You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Or at least that's how the saying goes. But I was reminded, today, that this particular saying, while oft-repeated and accepted as fact, isn't really all that accurate. M is the beautiful brindle pit bull mix girl wearing the "pearl" collar in the picture above, and she belongs to D, who happens to be one of my very best friends.
A quick word about D ... D's and my love of animals was one of the first, but by no means the only, thing we had in common, and over the years of our friendship, we've had a number of (often animal-related) adventures together. Despite, now, being married and having two young sons, she has not ever lost her zeal for the rescue of any and all animals in need, and it is not all that much of a stretch to say that if I called her at this exact second (it happens to be after midnight as I type this) and told her that I knew of a rabid boa constrictor that was in need of rescue, and I needed her help to effect said rescue, she would be out of bed and in rescue mode in five minutes flat. Of course, this exact scenario would never happen, because, for one thing, boa constrictors are reptiles, not mammals, and therefore they can't get rabies. For another, it would take me close to an hour to get to her house from my house these days. But you get the idea.
As it happens, D and I were together when she saw Miss M for the first time. M was a ten week old puppy, up for adoption at the local Petsmart with a couple of her litter mates, and it took all of about three seconds for D and Miss M to forge their bond. And despite D having had no intention of adopting a puppy mere moments before, it soon became clear that that was exactly what was going to happen.
Except it almost didn't happen. Why? Because the humane society the next county over that had the puppies up for adoption was operating on a cash only basis. Which neither D and I happened to have enough of (I happen to be one of those people who, in a blackout or world ending type of situation would be seriously screwed, because I barely ever have enough cash in my wallet to buy lunch, let alone a puppy ... I use my debit card for EVERYTHING!), and there happened to be someone else there eyeing baby M, which meant D couldn't risk putting her down and leaving long enough for us to go find an ATM, so she had to give me her debit card and her PIN number and I had to hightail it out of Petsmart and drive like hell to the nearest ATM to get enough cash out for the adoption fee while D stayed at the store, fending off all other potential adopters and maintaining a death grip on "her" puppy.
It was all worth it, though. M was, and is, one of those truly great dogs that movies are made and books are written about. She's good with other dogs, other animals, people, and children. She loves everyone, and everyone loves her. She's been a therapy dog (she and The Paragon were certified through Therapy Dogs International on the same day) and over the last three years she's been an amazing "big sister" to D's three year old son. She was also the flower girl at D's wedding, and before that she helped D's husband M, propose (fittingly enough, at the dog park). The "pearl" collar she is wearing in the photo is the one she wore in her starring role as flower girl.
I saw M today for the first time in about two years, and when I did, there was no denying it. M was not just "getting old." She is old. But over the course of the day, she reminded me that old dogs can, in fact, learn new tricks. In fact, they must. Because as they age, they can't do all the things they've always done, in the way they've always done them. I was at D's house today for about six hours. M spent a good five of those asleep. She's deaf now, and doesn't see well anymore, either. Like many senior citizens, she takes a handful of pills each day.
But that doesn't stop her from taking the same joy she always has in the little things: the deliciousness of the cheese her pills are wrapped in; the caressing hand of her favorite person, a person whose fingers instinctively know, after fifteen years of stroking this same brindle head, where all the best tickle spots happen to be; a shaft of sunlight warming the comfy bed that cushions her old bones from the hard tile floor.
I watched her as she moved about the house (during the brief times she was awake) and was struck by how largely unaffected she seemed by her advancing age. She is the same dog she always was, she just moves more slowly and sleeps more often. She is an old dog, for sure, but she is learning new tricks every day, learning how to adapt to her increasing limitations, and she is doing so with a dignity and grace that is both inspiring and humbling at the same time.
There is a fragile dignity about old dogs, and this is something I was reminded of when watching M today. Unlike humans, dogs don't peer anxiously in the mirror looking for signs of wrinkles or crow's feet. They don't bemoan the creakiness of aging joints, or obsess about their own mortality. They simply live each moment in the moment. They take things as they come. And they suck every last drop of joy out of every single moment of every single day.
I don't know how long M is going to be around. She's a large dog, and she's fifteen years old. She has a heart condition. But I will say that as for today, she is looking darn good, and not feeling too bad, or at least it doesn't seem so. She may be arthritic and stiff, she may be deaf, and nearly blind, but her tail still wags, and there's not a thing wrong with her nose when a treat passes near it. She may not be wearing a purple outfit and a red hat , but she is wearing pearls. Well, they may be plastic beads, but they look like pearls, and M wears them proudly, as she should. I just may get her a red hat to wear along with them. I know she'd wear it well.