Learning New Tricks From My Old Dog

My canine daughter, Jessie, is turning 11 in November. According to the American Kennel Club this makes her about 70 years old in human years. She looks great for a senior and gets compliments all the time. But I’ve definitely noticed some changes.

Jessie is slowing down. We used to spend delicious hours in the school yard playing tennis. I’d bring a racquet and whip the ball across the yard. Only when she lay down panting in the grass from exhaustion (but always up for one more chase) would we head home.

She can’t chase the ball like that anymore, or rather we can’t let her. After invasive surgeries on each leg we have had to substitute a tame game of “catch” for fetching a ball from afar. She keeps looking at me hopefully, with those big expressive brown eyes, that we’ll return to our old games. Sadly those days are over.

The change that has been harder to accept than her physical limitations is that I am no longer her favourite. Ever since Jake moved back to Toronto, he is. Jessie used to sleep at the foot of our bed every night. She would hop up in the morning for a long cuddle. Now, she often sleeps in the hallway outside Jake’s room. In the morning, she stares at Jake’s closed door and growls until she is let in. She can’t wait to hop up on his bed for morning cuddles.

Jessie still loves to come to the school and the park with me. Except when Jake is home. A few nights ago, she was dying to go out (it’s easy to tell because her non-verbal IQ is off-the-charts). I put her leash on and we headed down the front steps. I pulled her in one direction on the sidewalk and then the other. She refused to budge either way. At 70+ pounds, I can’t move her when she’s put all her weight on her back haunches even though I’ve been religiously lifting weights.

Jessie stared at our front door looking distressed, like she was being kidnapped. “Damn it, Jessie. You are being a very stubborn old girl,” I admonished. I knew she was looking for Jake. I storm into the house and tell Jake he has to take over. Jake comes outside, takes Jessie’s leash — and she trots off contentedly without protest.

I know it’s probably bad mommy behaviour to be in competition with my eldest for Jessie’s affection. But have I ever claimed to be a role model for maternal maturity? No. So, I’ve spent the last fifteen minutes googling with search terms like, “how to become dog’s favourite.” The puzzling news is that I’m doing everything right. For instance, I was the one who was there for Jessie in her most formative months – the kids were in middle school and I had a home office. I also “treat” her well with tummy rubs and liver treats. And did I mention that her trip to the salon costs double what I pay to get my hair cut? That’s the sort of self-sacrifice I have made for my dog.

While it does sting that Jessie clearly favours Jake, I admire how she can assert herself in an unapologetic way in her old age. She doesn’t pretend that she loves us equally. She spends time with whomever she wants to spend time with, and doesn’t seem to demonstrate any feelings of guilt. My canine daughter is transparent in her affection. She devotes her time and energy honestly.

Isn’t that a good lesson for the rest of us?

P.S. One of my first posts was about how I couldn’t compete with Jessie for John’s affection. You can read that story here.

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