My dog Dempsey has gone from a little pup to an old man right before my eyes. The process of his aging has all happened gradually, of course, over the period of the last nine years. It seems strange to look at pictures of Dempsey that were taken several years ago, and compare them to him now. Gone is his black mask, which has been replaced by white. Even his reddish-brown coat is quite salted with white hairs.
Dempsey is my beloved Boxer dog - my child before my actual children came along, and many days, the best behaved of the bunch. My husband and I got Dempsey when we had been married only a year - - our one-year anniversary present to ourselves. He was my constant companion over the course of many nights when my husband, Chris, was working second-shift hours (3 - 11PM) for the first several years we were married. For Chris, he brought comfort through the extra security he provided to me. For me though, Dempsey has been so much more than just my guard dog. In college, I had become used to being surrounded by lots of people all the time. Being married fresh out of college, I found out just how lonely it can be when you and your spouse work opposite shifts. Dempsey provided companionship that I so desperately needed while Chris was gone to work every night.
When we brought our older daughter, Maggie, home from the hospital, Dempsey sniffed and sniffed at her, trying to figure out what this mysterious creature was that we had brought into our home. Every time she would let out a noise or move around, he was on his feet with his head poked into her bassinet to sniff at her again. For the first several weeks of her life, he got little rest, until he became more accustomed to this strange new addition to his life. As she got older and more mobile, I was impressed and relieved at how tolerant he was with her as she would sit on him, poke at him, and tug on his ears.
Three years later, we brought our younger daughter, Aleita, home from the hospital and placed her in that same bassinet. Curiously, Dempsey poked his head in and took a sniff. He then looked at me, let out a snort, and turned and walked out of the room. If I dog could shake his head, I think he would have done it - -it was almost as if he wanted to say, "oh come on. . .must we really do this again? Have you learned nothing?"
Maggie is now 6, and Aleita, 3. He is extremely tolerant and protective of both the children. Try as they both might though, Dempsey remains fiercely loyal to me. When Maggie was four, she tried to get him to sleep in her room with her (he sleeps on a dog bed on my side of the bed on the floor.) We consented to try it, and took his bed into her room. For three nights in a row, we would leave him there with her after stories were read, prayers said, and kisses and hugs given. Each night though, he would dutifully lay there until he heard me go into my bedroom, at which point he would come lay on the floor in the spot where his dog bed had been, and sleep through the night. It disappointed Maggie to realize that he wanted to sleep by me, rather than her. I found it impossible to explain to a four-year old the bond that existed between Dempsey and me.
As much as I hate to admit, or even think about it, Dempsey isn't getting any younger. He has more telltale signs of his aging, other than just his white hairs. He has always been an avid ball chaser - - he loves to fetch his ball for you when thrown across the yard. In his younger days, he would play this game with you until you grew tired of it and finally walked away. These days, after three or four chases though, he lays down out in the yard with the ball still in his mouth to catch his breath and cool off. He used to love to go for long walks with me, but these days, he is panting and slowing down before we have even covered a mile. He also is having a little more trouble with his hearing these days. It used to be that if you dropped a crumb of food on the floor, he could hear it from two rooms away. Now, he sometimes doesn't hear me when I bring him in from outside until I haved called his name two or three times. He is also of late having some trouble with digestive upset with his food - but I'll spare you those details.
I am not naive about where things are headed. Life expectancy for Boxers is 8 -10 years (Dempsey just turned 9 in June.) Our veterinarian reminds me that he has known Boxers that were well taken care of to live to be 12 - 14 years old. I really hope that to be the case. I know that there are folks who could never understand the deep attachment that some people form with their animals. But for me, Dempsey is like a member of my family, and I just can't even imagine a time when I won't roll over in bed and see him laying there on the floor beside me each morning.
I talk to him when I'm lonesome like; and I'm sure he understands. When he looks at me so attentively, and gently licks my hands; then he rubs his nose on my tailored clothes, but I never say naught thereat. For the good Lord knows I can buy more clothes, but never a friend like that. ~W. Dayton Wedgefarth