Life lessons from an old dog
"Are you sure you want to go down this hill? I don't think you'll be able to make it back up."
The 13 year old golden retriever was dead set on going down this hill. Not having the heart to drag him back home, I proceeded to follow him. After a few minutes of walking, I decided to turn back. I didn't know if he would be physically able to make it back up, and I didn't want to carry this 70 pound animal up a steep slope. Sure enough, he stopped and was didn't want to turn back.
His owners told me that this might happen. Their large home in Riverdale was on top of a large hill, and there were a few set of steps that you had to climb to get to the front door. There was a patch of grass on the second set of steps, and the owners rarely walked him further than that. He was sometimes unable to walk back up if he went all the way down. He usually did his business and went back home. I was told I could choose between giving a longer walk or just a quick relief walk, but if he was out for too long there's the risk of him stopping and not wanting to walk any more.
The owners were going to be out of town for a while. Their niece was going to stay at the apartment for most of the time, so they only needed me for one walk. I figured that the niece wasn't going to give the dog much outside time, so I decided to let the dog decide how long we would walk. Immediately energized, he passed his usual bathroom spot and proceeded down the stairs. We walked for a little while on the flat street, then reached the hill. It was fairly steep for a paved road; I've seen truck drivers go down it very slowly to avoid losing control of the vehicle.
He was excited to go in the direction of the hill. When we reached it, I hesitated for second before allowing him to lead us. We walked down for a while, then I decided to turn back. It was hot, the dog was heavy and furry; carrying him back up would be unpleasant. He didn't want to turn back around, so I waited. His eyes were closed and his nose was twitching. As we stood there, I realized we could feel the breeze. He must have been experiencing a magnitude of scents that my human nose couldn't begin to register. I could hear birds chirping, the wind blowing through the trees; the sound of trains in the distance. I could feel the sun and the wind on my face.
It's so rare that I leave the city, and I forget the world isn't one big deadline. This dog's mobility was limited, but he found a way to get the most out of life. He couldn't go to the scents, but he allowed them to come to him. I have no idea what was going through his mind, but I don't think he was thinking about how he couldn't chase the squirrels any more, how he couldn't walk and run and play the way he used to. I doubt he realized that 13 is old for a large dog, that his time here is limited. He was caught up in the moment, and now I was too.
The wind eventually died down, and the dog got bored with standing in one place. We turned around and walked home.