Posted by: highmountainmuse | March 1, 2009

The old dog

Bob and Alan on a snowshoe, Bob and I now pack the track for Alan.

Bob and Alan on a snowshoe, Bob and I now pack the track for Alan.

His muzzle is quite silver now, a sign of dignity, I like to say. And getting up isn’t quite as easy as it once was. But he’s still out there every day doing his morning rounds, still takes care of his family and his duties around the ranch just fine. Only a little slower now than he used to be.  

 

(Bob scratches his graying beard and asks me if I’m writing about him.  No, I tell him, this is about Alan, our family dog.  I can’t say I think Bob is slowing down yet, though I’ll admit, that beard is getting quite dignified.)

 

His days of keeping up with us effortlessly on a 30 mile day horseback ride are past, but last summer he managed the 6 milers we regularly do to get to our camp pretty well.  And this year, I’m sure he’ll do the same.  He knows it beats being left home. Like all dogs worth their weight in gold, as so many are, being with us always outweighs being left behind.  No matter how hard on the old joints.

A portrait of Alan Shepherd taken last September by Patrick Hall

A portrait of Alan Shepherd taken last September by Patrick Hall

My first adopted Shepherd came to me from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.  He was probably 7 years old at the time and had a rough life. He had been severely beaten, and after 12 days in the shelter on medication and treatments, the kind folks who worked there were losing hope that the right sucker would find him.  But I did.  His “resume” claimed he was not house broken, he ran away, he could not be trusted off leash, etc.

 

I stepped into his caged cell and he looked at me with his one eye (the other lost in his days of abuse), sat down, and gave me a paw.  Yes, love at first site.  He came home with me that day.  Home was a 1966 Volkswagen Microvan.  The first night “home” I sat on the steps of the van with Zorg on leash.  No one was around.  I unhooked his leash and instantly, wouldn’t you know, the dog took off at run, clear to the other side of the parking lot he ran, and then… stopped.  And turned around.  And walked back to me.  And that’s pretty much how it was for the next 7 years of Zorg’s life.  Where I was, he was, or very close behind.  And when he was too old to keep up with me, he’d sit in the middle of the hill between my cabin, the barn and the office, and watch me all day with that one good eye, up the hill, down the hill, up the hill, down the hill…

 

When I lost him, I was a wreck.  I thought I’d “get over it.”  But after a month I was still crying every day.  I know you can not replace a loved one, but you can fill the empty space in your day, if not in your heart. And so I contacted the German Shepherd Rescue Society to find me that filler.  Now here’s a funny twist. I lived on a big, beautiful ranch and have a life whereby I can be with my dog by my side just about 24/7.  I rarely go to town or take vacation or any such things were my canine companion can not be with me.  Pretty good life for a dog, you’d think.  But the Rescue Society said that without the requirements of a fenced yard, they could not allow me to adopt.  Hmmm…

 

And here’s the strange but pretty neat part: A few days later, I received a phone call from a taxi driver in Los Angeles. That was about 11 or 12 hours from the ranch I was living at.  He said he was a foster parent, and had just the dog for me. Someone from the German Shepherd Rescue had passed on my name and number. He said this was the one, the dog needed me, he’d be perfect in my life, and told me the dog’s name was Alan. His one request was that I keep the name.  No problem.

 

Sometimes, you just have to not ask questions, but believe.  I believed.  And made arrangements to have the probably four year old dog that had been abandoned on the streets of LA delivered up to Doggie Paradise.

 

Ha!  Paradise found for that dog, but lost for me.  From the minute he walked into my home, he bit one of our cats who rubbed up against him thinking it was her old Zorg.  The next day I had to stop him from chasing our foals all over the pasture. I could go on, but you get the picture.  It wasn’t pretty.

 

So, on a leash I kept that dog for an entire month.  On leash as we brought in the milk cow and he had to learn to sit beside me as I milked.  On a leash as we herded in the sheep at night or let out the chickens in the morning.  On a leash even in the house so that he couldn’t chase the cats.

 

Somewhere I have a photo of this dog, Alan Shepherd, one month after arriving to our ranch.  He’s sitting on the sofa, no leash, and one of the cats in on the sofa near him.  Yes, he learned.  It was a bummer of a month, but it was worth it. He learned to put up with a couple of cats, to work with horses and cattle, to help heard in the sheep and goats, to calmly walk into the chicken coop and inspect for predators, and not to jump onto the kitchen counter to eat Forrest’s birthday cake or any food not offered to him, for that matter.

 

That was I suppose nine years ago. He’s an old hand with ranch work now.  I bet he’s glad I don’t make him herd the cows any more.  Last time he tried to do that the old cow with the big horns tossed him into the air like a foot ball, and he landed with a big OOOOOFF! as the air got knocked out of him.

 

He’s not Zorg.  He’s his own dog.  His job extends farther than looking after me.  He has the boys to take care of, and the ranch to oversee.  So he often would rather stay home on the front porch than follow me on a ride or snowshoe.  Unless all three of us go, of course, and then he acts like a puppy, gets all frisky, and can’t wait to hit the trail. I let him make up his own mind.  He chose his job, does it well, and I respect him for it.

 

Now, joining us on the trails is not so much him watching out for us, though we don’t tell him that.  More often than not, we have to look out for him, both horseback and in the snow.  The deep white winters are tough on him, but we know how to help him out, and he accepts our help.  This means he now walks behind us and lets us pack the trail for him.  It’s his position of honor.  I hope he feels that way.

Bob and Alan following Forrest's tracks - Forrest saves the day!

Bob and Alan following Forrest's tracks - Forrest saves the day!

Yesterday the snow conditions, always changing, always different, were such that Bob and I stayed atop well enough with our snowshoes, but Alan post holed in with each step, down about 18 inches, and had to fight to not only stay on top, but to advance.  We stopped and debated turning back. This was too hard on the old dog.  But Bob reached into his pocket and pulled out a handy dandy walkie talkie (our version of a cell phone) and called Forrest. Forrest to the rescue – he came on snowmobile, packed a track for us, and Alan was one mighty grateful dog.

 

Growing old has it’s ups and downs, but we have to help each other out. I’m pretty sure Alan doesn’t mind the receiving, and we sure don’t mind the giving.  Another up and down is going deaf, as Alan now is. It’s harder to keep up with his job, but easier to get in a good nap.

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Responses

  1. Oh, the lessons we could learn if we but listened to our animal teachers. Graceful aging, where better to learn than from a wise old dog?
    Or maybe that is just what I’m seeing from this vantage point of “dignity” myself…..

    Cyndee

  2. IN A EARLIER RESPONSE I TOLD YOU I HAD LOST MY DAUGHTER AND MY DOG . THE DOG WAS LAST . WITH BOTH HAPPENING SO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER I WAS A WRECK . I GOT SO SICK I HAD TO GO TO THE DOCTOR . PILLS DIDNT HELP. ON THE SECOND VISIT HIS NURSE SAID SHE COULD HELP SOME . SHE KNEW WHAT MY REAL SICKNESS WAS . SHE HAD JUST GOTTEN MARRIED AND THE MOVED INTO A APT THAT DID NOT ALLOW DOGS . SHE HAD A 2 YEAR OLD LITTLE DOG OF WHO KNOWS WHAT MIX THAT WAS ABOUT 8 LBS IT WAS AT A FRIENDS HOUSE THAT HAD DOGS . I TOLD HER BRING HER OVER . SHE BROUGHT OVER A LITTLE WHITE MUTT THAT DIDNT WEIGH 5 LBS AND WAS A MESS . THE OTHER DOGS WOULD NOT LET HER EAT . AFTER A GOOD BATH A TRIMMING AND A LOT OF FOOD . I HAD A NEW BABY . I CAN NOT MOVE WITHOUT HER 6 IN BEHIND . MY CHAIR IS NO LONGER MINE ALONE AND THE OUTER EDGE OF THE BED ONLY NEEDS4 INCHES ROOM . SHE HAS TO SLEEP TOUCHING ME .I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN BY LOOSING A FRIEND AND FINDING A NEW ONE .THE ONLY BAD PART IS SOME DAY THEY WILL BE GONE .JUST DONT THINK OF IT ENJOY TODAY . BY THE WAY AFTER GETTING MY NEW FRIEND NO MORE PILLS AND DOCTORS .MAYBE THERE REALY IS A HIGHER POWER IN THE APPERANCE OF A GOOD DOG .SORRY TO RAMBLE ON BUT SOMETIMES YOU WANT TO SHARE  A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WITH SOMEONE .\AS YOUDO SO WELL .THANK YOU FOR LISTENING

  3. Cyndee: There’s a friend of mine, Dick Sederquist, who was a “guest writer” last month and added a poem. In his book of his experiences snowshoeing, he talks of now having his son pack the tracks for him… now that he’s earned that position of dignity!
    When I was a teen I moved to a small town in France for a year, lived and worked with a family. Could not believe the respect they had for their elders, and felt even back then that no doubt, that was the way to treat our elders, and hopefully have the chance to grow old!
    Thought of one more “Alan Story” – his following our ride together last summer when upon returning he could barely get back up. He hasn’t been that sore since, thank goodness.

  4. Don, you can ramble any time – please do – I love your stories and relate so well.
    Though I’m pretty sure this one is going to bring some tears to Karen’s eyes…

  5. What a beautiful tribute to both your skill with animals and that wonderful breed of dog. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Gosh, what a beautiful tribute to Alan. I’m so pleased I stumbled upon your blog today, at this moment. Thank you and bless you for giving Alan such a full life.

  7. Don, I am thrilled to hear that you have a new friend. It sounds like she needs you as much as you need her. God has amazing ways of showing us his love. I mean, if he knows when a sparrow falls, he certainly knows our needs. I think this little dog was part of the plan way back when. Love her up good and you are so right when you say to enjoy today. I think if we could all be more like our animals and live in the moment, we would all be a lot happier. Congratulations on your new partner! You best not be spoiling her too much, okay? What? Too late? Good for you!!!

  8. I enjoyed reading about Alan. It hits home with my own bond with the cats who let me live with them here. My tabby has decided to go out on a journey and it’s driving me nuts. Miss him terribly. He’s my companion and such a sweet member of our family.

    Thank you for the encouragement. It was a treat to be found by someone who’s living life so fully and sharing it so beautifully here. Glad to have another great blog to visit. Peace…

  9. Diane, I hope this reply finds you – thank you for finding this site. It is I who has been lucky to have Alan!

    I also took a peek at your site, and my goodness, what wonderful photography!

  10. Morning Gin! Just enjoying my coffee break with you 🙂 I’ve loved and lost an old dog too. They take a little piece of you with them I think. We will get another dog one day but for now I’ll just enjoy yours. It’s so lovely to see your dogs working and having all that freedom, I bet they’d hate being on a leash!

  11. Hi Mrs. Twiddle – your mornings come much earlier than mine. It is still dark as I sit here and write!
    I’m sorry about the loss of your dog. I guess I believe the right ones find us when then need us.
    And yes, I felt rediculous leading Alan all over the ranch on a LEASH, but it worked. We almost never have to use one one. When I took him to the vet last month (his first vet visit in nine years) we didn’t have a leash and had to use a string. It was pretty much just for decoration so that the folks in the vet office wouldn’t worry.

  12. Gin, I always love reading your animal stories…obviously a lot of us do. Our pets…no, not pets, fuzzy family members, reach into a place in our hearts where humans can’t usually touch. True animals lovers always get another fuzzy family member after the loss of one but we do it knowing they will be their own little “person” and have their own little (or in my case BIG) personality. I want to share a verse that got me through the days after I lost my first dog, Nikki. I hope it will help others when they need it:

    “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” Lamentations 3:22-23

  13. […] not think I would use it.  But since I’m the one who wakes in the middle of the night to let out our old dog, Alan, the dog door was, in a way, a gift to allow me to sleep through the night. You see, when it’s 10 […]

  14. […] the story about Alan and the dog door?  Well we’re going on four months now, and he still has not had to wake me up in the middle of […]


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