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It's worth the wait

September 24th, 2004, 09:00 AM
It's worth the wait for an old friend to make it to the end of the dock

By Roy MacGregor
Friday, September 24, 2004

COLD LAKE, ONT. -- 'You will know when it's time." Fine, but how?

There is no expiry date on her that I can find, nothing at all to indicate shelf life apart from the obvious fact that she was clearly "best before" any of this came along.

There is no timely reminder in the mail, no message on the answering machine, no waiter discreetly laying her plastic card on the table and whispering that it is no longer considered "active."

She would take offence to that.

This is approximately the sixth time since May that we have come here together so she can spend her final days where she has always been happiest.

I carry her to the car, place her in a backseat specifically set up so she cannot fall off and get stuck anywhere -- and yet several times each drive I will have to stop and adjust her. One time it will be her back legs stuck between seat and door; another time she will be wedged headfirst between back seat and front seat.

She never says anything. Of course, it has been a year now since she last barked. Hard to believe, since it was always her wild, excited barking that announced we were here, the way others might hoist a flag.

What is totally mysterious is how this old dog, who cannot see, who cannot hear, still manages to wobble to her four feet when the car turns onto the long country road that leads in here, and how the panting that would have been described as "laboured" only hours earlier is now almost puppylike.

"You will know when it's time." They all say that. And surely, I thought when we headed out, this will be it.

There is a shovel leaning against the cabin. There is a place picked, back up in the bush by a huge rock that this mutt -- sort of "border-line collie" -- could once bounce onto in a single leap.

Now, however, she needs to be carried down the three small steps leading from the door to where she awkwardly does the required business and then needs carrying back up again.

I used to be baffled by stories such as the one about legendary hockey coach Roger Neilson pushing his old mutt around in a shopping cart because the dog could no longer walk and Roger could not do what needed to be done, but now I understand.

Fifteen years ago, when this mutt was a puppy, we bought a cage that resembled a shopping cart without wheels. The idea was to place the dog in it when we went out. The first time we tried it we came home and found all four kids inside the cage with the puppy happily bouncing off it as she tried to get at them.

They just didn't want to deal with her frenetic energy. Now they have trouble dealing with her lack of energy and are happy to carry her up and down the steps, more than willing to pick her up when she falls.

The end of a pet is one of the great curiosities of society. Within the family walls, it is devastating. One step beyond those walls it means little, two steps nothing.

I never expected her to last this long. She wouldn't make the May 24th weekend . . . she wouldn't make Canada Day . . . she wouldn't make Labour Day . . . now we say she won't make Thanksgiving.

But summer did not come to this part of the country until early fall -- just as the Sixties didn't reach Canada until some time in the early seventies -- and so here she still is, still sniffing around the pine needles, still heading instinctively down toward the water.

Only with such a difference. Whereas once it was full bore down the hill and off the end of the dock, now it might be slipping and rolling down the hill and falling in.

It helps to remember that this old dog -- now so skinny, now so helpless -- once was the talk of the lake as she was known to swim entirely across it if she heard children swimming and figured she better round them up and head them back to shore.

"You will know when it's time." I suppose this is true enough. We knew when it was time the last time this situation had to be faced.

The lake is remarkably calm, unlike the man standing at the end of the dock wondering what to do, and when to do it.

The old dog is at the steps, determined.

She locks the back legs that no longer seem to work and hops once, slipping but holding, hops again and is down on her own, blindly heading into a world of a thousand nasal delights.

There is, perhaps unintentional, also a slight hop to her step.

And perhaps the man at the end of the dock misreads it.

But so what?

It is not time yet.

Not yet.

September 24th, 2004, 10:27 AM touching....and I think we can all relate. :(