We were working on the new retaining wall the other day. Prior to laying the new wall I had stacked the blocks in that dirt area just in front. I completely forgot that it's the place where my dog, Trooper, likes to lay. As soon as the last block was placed, he was quick to reclaim his spot. The dirt is cool and soft. It's a place he knows well, having lived here his entire life. He's comfortable and contented.
Trooper is a good dog. That is to say he's a near perfect dog, I just lack the wit to properly appreciate him.
What a dog. I love him fiercely and I'm not a bit ashamed to admit that.
I held this life in my hands when he was only 5 days old. We were meant to be together.
In 1995 I decided I wanted another Labrador Retriever. I grew up with them and had a powerful urge for another. Lu did the legwork and found a breeder a couple of hours away. We drove out to meet them and their dogs. I was escorted to a dirt area next to the kennels and the breeder opened a door. Out flooded a wave of black, chocolate and yellow puppies, their bodies wriggling with happiness at meeting someone new. They swarmed around my feet, lapping against my ankles in a deluge of Labrador joy. Shoes were chewed, strings fought and petting was demanded. I was in heaven.
Then he took me to the whelping box where I met one of the sweetest creatures God ever put on this earth. Sister.
Sister was a Black Lab, an absolute joy. I loved her instantly and knew I had to have one of her puppies. Lu was completely surprised. She expected me to take a puppy home that day. But I was hooked and God had a different plan in store for me.
Now, when one buys a purebred puppy from a reputable breeder it's first come first served. Johnny on the spot gets first dibs and so it goes until all potential picks are spoken for. Sister was bred with a Chocolate Lab so she was likely to have a more or less 50/50 split between black and chocolate. I was late to the party. Most of the likely pups had already been spoken for, both colors, down to third and even fourth pick. With one notable exception. That late in the game I got first choice black male. Sister gave birth to exactly 1 black male. Trooper. We were meant to be together. It was God's gift to me, one have never been worthy of.
Trooper was born to Sister on November 30th, 1995. The breeder called me to let me know and 5 days later I was there, standing beside the whelping box and gazing at my new friend. The breeder lifted him up and carefully placed him in my hands. I cradled that tiny form against my chest. He silently mewled and then snuggled in like he had always known me and was just wondering where I'd been.
I brought Trooper home 44 days later. I carried him out to the truck for his ride to his new home. He was fat and soft and warm in my arms. I placed him on the seat next to me and he snuggled against my leg. I put my hand down and he immediately put his head in my palm and went to sleep, somehow secure in the knowledge that this was where he belonged.
With the exception of a few days here and there when I was out of town for training, we've been together every day since. Our lives entertwined. We learned from each other. I taught him what every good dog needs to know. Good behavior, fetch, hand, voice and whistle commands. He taught me patience, kindness, dignity and the joy in simple pleasures. He got the short end of the stick.
We hunted together, slept together, traveled together and learned together. He has been my constant companion. He has one last thing he's teaching me.
He's old and grey now, mostly blind and almost completely deaf. His left hip was replaced a couple of years ago and sometimes he limps a little. He takes medicine for his thyroid and bad allergies. He sleeps most of the time. His legs twitch in dream chases, his flews blow as he softly barks in delight at some doggie fantasy. But he's still alive. We can still go for walks. Still take rides in the truck. He still loves his nightly treats and having his tummy scratched at bedtime. He still greets me with manic enthusiasm at the end of my work day. He still knows when It's been a bad one and I need him to just love me. He still sleeps at my feet when I sit down to write. He still wants to be near me whenever I'm home. He's still my dog and that's all he's ever wanted to be.
As I watch as Trooper ages and gets ever closer to the Rainbow Bridge, I am reminded that I too am aging and drawing ever closer to the end of my time here. I'm not as fast or as strong as I was. I can't work as hard or as long as I used to. My body aches with old injuries. My youth is behind me and my elder days ahead.
But Trooper does not know that he is getting old. He still thinks like the happy, boisterous, clownish puppy he was. He makes no excuses and never misses an opportunity to have a little fun. He possesses a comic dignity that only another Lab lover can truly understand. He is content in being what he is and to let the world find it's own way. As long as we're together.
And that is his final lesson to me. I will not acknowledge my approaching infirmities. I will not let them get purchase on my soul, whatever they may do to my body. My body may age but I won't.
I will love each day and approach it without fear or regrets. I will celebrate and laugh and find joy in the small things. I will live what life remains me as fully as I can. Come what may. I will ride my bicycle. I will go on that pheasant hunt I've always dreamed of. I will kiss my wife. I will tell my child and grandchildren that I love them.
I will scratch my dogs belly.
I owe it to Trooper.