Last week marked eight years since our rescue dog, Gartholomew, came into the family. If you’ve ever had a shelter dog, I don’t need to tell you what a gift they are.
Simply put, rescue dogs remind us that god exists
But what I would like to share is the special gift of being with Garth in his final years.
Garth was anywhere from three-five years old when we got him from Stray Hearts Animal Shelter, a no-kill shelter in Taos. Which means that, whether you add eight to three, four or five, our good boy/old boy is getting on up there.
This past year, he’s aged noticeably. His hearing is pretty much gone. His muzzle is almost as grey as my hair (almost!). He sleeps more and walks less.
Oh, and he’s become incontinent. Nothing major, just little dribbles here and there. Which have resulted in me buying big mats.
For here and there.
For eight years, Garth has seen his job as being my protector. It still is. But now, I, too, have a job.
A job to be the human who will walk this good boy/old boy.
I’m not always good at it.
There are days (weeks even) when I don’t have the patience I should have. Take last week’s heat wave here in Oklahoma City. The higher the temperature got, the slower Garth got. Some days, when I would open the back door to bring him in from puppy business, it would take him a full two minutes to get all the way back inside.
Which meant a full two minutes of flies and mosquitos…and heat…coming in.
“GARTH!” I would bellow with my hands motioning (puppy ASL dontcha know!). “Get…in…the…house.”
My response just made him anxious.
Which just made him slower.
Which just meant more flies, more mosquitoes, more heat in the house.
There also are moments, as I help walk Garth home, when a piece of my heart breaks.
Like when he stumbles on a walk and looks at me with an expression that says, “What was that?” Or when I notice, each week, that it’s just a littler harder for him to get up the front steps than the week before.
But most days, Garth and I do just fine. We live life as we have the past eight years: Full of puppy pat-pats for him and puppy paws (on my arm) for me. He’s as excited as ever for chow-chow, though he no longer jumps in the air quite as high when I pick his bowl up.
He seems to relish rolling (and rolling and rolling) in the grass even more than he did before. And he smiles in his sleep more than he used to (he snores more, too!).
Every now and, when he goes out for a walk or just a quick puppy business, Garth will suddenly stop and just stare into space. I’ll notice him sniffing a bit. Maybe lifting his head up to the sky.
It reminds me of something Beauchemin once said about an old, greying deer that would strike a similar pose in his garden: “As his body escapes him a little more each day, I think that he’s slowly coming around to a more abstract and somehow purer way of seeing the world.”
I don’t know if that is what’s happening to (and with) Garth or not. But I do hope that, whenever Garth inevitably comes out of his trance and slowly turns to look at me.
I hope he knows what I know every time I look at him.
That god exists.
And love is real.

The Practice of Being Alive is a collection of stories about getting through this thing called life.