Friday, April 15, 2011

When Good Dogs Grow Old

Last night marked the beginning of irrigation season.  When we start watering the pastures, I know that longer days, warmer weather, and the smell of green grass is in our near future. It's a constant presence in our lives from April through October, and it's a chore that I've come to really enjoy during the daylight hours.  The late night watering, however, is a task my husband usually endures.  It's eerie and full of night-walking creatures, and sometimes it's spooky. But mainly it's just not fun to irrigate when you could be sleeping.

For years, my husband has completed the night irrigation shift with the help of our trusty dog, Boone.  In his prime, Boone was the perfect sidekick to have on a night mission.  When it's pitch-black outside, in the middle of nowhere, Boone will watch your "six".  He's indispensable for the night shift.  If he starts to put his hackles up and make a low pitched "woof", then there's a 99.9% chance that you will find some sort of undesirable critter nearby when you shine the flashlight around.  From snakes and skunks, to coyotes and packs of wild dogs, Boone has protected us and saved the day on countless occasions.  A good dog is worth his weight in gold!

That's why I got a little choked up last night when my husband had to go solo on his irrigation shift.  At 10:15pm,  my husband started putting on his irrigation boots, the prime signal to Boone that it's "go time".  He started to get excited because putting on boots at that time of night can only mean one thing...irrigation.  When duty calls, Boone is always the first to answer. He's loyal, hard working, and ready to protect, even if it's the 10:50pm-5:30 am shift.

But for the first time, my husband was too worried about him to take him along.  Boone's not getting up very well these days, and he's completely deaf.  His eyesight is failing him, and he has trouble keeping up when we walk through the pasture. My husband was nervous that he'd lose his way in the dark, and wouldn't be able to come to my husband when he called for him. Three quick whistles would call Boone right back to our feet in a matter of seconds, but these days, the sounds fall on deaf ears. It's heartbreaking to see my dog getting older.

I'm certain that in his mind, Boone still feels like a young pup, but he's downright flabbergasted as to why his body won't cooperate.  When he dreams, his paws move at the speed of lightening.  I just know that in his mind, he's running wild and free through the grass and hopping in the back of the pick-up truck.  In his dreams, he's taking his daily dip into the irrigation ditch, and chasing those pesky rabbits.  He's herding cattle, and looking for mice in the hay stack.

The reality is that Boone has been forced into retirement for his own good.  Most of the time, he just lays around the house and thinks of his glory days.  He follows me from room to room as I do my chores, and lounges under the kitchen table hoping for a scrap or two from the kids at meal time.  When I sit down in my rocking chair to read the newspaper, I see him perk up from across the room.  It takes him a full ten seconds to get his crippled hind legs up to standing position, but when he's up, he walks straight to my chair and nudges my arm with his wet nose in hopes of getting a scratch behind the ears. It's during those moments that I consider how blessed I am to have the love of a good dog.

We have to lift him into the back of the truck now, but he still has the occasional pleasure of feeling the wind in his jowls when we drive down the road.  I still take him to irrigate during the day, and now that the irrigation ditches have been converted to underground pipe, I don't have to worry about him getting stuck.  He still walks through the water in the fields, and shakes his wet fur with sheer friskiness.  Then he rolls on dead animals and manure piles to get that certain cow dog aroma that only comes from a life well lived.  The following day he'll be crippled up and sleep off the exhaustion next to the wood stove. But to Boone, the stiffness is a small price to pay for a few hours of excitement and adventure.

That's why he still waits eagerly at the door every time we put our boots on.

My husband gave him a scratch behind the ears last night as he put his hand on the door knob. Then he told him, "Not this time, Boone."

And my heart broke.

Thirty minutes later, I finally got up and coaxed Boone away from the front door where he was keeping vigil.

I said, "Come here Boone. Dad's gonna be gone for a few hours."

He shifted his eyes to avoid my gaze.  And then slowly, as if his will had been broken, he staggered up on all four feet and made his way back to the floor at the foot of the bed where he circled a few times.  He let out a long sigh of defeat as he gave in to his weariness and drifted off to sleep.

It's tough to watch my dog grow old, but I cherish every moment that we have with him.

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.” -Unknown


  1. I'm feeling a little teary and choked up right now! A good dog is so much a part of the family and it's heartbreaking watching them grow old.


  2. Thank you for your nice comments on my blog, you have a beautiful family. What a wonderful thing to also be blessed with such an intelligent 4 legged companion. You may already be doing this, but there are some great products on the market for arthritis in dogs. It's not a cure but it certainly makes these last years more comfortable for them. If you are not already on them ask your vet about phycox and rimadyl. This combination has helped countless older pets of my clients. Aspirin can also do wonders.

  3. I know how hard it is to watch them get older...and to lose them. They are such wonderful companions. This is a great tribute to your fur baby. :)

  4. I'm following a link from A Joyful Chaos (

    You describe the life of an old dog so well.

    Our dog is 13 now and although she still loves to go on bike rides with our daughter, we force her to go only every other day ( the other day she sleeps for 23 hours out of 24!to recover)

    Our last dog lived to the age of 17 so we are hoping for a few more years.

  5. my dog lived up to 23 and then we had to put her to sleep. then the male was 24 when he grew old and died of cancer then now we have there ashes in my room it has been 3 months since they died i still pray for them every night . I am now 17 am they were in my life since i was born they are pitbulls now i have a female that is preagnet with 13 puppies i am keeping 3 of them


  6. I know the feeling...My JRT is going to be 18 in January 2018 and he still has that glimmer in his eye, but his body just can't keep up...