"He didn’t mean it,” I’ve found myself saying at least a dozen times in the past several days.
Our family pet, the little bundle of fur we selected from a litter of puppies more than a dozen or so years ago, is now in his senior years.
I only need to look to the bandage on the back of my hand to realize this chronological fact.
Shelties are a sweet, loving breed known for always wanting to please their owners. As a matter of fact, we loved our first one so much that when the time came to invite another dog into our family, the decision was already made in our hearts. We love the breed as much as they seem to love us.
But earlier last week, he showed his age, and in an act of confusion and self-defense, nipped at my hand — taking a gash out of the back.
As of late, he’s getting slower in his motions, his hearing is not the same and according to the veterinarian, his eyes are now beginning to cloud (a common trait in the breed as they age).
As dog lovers, I’m sure we all share a deep love for our pets — allowing them into a place in our heart reserved for very few. Even scientists marvel at how and why humans and dogs connect in a nearly perfect relationship. In some odd, cosmic way, dogs become a part of our lives like no other.
That is why last week, when he nipped at me, deep down inside I understood.
I’d called to him to come to the front door so I could let him out that morning. After several calls, I went up the stairs to find him against the bed, acting a bit confused. I walked over to him, called again and reached down with my hand to get him to follow me.
Like I said earlier, dogs and their owners share a surprisingly intuitive relationship.
Reaching down, I noticed his normally attentive ears laying back and him leaning away from me as I approached. Something just did not feel right — and I knew it. Right then, as my mind began processing the signals and the lights and buzzers began going off in my mind, he lurched forward and bit the back of my hand.
Normally, when in pain, I’d react angrily — a somewhat natural reaction I’m sure. But in this instance, something unexpected happened: I felt sorry for him and what he’d done. I’ve known him from weeks after his birth, witnessed a lifetime of his actions and reactions to life around him; he was not being himself.
I calmly walked downstairs, dressed the wound and returned to him. I should’ve known better, I thought to myself. All the signs were there — the confusion, the odd reaction to my approach, the ears flat in a submissive, threatened position.
A few minutes later, I was back upstairs and this time he greeted me with slow, apologetic wagging of his tale as he approached. He knew he’d done something wrong, but didn’t know what or why. My friend, the one I’ve known all these years, however, was back from his temporary state of fog.
Later that day, I found the two of us sitting on the floor, my arm around him and he with his head on my lap. Quietly I told him I loved him and understood. Looking back up at me, his ears back in the normal position, he said all he could with his eyes.
I love him and will be by his side throughout the twilight of his years. After all, he’s my friend like no other.