My old dog, Grizzly, and I round the corner in the park and I spy the Soupster sitting on a bench. I sit beside him as Grizzly sniffs some Cow Parsnip. “Hey, Soupster, you like old dogs or young dogs better?” He reaches over to scratch Grizzly on the head, causing both of them to grin with pleasure, although only Grizzly’s leg starts tapping.
“Well, I like young pups better; so full of energy and doing funny things. They’re a lot of work though, with housebreaking and their constant chewing. What about you?”
“Been awhile since I had a pup. I’ve grown fond of older dogs. They have so much to teach us, if we’re willing to be their students.”
“What do you mean? I’ve heard of taking dogs to obedience school, but never of people being trained by dogs,” the Soupster says.
“Got time to take a stroll around the park with us? Grizzly might teach you a few things I call the ‘P’s’” of senior dogs.”
We walk until Grizzly stops near a totem pole, closes his eyes and lifts his nose into the wind. “The first ‘P’ of older dogs – pleasure. You saw this earlier when you were scratching his head and now as he stops to inhale the smells of the sea. Old dogs take pleasure in small, simple things.”
“Older people do, too,” the Soupster mumbles to himself.
We amble along the level trail for a few more minutes until Grizzly sees a salmonberry bush. “Now you’ll see passion – the second ‘P’.” The Soupster stands back, not sure what to expect. I reach through the picked-over branches and find some plump salmon-colored berries that Grizzly quickly inhales. When the pickings get slim I try to sneak a few ruby-colored ones into his mouth. He spits them right out. “That’s another ‘P’ of older dogs – persnicketyness. Once in a while he’ll eat a red one, but that’s his prerogative.”
Continuing on the trail, I reach in my bag and give Griz a biscuit. A piece of it falls into a hole at the base of a tree, and is partially hidden by the roots. He uses his right front paw to reach in and slowly drag the piece forward until he grabs it with his snout. “That ‘P’ was persistence and Grizzly has it, especially when it comes to food.”
“Tell me about the last ‘P’s’ so I can get back to work.”
“Well, then you should stay with us a little longer. Grizzly could teach you about patience like he has taught me. I walk slowly, glad for every minute he is by my side. There’s one more ‘P’ too – that’s peace. That’s what we share each evening when I give him a kiss goodnight and he returns it.”
The Soupster is deep in thought. He says, “You know, the dogs in our town have it lucky. We live in a beautiful place where we have time for slow walks and good smells and peace.”
“Yes – and plenty of salmonberries!”
– Submitted by Kathy Ingallinera, in memory of Grizzly, who died 9/1/09 under a salmonberry bush