Monday, February 28, 2022

Pushing 12

Walking into the sunset on Red Hill
Reminder: Click on Photos to Enlarge 

Bailey's pushing 12 years old.   

Like many old dogs I've know, Bailey naps a bit more, curling in his favorite Victorian chair or lounging out by the entrance door.  Bailey's skin has sprouted warts and a variety of odd-looking growths. His front elbows sport calluses, formed from years of naps on hardwood floors as well as hundreds of bush-whacking adventures through the pucker brush of local mountains. When massaging his body, I feel more and more fatty tumors, known as lipomas. These growths just under his skin are usually benign, especially if they're moveable. Our veterinarian, Dr. Terry Mickols, biopsied one mass because it felt a bit off. But this time, no worries, just fat cells. With the amount of post-hike peanut butter Kongs he receives, no wonder Bailey's a lumpy beast.  

When he walks along the road on a leash, I've noticed a little hitch in his gait. Even with all our hiking, his hind legs and hips look like a scarecrow's. His back knees seem stiff and his hips boney. Thing is, he still hammers mountains and on a walk he can turn the switch and be his young prancy self, tail at full staff.  

One of the first times I let Bailey the puppy sleep outside of his crate for an entire night, I awoke at 6:00am to a quiet house. I rolled over in bed and my eyes met Bailey's. His deep brown eyes are penetrating and soulful. I'm not sure how long he'd been sitting there, but he sat quietly, waiting. Most mornings, he never disturbs me unless it's well past his breakfast time or the turkey poop he slurped upset his tummy. 

That first morning, I gazed into those dark eyes and thought, "Some day this handsome pup is going to grow old and die. Enjoy each day." I have and so has he. 

Bailey's eyes have always won me over, even after he ravaged the garbage, destroyed a bag of flour, or scarfed down a dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies made by our friend, Gayle. I'd guilt him out, of course, but my anger never lasted. Later in Bailey's life, that short-lived anger turned to personal  disappointment for being so careless with food or the garbage. How he reached those scrumptious cookies high up on the dining room sideboard, I'll never figure out. 

Now, Bailey's eyes  have a bluish tint and from what I've read, he's developing nuclear sclerosis: a bluish transparent haze on the lens of the eye. His eyes are cloudy in the central region of the lens called the nucleus. When I first saw the hazy change, I worried that he was losing his eyesight. I pictured leading him up the Whitecap trail on a short leash and allowing him to investigate all of the scents along the way. It'd be an awfully long hike because he smells every-anything. But I've done some reading, and nuclear sclerosis doesn't normally cause blindness. 

I've decided that his hearing may be fading, or perhaps it's selective listening, especially on the trail when the smells he savors lure him into the deep woods.   

There's an adage about dogs that goes, "Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, and three year an old dog." I've also seen a variation of this quotation that adds, "Anything else is a gift from god." In my eyes, any additional time for a big dog like Bailey is the gift of genetics, good food, lots of exercise, great veterinarian care, love, and luck. From what I can tell, Bailey's two female littermates died at around five or six years old.    

It might sound odd, but one fun change during Bailey's aging has been the grey wisps in his eyebrows. They're a continual, playful reminder that, yes, he's growing old. Likewise, his snout and beard show more white and occasionally his nose gets a bit dry and crusty. 

When we're hiking, Bailey switches into a dog adventurer's mindset. In the spring, summer, and fall, he's busy smelling and exploring. In the winter on snow-packed trails, he often stays behind me, head down, following my lead as we summit local mountains. It's not surprising to dog lovers when I say a 4.5 mile hike for me is a 6-mile hike for a curious dog like Bailey.  

I've got a bit of an ego about Bailey's fitness level at his age. In the fall, I ran into a couple hiking with their tail-wagging, three-year-old yellow lab. I saw them in the distance and called Bailey back to me with "Treat?" Then, I grab his collar and call up to the hikers: "Are you OK with an unleashed dog?" I wait for their response. If their dog is leashed, I leash Bailey. If their dog is free, I free Bailey. Leashed dogs and unleashed dogs tend to have issues of dominance--at least that's what it seems like. 

This couple smiled as they saw Bailey hoofing up, and I called out to their dog, "Who's a pretty pup?" When we got closer, Bailey and the lab did the sniff test and played around. The woman asked, "Are you worried about letting your puppy hike without a leash? Won't he run away?" 

I smiled. "He doesn't move too far away from his food source," I laugh. "Plus, he's eleven and a half." 

Note the grey in his eyebrows and the extra white in 
his beard and above his snout. 

A favorite fall 2021 picture on Whitecap's Yellow Trail.
An old hiking dog. 

Winter 2022

A wicked old dog on Red Hill Trail

Don't you have something for me? 

He reminds me of a ghost dog. 

On top of Mystery Mountain--2021. 

1 comment:

  1. You have written a wonderful appreciation of your burner Bailey. His joy-filled longevity is due to your climbing the hills of Western Maine 3 or 4 times each week for many years. What a fine companion you have there.

    Thanks, Rich. And thanks to Bailey for keeping track of you.