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Empathy for an Aging Puppy

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One of the ways that time has crept up on me is evident in my dog. He has a puppy’s face, and it seems not long ago at all that we drove to a distant kennel on my son’s seventh birthday to pick up our Beagle/Russell mix because, I am slightly ashamed to admit, he was on sale. Dogs of his ilk can be quite expensive, but little Simon was already six months old, so he was marked down.

Destiny came in the form of my frugality, but we ended up with a very cute and likeable doggie. I always think of him as young because of his baby face, but a few months ago I noticed that he was limping. When I took him to the vet, she felt his little bowed legs gingerly and then nodded. “He’s beginning to show signs of crepitus,” she said.

Crepitus? This was a particularly horrible-sounding diagnosis that somehow made me think of crumbling, disintegration—an unfortunate blend of “creepy,” “crap,” and “decrepit.” Instead, it is the grinding of joints against one another when cartilage has worn away. This was bad news for my beagle.

The vet recommended that I start giving my limpy friend glucosamine—human or dog form would be fine. Ironically I already had a bottle on hand for my own aging joints, so now Simon and I take the same pills. They work surprisingly well—his limping has decreased greatly—but now that I’ve been introduced to crepitus I know that age lurks in him, and his other signs of decay seem more apparent to me: longer naps, less spritely running in the yard, less chasing of squirrels. It’s sad, when I contemplate his recent puppyhood, to think that he’s suddenly an old man.

One of my favorite Robert Frost couplets is apropos now:

“The old dog barks backward without getting up;
I can remember when he was a pup.”

Simon still has some mischief in his system, and his cute face will always make him look like a cross between Snoopy and Eddie from Frasier; but now I know that I have to keep an eye on his limbs and be careful about his medicines, and that I shouldn’t rush him up or down the stairs. He’s older now, and he needs to take his time.

Perhaps I am extra sympathetic to his plight because it is my plight, as well. I empathize with him every time he wobbles, and when he nestles in his basket and lets out an exhausted sigh, I understand that, too. We are two of a kind; we are the crepitus twins. But I like to think that we both have some prime years ahead of us.

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About Julia Buckley