By Mark Reese
Summertime is a time for birthday celebrations around our household, especially in the month of August. My birthday falls on August 4, Patti’s is on August 9, and another celebration – our anniversary- is on August 17. Our family of English setters also chime in on the birthday celebrations. Danny Boy and Choo Choo were born on the August 9 date of Patti. Jenny hit the ground in August, and Red was close in late July. Only Champ and Lucky were born in the fall and winter. But there is no doubt about it, we are all growing older. Researching the conversion of a dog’s age to humans led me to a chart from Pedigree Dog Nutrition that breaks down a dog’s age by breed. Accordingly, Champ, who is now somewhat retired is 96. Jenny comes in at a healthy 89. Danny Boy and Choo Choo just turned 75. Red is still considered a senior at 54 and Lucky a young adult at 33. It’s probably time for a new youngster, but six is all we can handle at the present.
Still, we are all active and healthy. With many hunting stories and adventures behind us, we are anticipating more. Even Champ occasionally loves to hobble along on a short hunt. Time is taking its toll, though, as none of us are as fast or nimble as we used to be. Lucky is the exception because his boundless exuberance still shows.
What has not faded in any of my canine companions is their heart. This is a difficult concept to explain but when you see it you know it. Their “never give up attitude” keeps me going, moving, and climbing as well. The sincerity of purpose they display in the never-ending drive they possess charges my batteries as well.
The bond between the master and his hunting companions is unique. It is a relationship that must be experienced to be understood, but I do know that this relationship and my dogs have changed my life. My youngest dog, Lucky, was so named because a hunting companion of mine stated that any dog that I had was lucky to have me as the owner, but this is not true.
The lucky person is me as I have been blessed with many such companions over the years. And as my present brood ages, I have been enriched by their love and devotion as they anxiously await the next greeting as I step out the door each day.
I came across a computer post from Donna Swajeski that sums up what these aging companions mean to all of us:
Take joy in old dogs.
Their joys are simple. A soft bed. A scrap fallen from the table that the younger dogs missed. The memory of a treed squirrel. A stormless night.
White whiskered faces and legs crooked as question marks.
Old Dogs….their sweet Buddha bellies hang over crossed legs as they fall asleep in a coveted patch of sun. Dreaming of out-racing their shadows down long, shady lanes.
Once they danced by your side. The very definition of joy unleashed. A perfect poem caught in shining eyes and wagging tails. They have followed you faithfully for years. And would plunge into fires, untamed wildernesses, raging waters if you asked.
Now, they struggle to catch up. Their pace slow but their hearts still valiant. Their cloudy eyes are starting to dim and go distant, tuning in to some invisible world. Just beyond your reach.
Don’t go you say, as you scratch the tender part between their ears. Stay longer. I can’t imagine a world without your fur pressed close to my cheek. There are still so many roads we haven’t explored.
And they look up at you with a wisdom that just slays you.
Their backs are bent, not from the weight of years, but from the invisible wings they are growing. That will soon take them to a place where once more they are warriors of speed. Drunk with the sights and scents of a thousand meadows. Able to leap high enough to touch the wing of the tiniest butterfly.
A place where they will now wait for you to catch up.
I don’t know what the future holds, no one does. But I do know that I want the future to hold a faithful hunting companion by my side when we take that final hunt together.