The Goddess Speaks

By Leslie Lang

Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Sometimes old dogs
teach tricks

THERE was a rotten breadfruit on the dog bed in the living room the other morning. It had fallen from a tree and smashed open on the ground, where it rotted for awhile before my dog Felix brought it into the house to snack on.

When they're in season, it's avocados that we find on his bed. Felix eats three to seven a day. They make a huge green mess, and we have to cut back on his food so he doesn't get fat.

Felix keeps finding avocados long after the season is over. Once in awhile, I confiscate one he's brought in. He just goes and finds another one.

Felix came to live with my grandmother 13 years ago. He was skin and bones, bedraggled and hungry. She fed him and cleaned him up. She took him to the vet and had him neutered. He's been here ever since.

For most of his years he was full of energy and always up for an adventure. He sometimes disappeared for hours from our country home, crossing fields and swimming across the river. He'd come home wet, muddy and tired.

Felix is ancient now. He has arthritis, and for a while he was in such pain he didn't move around much. A couple years ago we discovered a medication for dogs with arthritis. Twice a day now we wrap his pill in a piece of low-fat, sliced American cheese.

From the first day, there was tremendous improvement. He wags his tail again. He disappears on long ambling walks. We hear him outside some nights at 3 or 4 a.m., tromping through the bushes and sometimes rustling up avocados.

When he gets excited, he jumps. He rolls around and plays with the younger dog. He actually chased the meter reader one day. Friends with arthritis wish they could take his pills.

IN his old age, Felix has developed a trait you sometimes see in older people who are comfortable with themselves and no longer care what people think. They do and say whatever they want with no apologies. That's how Felix is now. If someone leaves a sandwich on the coffee table and turns their back, he'll eat it right off the plate. This is recent behavior. He knows better, but he just doesn't care anymore.

One cold day, we had a fire going in the parlor, and the futon was made up for a guest. We walked in and found Felix asleep on the comfortable futon in front of the fire. The furniture is off limits and Felix knows this. When we insisted he get off the futon, he ignored us. It was a long time before he humored us and climbed down.

It's hard to get mad at him, though. I told my friend, the woman who found Felix years ago. She and I decided that Felix must think, with polite disdain: "Don't tell me what to do. I've been around here longer than any of you have."

He's got a point. Felix has outlasted many other pets who have lived here, as well as my grandmother, who adored Felix and took care of him until she died last year.

I'm glad Felix has had continuity, that he can grow old in this same house and yard he knows so well, and that when my grandmother passed away, I'd already lived here for awhile and we'd gotten to know each other well.

This dog is secure. He has a good life. I don't mind cleaning up the rotten breadfruit and messy avocados. I'm just glad he's still around to enjoy them.

Lelie Lang lives in Pepeekeo on the Big Island.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
quirks and quandaries. If you have something to say, write it and
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