you strip away all the bullshit and self-importance of a human, you’re left with a dog. Maybe they don’t live as long as we do, because they are already noble creatures, and we are the ones who have to learn to be good.