Thursday, January 27, 2022

An Old Dog Teaches New Tricks


Photo by Laurie Kasperbauer | Mocha and Hazel, a canine contrast of calm and chaos.

“We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare, and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.” ~ M. Acklam

It was the coughing that initiated the worry. Not my coughing, but my aging cock-a-poo, Mocha. She’d cough in the night or after a nap. Sometimes she’d cough when she was excited, and other times for no apparent reason. The dread of the diagnosis delayed me from taking her to the vet but eventually we went, and my fears were confirmed. Mocha’s heart is failing. It no longer beats with a pulsating thrump. Instead it pounds out long rushes of sound like water through a tunnel. Her hearing is diminished and her eyesight is impaired. So, we changed her kibble and put her on medicine, and on the day of her 13th birthday, we picked up a puppy. I’m fairly certain that Mocha would have been happier with a good chew toy or a bit of ice cream to celebrate her special day, but what she got was a whirlwind of energy with sharp, little teeth and a bladder that empties at random. We call her Hazel, but sometimes, in frustration, I bark in an exasperated tone, “Hazel-NUT!”

In the beginning, Mocha would look at me with eyes that begged, “Make it go away.” When the pup would pounce or yip for her attention, Mocha might snarl or bark. She still does when the energy level gets too high, but once in a while, Mocha initiates the chasing and tail-wagging. Mocha leads on our walks. Mocha gets fed first, and greeted first. And Hazel is learning patience.

During the period of debate on whether we should get a puppy or simply enjoy Mocha’s company until the inevitable day arrives, I vacillated in my decision. My husband encouraged the addition of a puppy from the beginning but I wasn’t so sure. Mocha’s health seemed to be slipping rapidly and a puppy could cause her unnecessary stress. On the other hand, the energy of a new dog might create inspiration. As it turns out, dealing with the addition of an intrusive puppy has added a little bounce in Mocha’s step. At times she proudly leads the behaviors she is praised for, and at other times she quietly sits back when the pup is scolded for obvious infractions, but mostly Mocha emulates a way of living in the world, that we can all learn from.

Acceptance: Nearly every day of our lives we are faced with challenges. Just when everything appears to be humming on a musical high note, someone or something snaps a string on our ukulele. I’m pretty sure Mocha was not longing for a new puppy sister when one arrived in her space, but it didn’t take long for her to accommodate. She may never reach the point of cuddling with the pup on a shared blanket, but each day she displays the ability to coexist with what initially was an unwanted disruption.

Patience: If patience is a canine trait it certainly does not present itself in a young puppy. Like most admirable virtues, it must be learned and once learned it has to be practiced regularly to be effective. I find my own patience stretched trying to train a dog with the attention span of a mosquito. When I say “Come, Hazel” she blinks in my direction, then goes back to chewing grass. I command, “Sit” and she plops to her haunches and then collapses onto her belly. I won’t even mention potty training, but if she ever gets there, I’m going to need a new rug. Meanwhile Mocha observes from the sidelines with a heavy sigh. Maybe an old dog is too tired to be impatient. Or maybe she’s just smart, but she knows that she will get breakfast, go for a walk, catch a nap, and score a belly rub throughout the course of the day. Everything comes to a dog who waits.

Be a Leader: Not all of Mocha’s behaviors are stellar. She is a dog after all, but she’s a very good companion and has many qualities that I would like to see passed along to the next generation of our dog family. I often observe the puppy studying Mocha and then mirroring her behavior. Sit, Stay, and Come are all easier to figure out when the Alpha dog is leading by example. In the human population we have opportunities to exemplify loving and compassionate behavior, to share our gifts, and to reinforce kindness. Each of us has something to contribute. We can all educate.

Make Every Day Count: I imagine that if we knew we were in the last year or so of our life, we might live differently. We might express love and loyalty unconditionally to everyone we encounter. We might more freely accept the changes bestowed on us and display resiliency in the face of adversity. It’s possible, that at the end of life, we develop patience for the inconveniences and intrusions of daily living and instead concentrate on what is right with our world. And for me, before I’m gone, I want to secure a legacy. I want to share what I know with another; pass along what wisdom I have with the hope that someone might be better off for gaining it.

My old dog is unaware of the passage of time. She doesn’t know what day it is or stew over how many sunrises remain for her. Despite the fact that her gaze is obscured by aging eyes and our voices are muffled as her hearing wanes, she still greets us with the same excitement and adoration whether we are gone five days or five minutes. Her gait has slowed and her heart struggles to move blood through her body, yet every morning she anticipates her morning walk with a flourish of wiggling and wagging.

Mocha is a leader. She continues to guide me with her patience, her acceptance and her unconditional devotion. Each day she spends with us and the pup is an opportunity to learn her valuable old tricks.

Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.

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