Monday, March 17, 2014

Old age doesn't change dog's personality, just his behavior

Chester in 2011
This post is dedicated to my beloved Sheltie of fifteen and a half years, Chester. While Chester is still in good health, old age has brought many trials including stiff joints, loss of hearing, and weak eyesight, all of which eclipse much of his vibrant personality. These days he mostly sleeps, finding his joy in food, petting, and an occasional stroll in the sun.

It's tempting to ignore him, to consign him to the bedroom and spend my time with Daisy, the young upstart terrier cross who's been aspiring to replace him since she arrived (without our permission) two years ago.  For old time's sake, I do my best to care for Chester, but some days it's not very rewarding. I miss the bright dog he used to be -- the dog who always knew what I was saying, who followed me everywhere, who came immediately whenever I called, and who never needed a leash except on the road. Nowadays it's no use talking to him, and he can't go anyplace with me unless I carry him or walk at a turtle's pace (and there had better be a treat handy). He walks into fences and gets stuck in snowbanks, where he cries until I rescue him. It's endearing -- sometimes. But not when I'm running late or it's ten below zero and I have to don a coat and boots to go get him.

Chester dreaming of food! (2013)
While cleaning my room the other day, I ran across a letter I wrote to Chester's breeder on his first birthday, describing his keen intelligence, energy, and fun-loving personality. Traits I had almost forgotten he possessed. Traits he likely still possesses, though no one could tell by his behavior nowadays. Here are some excerpts: 

"I have certainly enjoyed having Chester from the first day until now, and he seems to equally enjoy it here. He is very cute, very smart and faithful, very amusing, and only occasionally somewhat disgusting. I trained him to heel, come, sit, down, and stay, and he knew it all, except the heel, by six months... When he is greeting you, he whines and yips and runs in circles wagging his tail wildly and slapping you with is tongue! If I tell him to sit, he lies down and rolls on his back, whining, licking, and kicking. Of course the tail is wagging at the same time.

"When Chester eats, it must be done with all haste. We laugh at how he vacuums up or "inhales" his food. We had to put obstacles in his dish to slow him down to more than thirty seconds per meal.
Still as cute as ever! (2013)

"Chester loves to do new things. I took him swinging on the rope a few days ago. Do you think he was scared? No, he looked up to where it was tied in the tree, trying to figure out why it creaked. When we got off, he wanted to go for another swing. He ran and jumped for the knot, then tried to hang on with his mouth so he could ride. 

"Chester loves to ride in the wheelbarrow. The other day he sat on three legs, draping the fourth across the load while we went down the driveway. He has also discovered the squirrel and enjoys chasing him and trying to jump up the tree. You know, the typical dog on his hind legs looking intently up the tree. He loves all living things, even grasshoppers. 

"Fetching a ball is one of his favorite games. He will play until he's exhausted, then throw the ball at me again. He also plays Frisbee, though it's too big for him to catch it in midair. He likes this game
Chester (L) in 2011, exhausted after a fetch game with Toby
very much and works hard dragging the big Frisbee back. 

"Chester is a very talkative dog. If his bed has a lump in it, he will groan long and loud. He also groans plenty if he has an itch, if someone holds him too long, or if he is tired."

The letter is going in his scrapbook so I can remember him after he's gone. But meanwhile, I'm glad to be reminded of the wonderful personality that's trapped inside Chester's old body. A personality that doesn't deserve to be ignored just because he can't hear or keep up on a walk. It's up to me to find ways to make him happy.

Looking young in 2011
I believe this same principle can be applied to the elderly people in our lives. They too were young and active and full of dreams, before their body grew feeble and eclipsed that personality. Thanks to Chester, from now on I will be more careful not to judge old dogs or elderly people only by what I can see. It's comforting to eulogize a pet or a loved one after they're gone, but why not remember and appreciate who they are while they're still with you?

Chester doing what he does best -- sleeping!

1 comment:

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