Finn stands still at the foot of my bed. I gently place my right arm under his belly, my left against his chest and between his two front legs. As soon as I lift and his feet leave the floor, his body goes stiff. He doesn’t struggle or resist. He trusts me, knows that the top of the bed is our mutual objective, but the short flight makes him nervous.
His feet firmly on the bed, I release him. He takes a few steps, turns half around, and lays right at my pillow. Ha ha, I got here first! I smile, he smiles back, and watches me walk to my side of the bed.
As I turn back the covers, he gets up and with an exaggerated sigh repositions himself in the middle of the bed. Is that enough room? I crawl in. As soon as I’m under the blankets, head propped on pillows for reading, Finn moves closer, like an inch worm, heaving his body is small waves until he’s in perfect position for my left hand to touch him, pet him, stroke his ears.
I rake my fingers through his fur, long and silky with a hint of curl at his shoulders, his soft, dense winter undercoat still clinging in places. The color and shine of his fur have dulled with age, but the natural, sun-kissed golden highlights in the long strands on his ears will soon reappear, as they do every summer.
With gentle pressure I massage his shoulders and neck. He tips his nose down and to the side, just so, arching his neck, letting me know how good it feels. There. That’s the spot. I smile again.
I rub his chest. I feel the lumps – two of them, one larger than the other, a couple inches apart. I hate them. I note their size and consistency, the same since they first appeared over two years ago. So far, so good.
Our heart rates go down. Our breathing slows. He sighs contentedly. So do I.
In these moments we indulge our mutual need for touch and connection. There’s also, on my part, a sense of limited time, no moment to waste. Does Finn senses that as well? Our bond – our time spent close, touching – grows stronger with age and vulnerability.
I give Finn a couple kisses, which he serenely accepts. I marvel at how my chin, lips, and the tip of my nose fit perfectly into the concave dip in his face – that soft space between his eyes, just below his forehead. He was fidgety and inpatient in his youth. He has mellowed.
I make loud smooching noises, my hands cradling Finn’s cheeks and neck as I pull him close. I don’t know if he can hear me – he hears very little anymore – but just in case, I persist. I want him to know how much he’s loved and appreciated as his time winds down.
I pick up my Kindle. Finn tucks his nose into his front paws and he curls into a cozy ball.
A bit later, I lift Finn off my bed and place him gently on the floor. He assumes a curled position on one of his own beds as I crawl back into mine.
“Goodnight, boys. I love you. You’re the best. The best dogs in the universe.”
I turn out the light.
I grew up sharing my bed with dogs and a cat. Some dogs would nap on the bed, or spend most of the night there, but most preferred quick snuggles before departing for their own beds on the floor.
The cat and I argued over who got to sleep on my pillow.
My Malamutes Maia and Meadow were bed hogs. They had to be pushed off after some goodnight snuggles so I had space to stretch my legs and sleep.
Young, healthy dogs can easily jump onto a bed.
Aging dogs, not so much.
A few years ago, noticing Finn’s hesitation to jump onto my bed, I found a set of dog steps specifically for helping dogs get onto beds and couches. Three small steps, covered in no-slip fabric. It took some time and treats, but Finn learned to use the steps.
Conall, being young, simply jumps up. He’s a quick-evening-snuggle and good-morning-sunshine! sort of dog, plopping his 100-pound body onto mine (still under the covers) at the start and end of each day to make sure I have easy access for massaging his face, ears and neck. There’s kissing, I admit; Conall’s a kisser.
Sometimes Conall will snooze midday on the bed, but he won’t sleep on the bed if I’m in it. Which is just as well – he takes up lots of space and sometimes growls in his sleep!
After moving to Vermont, Finn was reluctant to use the steps. Same bed, but different bedroom; smaller, with less “approach” space to the stairs. Yet he did join me occasionally. Then Finn had a serious bout of Old Dog Syndrome/vertigo in August. While still recovering, he stumbled on the steps a couple times, falling onto the hardwood floor before I could get around the bed to help him. After those fails, he refused to try again, even with his balance restored and treats for motivation.
I can’t blame him. The older one gets, the more it hurts to fall.
I bought a dog ramp, hoping that would seem easier to Finn. He refuses to use it, up or down.
So, I lift him. Not often. But on occasion he comes into the bedroom, stops, and looks longingly at the top of the bed. When I bend to lift Finn, Conall gets concerned and crowds us; dogs don’t normally get carried in my household. Once Finn is on my bed, Conall relaxes and either joins Finn or returns to his own bed.
Finn’s bout of vertigo also abruptly stopped another of his endearing behaviors: rolling onto his back to get belly rubs, whether he was on the floor or on my bed.
Oh, how I missed that! Eventually, as Finn’s balance returned to near normal and snow started arriving in late autumn, he began trying to roll on the snow. At first, I could see he felt off balance, often stopping with just one shoulder on the snow and standing right back up. With time and practice, though, his joyful rolls in the snow returned to their former gleeful, leg-kicking form.
Once the outdoor snow rolls were perfected, Finn started rolling onto his back for belly rubs in the house again. I’d be at my desk, both dogs snoozing nearby. Quietly, Finn would roll onto his back, legs up, front paws relaxed and bent, patiently waiting for me to notice. Once I did, belly rubs were delivered, as requested. Best of all: vertigo banished!
Time and Tide Wait for No Dog
Finn may be fourteen years old, but his joie de vivre hasn’t aged with the calendar. For that I am grateful.
Our remaining time together is anyone’s guess. A day, a year, two years tops. However long, I endeavor to make every day count.
Same for Conall.
Touching and hugging my dogs calms me and melts away my worries, reinforcing our bonds and affirming my desire – my need – to do anything and everything for them while I can.
In return? They make me feel worthy and loved. For Finn and Conall, I am always enough.
What a bargain.
Feature photo: Finn’s paws. January 3, 2021.