This is a story I wrote about my first Dalmatian, Rudi. It was written several years ago, but since this is my birthday month, I decided to remind myself of Rudi’s wisdom once again.
As I call Rudi to the house, I have to wonder if someday I’m also going to bring a small aircraft down for landing in my backyard. You see, Rudi can’t hear me calling anymore. The only way to get her to “come when called” is to go through a short aerobics routine during which I wave my arms wildly to catch her eye, followed by an exaggerated scooping motion to get her moving in my direction. I think it actually amuses her to see me go through these gyrations—I know it amuses my neighbors.
Loss of hearing is but one of many “new features” Rudi, a Dalmatian, has bestowed upon our family. She is aging…in fact she is old. We are celebrating her 14th birthday. But this is not a story of lost youth or of dreading the inevitable. This story is a celebration of a dog that could teach the world how to not only survive the aging process, but how to capitalize on it.
It can’t be said that Rudi is aging gracefully. I will say, however, that Rudi is aging with great flare. There has not been one moment when I’ve looked at her and thought she seemed sad or that she mourned capabilities lost to aging joints, arthritis and weakened muscles. Quite the opposite is true. Rudi is making the most of her infirmities. She seems to revel in her uniqueness—in fact, she actually seems flaunt it.
Sure, she can still manage to climb onto the couch nine times out of 10, but those times when her front and back ends don’t quite communicate and she crumbles to the floor, it’s no big deal to her. She just flashes the pitiful look that only a 14-year-old dog with a stroke-inspired smirk can give, knowing that one of her humans will scoop her up and secure prime couch space for her, even if it means uprooting one of her younger housemates.
And so what if she can’t make the jump onto the bed anymore? It’s far more fun to rely on the old stare-your-human-to-consciousness trick. I have NO idea how she does this, but I do know that many a time I have awakened from a dead sleep only to find Rudi there, staring intently, but not making a sound. It’s a gift–I daresay one of the great mysteries of the world, and she is the master. Of course I’m up out of my comfortable slumber in a heartbeat, lifting her to her spot on the bed where she immediately hogs my pillow and takes away my covers. All hail Princess Rudi.
Truth be told, we rarely fail to rush to her aid or to cater to her every whim. And forgive me for anthropomorphizing, but I am quite sure she pulls many of her stunts on purpose and I’m equally sure I’ve seen the other dogs roll their eyes in complete disgust.
Don’t think for a moment, however, that Rudi’s advanced years have left her completely sedentary. She loves nothing more than to wander our country acreage in a decidedly aimless fashion. Go sniff this rock. Amble over to that tree. Dig for a bit in this hole. Ignore the human carefully following your every move.
This dog truly understands how to enjoy the little things in life. She loves visiting our favorite doggy bakery where the proprietors kindly turn their heads as the old dog none-too-subtly sneaks a sampling from the biscuit barrel. And she always knows exactly when her personal sunbeam will shine warmly on her favorite cushion.
I love to watch her as she’s sleeping there, relaxed and content. As she falls deeper into her dreams, her face relaxes and she looks more and more like the puppy I remember from so many years past.
In some bizarre role reversal, that puppy has now grown to be my mentor, a role model for the golden years in my future. When I look at Rudi, I don’t see a tired old dog. I see an ornery old woman, thrilled to use age as a convenient excuse for her eccentricities. To me, she is the canine embodiment of the Jenny Joseph poem, “Warning-When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple.” Select lines of this wonderful poem can’t help but describe my perception of Rudi’s charm and outlook.
When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people’s gardens…
Those passages tell the tale for me. What Rudi is teaching me is that I should embrace every phase of my life, just as she has hers. And in honor of her wisdom, for her 14th birthday I bought her a collar of the most delicious shade of purple—bright with rhinestones and bordering on garish.
As for me? Well, the last lines of the poem make my mission perfectly clear…
…maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
So out we go to celebrate my dear girl’s birthday. She is wearing her bright purple collar and I have donned a shade of lavender I wouldn’t normally wear. As we make our way to the dog bakery to commit yet another forgiven dog bone felony, I can’t help but laugh out loud at our secret little joke—perhaps too loudly, some might think, for a woman walking in public with only a dog for company.
But, wait! Did she just hear me giggle? Could it be that old ears have not quite accepted silence? For I swear I just saw Rudi smile her crooked smile as she glanced up to deliver an appreciative wink.
I absolutely adore old dogs. I love those I’ve had the pleasure of watching through all phases of their lives and I love the seniors that have come to us through rescue to share their final time with us. Rudi stayed with us until she was 15 years, 22 days old. We were incredibly lucky to have that funny, spunky old gal with us for such a lovely long time. Don’t pity the old dogs—cherish them. Don’t be afraid to adopt an older dog. Their time with you may be shorter, but they have so very much to give.
Excepts used from Warning-When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple by Jenny Joseph