Tag Archives: old dogs

Hairway to Heaven

There’s barely enough room for the two of us, woman and dog, in the shower.  I kneel on a hand towel which blocks the drain.  Ruby sits and leans against the wall while I work to adjust the water temperature and soak her with the hand-held shower head.

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Golden Retriever hair lays flat and repels water like Goretex, which keeps the dog warm in the 50F degree waters of Puget Sound, but it is near impossible to get wet in a human shower.  I have to pull it sideways to find any skin.  Ruby loves it.  She may be twelve-and-a-half, but it’s me who’s getting too old for this.

My hip is already starting to protest, and I keep bumping the water handle from freezing to scalding hot lava.

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It’s been almost five weeks since I bathed the dog, and that’s not because she struggles or gives me any grief.  She freely walks into the shower when I have everything ready, or think I do.

“Sweetheart!”  My voice echoes around the walls and over the top of the shower door, out of the bathroom and through the den into the living room where the Bearded One lays towels on the floor and readies the hair dryer next to the rocker.  “I forgot the little white ear rag!”  I have to trust that he can hear me since I can’t hear anything with the water running.

Ruby cringes.  My voice is loud and Ruby is close to deaf, but she can feel my agitation. This is supposed to be a time of comforting, not a chore to endure. She’s been off her food for a couple of days, and this morning she turned down cat treats.  Even Garfield has noticed and has taken to following us on walks, at least for a quarter mile or so, herding Ruby.  This could be her last bath, I think.  She is slowing down.

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“One soft little white rag,” the Bearded One says and drops the tattered cloth over the top of the shower door.

“Thank you,” I say tightly.  Then I reach up to turn off the water.  My knees press into the drain as I slide Ruby’s fifty-five pounds of hunkered-down dog around like a bean-bag chair.  I can just reach the shampoo.

It’s a new bottle and I can’t grip the slippery teeney tiny tab on the safety seal to open it.  “Honey!” I yell.  “Please help me get this DAMN shampoo open!”

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The shower door opens a couple of inches and I hand the bottle out.  The Bearded One hands it back, opened.  Surely he must notice how pathetic we look, old, deaf, soaking wet and sitting in the swirl.  The door closes and I massage a handful of shampoo into Ruby’s hair.

Then the Bearded One walks back into the bathroom.  I can just see a shadow of him through the textured glass door.  He’s carrying something, and he appears to be sitting down on the toilet seat with it.

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There’s a lay-dee who’s sure….

He plucks his guitar, the first six notes of “Stairway to Heaven,” which he is learning to play and knows that I love.  He plays the little intro again — it is all that he knows so far — and I laugh and shiver with delight — and then he moves on to his usual repertoire starting with his own masterpiece, “How I Miss You Baby.”

Ruby can’t hear it, but she gets the pleasure through my hands.  I gently scoop wax from her ears as I listen.  I massage her old body and she leans into my naked belly.  I focus hard on trying to make her feel good.  “All that glit-ters is gold,” I sing softly, “and she’s buyyyyying a staaaairway to heaaaaven.”

Then, after I finish and the Bearded One towels her off, she trots out the open front door and down her own stairway,

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and into the backyard to roll happily in the brown grass like a puppy.

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The Dogsology

Ruby starts a nervous rhythmic licking in her bed, which is right next to the couch where I read.  Lick lick lick lick lick, her tongue shoots out like a snake.  Air licks.  Very loud.  She’s a mostly deaf twelve-year-old Golden Retriever and she can’t help starting these tics.  But she can stop.  I just have to catch her eye.

It’s early and she’s nowhere near ready to get up.  She usually stays in bed until the tens, and then when I’m cooking and the Bearded One is reading the newspaper, she peeks out from her bed under the stairs and rises.  It’s the same most every day — a ritual.  Front paws extended, she stretches, then the back legs.  Then she shakes.  “It’s Miss Ruby!” sings out the Bearded One.

But that’s still hours away.  Now she’s in a sleepy trance that I hope I can break without getting up, dang it.  Lick lick lick…

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“Ruby!” I whisper-hiss, because the Bearded One and His Majesty are still sleeping, and then I start waving.  I know she can’t hear, but I say her name anyway.  I wave wildly.  Sign language is the way in, but her eyes are getting a little cloudy lately and movement really helps get her attention.

Most every morning, after the Bearded One officially greets Ruby, she wags her tail vigorously (she adores the Bearded One) and walks over to the couch where I now sit, and where we congregate for the singing of the ritual morning song.

Good Morning to You!
Good Morning to You!
We’re all in our places
With sun-shiney faces
And this is the waaaaaaaayyy
Ruby starts a new day.
Ahhhhh — MEN.
 
Both the Bearded One and I were raised in Protestant Christian churches where we all sang a prayer song called the Doxology, so, of course, we call this morning ceremony the Dogsology.

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We pet Ruby vigorously as we sing.  It’s a love fest.

Garfield recognizes a good thing when he sees it and wants in.  He’s usually back in bed by ten, but he gets up and comes running.  It’s very rewarding.

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His Majesty, our 22-year-old son, he who is building a new back deck, likes to attend as well.  And this past weekend our daughter the nurse was here and she sang along and then said, “You guys are religious!”

The Bearded One and I both laughed at her word choice — we haven’t been any religion for decades and didn’t raise the kids in one.  We’re not religious, we’re just getting older, like Ruby, and appreciate a good ritual.

Ruby has finally spotted my wild waving and, in shock, has momentarily stopped licking.  We are almost there.

I point my index finger at her with authority.  “NO LICKING,” I whisper loudly.  I shake my finger and lead her to focus on my scowling face and register the seriousness of the issue.  I have her attention.  Now to connect it to the licking, or at least break the pattern.

She stares at me.  And licks.  I shake my finger.  She licks again.  And again.

Her huge ears are cocked up and she looks downright precious as she tries to figure it out.

I shake my finger and point at her tongue.  I scowl.  I send the message telepathically — NO LICKING.  YOU ARE DRIVING ME INSANE.

I love this dog.  She isn’t cuddly like her brother Jake was, but she is an endearing collector of gloves and shoes and chunks of wood, all of which she piles up in special spots around the back yard.  This week she carried one of the Bearded One’s flops out of the man cave den, back through the living room in plain sight of us in the kitchen, and out the screen door.  We were howling with laughter.

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After dinner we found it near the sweet pea teepee, which I just fertilized with fish fertilizer, a smell that could rouse Jake from the grave to dig and roll in.  I’m sure Ruby noticed, but I’m equally sure she resisted the temptation.  She’s old and knows better.  Heck, she even knows she’s not allowed in any garden.  I’ll miss this when she’s gone and we have to train a new dog.

I hope that’s still a couple of years away.

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