By Jill LaCross
Daisy the Brittany turned 13 on March 26, just a few days after the calendar announced it was spring. Looking outside at the northern Michigan landscape, however, it was anything but. Jack Frost and Father Winter decided to stay a little longer this year, and the ground remained covered and the wind a biting chill. The sun came through on a few days, temporarily warming the air and giving us hope that warmer weather was on the way.
Last weekend was the first nice weekend: 70 degrees, sunny, a slight breeze. We spent nearly all day on Saturday outside getting things done around the house, our first home together. The only thing missing is a dog. But that day we got a taste of having a dog around when my parents brought over old Daisy, the dog they inherited when I started college, to enjoy the sunshine and to frolic through the fields where new grass hasn’t yet had a chance to start growing.
Daisy is on life’s downhill slope, which, though not evident much by her looks, is evident in the health problems that ail her – health problems that only old dogs, if they’re lucky to reach old age, acquire. Her hearing is almost gone, and so, too, her eyesight. Her back legs, which were never the most stable, now collapse at times in random fashion. She has what the vet calls “Doggy Alzheimer’s” – she stands by the door to be let outside, goes outside, and then stands out there for a moment before turning around to come back, like she forgot why she was out there. But the most disconcerting thing of all recently has been her breathing: shallow, labored with the slightest exertion. She’s restless, too, like she can’t decide if she want so be by people or not, outside or not. The only way I got her to calm down was to sit on the floor and let her flop next to me and stroke her head and body. She gave me a happy grin only old dogs can give.
Spring is a season of new life, as we commonly view it. It’s a season of fresh and increased vitality. It’s a struggle to see an old dog struggling in this season of growth, knowing that she will probably not make it to her favorite time of year: the autumn. We knew last fall that she was declining, so my dad took her out a few times more than usual, sometimes with the gun and sometimes without. I went along. Daisy was alert and did not have trouble breathing like she does now, driven by the only sense that hasn’t seemed to deteriorate, smell, which is what a good pointing dog uses anyway.
Still, she couldn’t go as long as we hoped, and she slept the rest of the day in cheerful bliss remembering, I’m sure, the day and days before when she was out in the field. Whenever a dog dreams, we always venture to explain that it must be about something pleasant, “She’s chasing a squirrel. He’s in the field. She’s digging for her bone.” In dreams, I imagine that a dog is in her prime, the points are plentiful, the hunter never misses, and the body never grows weary.
So as I guided her with a lead down the hill – she couldn’t hear or see me well enough to follow, and it was a strange environment – to the two-track heading into the heart of the property, I felt a little glum at the sight of her. But her exuberance once we reached the trailhead, how she knew we were in the woods again, was so puppy-like that I laughed and smiled. That is how she will be like when we meet in my dreams… and maybe I’ll be able to hit a gamebird for her instead of only air.