Someone dumped two mixed black lab puppies in the alley behind our house. They created a makeshift pen by wedging two rolling trash bins against our fence, keeping the pups contained until we heard the yelps. That was almost 13 years ago. We found a loving home for the female puppy, now named Flynn. But we fell in love with the male puppy and named him Albert, despite our hesitation to add a fourth rescued animal to our menagerie.
In his lifetime, Albert has eaten an entire spinach quiche, two raw hamburgers, a feeder full of birdseed, at least three Easter baskets' worth of candy, a Barbie, an advent calendar, a TV remote, and enough cat food to fell a tiger. This is a partial list, mind you. Only the birdseed upset his stomach.
Albert dislikes other dogs to an embarrassing degree and occasionally forgets he's housetrained. He's never shown a hint of aggression toward children or cats. He welcomed our daughter with gentle curiosity, seeming to understand she was someone to be taken care of; after all, once she graduated to a high chair, she became a source of snacks. He will wear a costume without complaint, and his booming bark once scared away two guys breaking in through our back door.
Nearly a teenager, Albert's started to slow down in the past year. His muzzle has become completely gray, and he recently started losing weight. A few months ago, he didn't get off his bed to eat breakfast, a first. His back legs seemed to be failing him, too. We took him to the vet, who prescribed exercises, a daily dose of fish oil and instructions to fatten him up. He's welcomed these changes with his trademark enthusiasm. Fish oil? Delicious! Exercises? You bet!
I don't expect anyone who loves dogs to be surprised by the proliferation of literature and research proving the species' empathy and emotional intelligence. What has surprised us is how gracefully Albert has accepted all his lifetime transitions, including the—gulp—final one into old age. He can't go on runs anymore, but an ambling walk around the neighborhood gives him more opportunities to sniff, well, everything. Meanwhile, my husband and I lament reading glasses, a frozen shoulder, sore knees. But we're trying to be more like Albert, to remember his satisfaction with simply being around: Bad knees? Riding the stationary bike instead of running means you can catch up on your reading!
Albert is finding it harder to hoist himself up the stairs these days, much less onto the counter. But his heart remains true, his tail strong. Even when he's curled on his bed, before he begins to stretch out the creaks so he can stand, his tail thumps a beat the instant he hears one of us get out of bed. That steady drumbeat provides the soundtrack to our mornings. It reminds us that it's a new day, and that we should plan to enjoy every bit of it, even the fish oil.