Walk Beside Me and Be My Friend
I took Youke and Brady hiking today. We did seven miles and it was a wonderful day and a wonderful time for dogs and Human alike.
I’ve come to realize that hiking with old dogs brings some new challenges, such as negotiating around deafness and worsening eyesight. In some ways it’s kind of comical. It is also sometimes a bit terrifying. And in other ways, it’s frustrating. And in all ways it is endearing, nostalgic and bittersweet.
Youke is pretty much completely deaf. He can feel vibrations and if I’m standing right over him and yell he can hear me. His eyesight also isn’t so great anymore, particularly on one side. He tends to want me on his “good side” otherwise he worries or has to stop frequently and check for me. He rarely wanders, but since his nose is still at 300%, a good sniff catches his attention on occasion. I’ve learned that I need to stop and just wait and watch for him. If after his exploration of the smell that caught his attention he doesn’t immediately see me, he panics and since he still moves pretty fast, that’s not good. It breaks my heart to see him do this. Today, I stopped for a minute while Brady was off sniffing – because Brady has a slightly similar issue – but while Youke waited with me for 30 seconds or so, he decided to wander about 10 feet away and then panicked because he realized I wasn’t beside him anymore. Foolishly, I called out to him, but of course, he cannot hear. I waved at him, but he either was so panicked already that he couldn’t see me, or he just couldn’t see me. It was nice and sunny out. I know he has trouble in dim lighting, but today I realized the extent of how much his eyesight has diminished. Either that or because it was so sunny, there was too much of a glare for his old eyes. If he was an old man, I’d have to take away his driver’s license.
But I’m not going to take away his enjoyment, or Brady’s, for exploring and playing in the woods.
Brady’s eyesight is still mostly good, but he’s also pretty deaf now. Not completely so, but enough so that he cannot hear me calling him from a distance. And by distance, I mean like 20-30 feet. Luckily, he checks in on a very frequent basis, and if he realizes I’m not behind him when he turns to look, he comes to find me. It’s a skill I’ve taught all of my dogs, but one that Brady in his youth rarely employed. Back in the day he was far ahead, doing his thing, and would come and check only if called, or when he was ready. Pretty sure much of my grey hair can be attributed to Brady, although he proved time and time again that he always knew where I was. However, in the last couple of years, he’s been venturing ahead less and less, and checking in voluntarily more and more.
So, some highlights from today’s hike with the senior citizens.
A half-mile in and not even to the real woods yet.
Youke: I need a cookie.
Me: We just started!
Youke: I’m starving. You don’t want me to starve do you? I need to keep my energy up.
A mile into the hike, I see that both boys are moving very well and any residual stiffness is gone. Youke is delighted that we are taking a trail he discovered. Brady is delighted when I show him the trail does not dead end as I had first thought several weeks ago and made them turn back around.
A mile and a half in and the boys find the beaver pond. This is cause for joy.
Two miles in and the boys found something very, very interesting. I bend down to look and see that it is slimy and potentially smelly. In a nano-second I reflect that it’s a good thing Rhys isn’t with us because he’d roll in it, but I have my good dogs with me therefore I don’t have to worry about such foolishness. I start walking ahead while the boys get more sniffs. I glance back, just in time to see Youke drop and roll. I yell, fruitlessly, and start to propel myself rapidly back toward this scene of hedonistic delight. Youke springs up just as I’m about to jump on him and flits away, but I can see the gunk on his shoulder.
We go back toward the beaver pond because I have an evil plan.
Youke and Brady love water and love to swim, They’ve never let cold water stop them. Now, a kinder, gentler Human would have given Youke a warm bath when we arrived home. He is after all almost 14 years old.
I am not that Human.
I threw a couple of sticks in the water, much to both dogs’ delight and both plunged in, competing for the prizes thrown into the water, some of which sunk and disappeared, causing much circling, until another one was thrown that floated. After about 10 minutes of this, I called an end to the game and both emerged with disappointed faces, and shivering .
Hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Plus, I have it on very good authority that this is an excellent way to kickstart blood circulation.
Both dogs ran up and down the trail excitedly for the next 15-20 minutes. Then I saw Brady’s face.
I don’t know what it was or where it came from, but it was gone fairly quickly. I suspect he smushed his face into some vegetation.
We went on, this time in the sun as we located a wider trail that was formerly a logging road and found a big stream that we had to cross. Luckily it was shallow so old dogs didn’t have to do another polar plunge and my feet stayed relatively dry.
At about five miles, although the boys were still having fun, they were slower and I didn’t fancy carrying anyone back, especially as I had no idea where or when the trail we were exploring would end or wind up. It looks like a great one to go exploring with Rhys and Camm.
It’s always a good indicator that Youke is tired when he lets me lift him into the vehicle. As soon as I closed the back door both dogs flopped down and did not move until we got home. I went grocery shopping in between. Being mindful of their older bones, I parked in the sun. It occurred to me as I was driving home, grateful to have finally found an excellent grocery story with cheap prices and excellent produce, that I had not seen or heard Youke and Brady since I’d loaded them in the Jeep when we left the trailhead. I hoped that they had not been stolen while I was grocery shopping, but then who would want two old still damp woodsy smelling dogs?