B.B. Boudreau

Novelist | Singer

What good is an old dog?

Lila in her younger days

I accompanied my old dog on a walk tonight at 1:00am. Not the best time for a walk, unless you happen to have an old dog. An old dog does exactly what they want, and will figure out how to get it. They also have the loudest mouth in the house.

She is good. She is more than good. She is one of the best beings I have ever known. She will never lie to me, because she is unable to lie. Everything that comes out of her is the exact and honest truth. And she can’t help it, because she is a dog. She will never learn to lie like her proverbial best friend, the human being.

I have nearly given up on the human race, apart from my friends, and my family. I might be simple minded, as I am from the Midwest, but I know one thing: I was raised to trust human beings and what they say. Shame on me.

She lurches one step at time down the 27 steps to the driveway, then proceeds to limp decisively up to the street. I know where she is headed. There is the stretch of sidewalk by the street. She has always gone there, and I’m sure that is where the neighborhood dogs have made their mark. Their marks are not for her. It is for them and their territory. But she is sure of the fact, that at almost 15 years old, even a dribble of urine from her failing system will trump any newcomer on the dead-end street we call home.

The reason I accompany her has nothing to do with me. There is a point in life that I hope everyone will eventually attain. That point is this is not about me. My husband tends to ignore this particular need in her life. To him, she must maintain the pecking order that he has set up in his own mind, and he pretends it exists to this day. I follow his lead, only with the knowledge that this is not true. We all know whose needs are most important.

Caring for Lila is so much like caring for my mother in her battle with Alzheimer’s. Sure, when Lila barks me awake at 4:30 in the morning, I resent her for her bossiness that will by its very nature supersede my tolerance. No one can ignore a barking dog. I launch myself from the warm bed, dress for whatever the weather is providing, and get myself out the door. Sometimes she really tries my patience. It pisses me off. She goes out on the deck, and lies herself down on the step, flipping a look up at me; knowing that I will enable her to live her life like life should be lived.

Dogs are amazing. They don’t connive, though it seems from our over enlarged brains that they do just that. Me? I tend to believe that if you fulfill the needs of a dog, you will attain the greatest reward you can imagine. That is only possible if you believe that a dog, while capable of deception, will not deceive you for their own gain. They have nothing to gain. They are simply living their life.

Sometimes I do the math, the math that speeds up at a manic pace. By my own miserable calculations, which have never been my strong suit (ask my husband – he won’t let me near the checkbook), she is over 100 years old. I never expected her to live this long. And shame on me, because sometimes I wish it would be over soon.

What good is she? She used to guard the house, the car, anything that had a connection with us. Now that she is old, she is seemingly useless in this capacity. Unless she knows more than I do, which is a distinct possibility.

Friends, family, people she knows can walk in our slider just as they please at any time of day or night, and the explosive reaction from her is history. She simply raises her head, sometimes wags her stump of a tail. I shake my head. She used to be such a good watch dog.

But perhaps, just perhaps, she knows more than I do. She is blind and nearly deaf, but her nose works better than any of our eyes and ears. She knows that everything is safe. The data I lack is the unknown. What would she do if a total stranger came through the door? My somewhat educated guess is that they would have a real situation to deal with.

She rounds the top of the driveway and heads straight toward a clump of ornamental grass growing in the front neighbor’s yard. That is stop number one. We have done this same drill hundreds of times. Then she wobbles out to Cross St., very near the traffic that could end her life in a millisecond. The traffic that she has survived for 12 years in this, her territory. Her kingdom.

She ends at the grass stretch on the road side of the neighbor’s house. It is green and lush and not yet mowed this year. She thrusts her snout deep into the grass, and I can hear her snuffles audibly from ten feet away. She is in nirvana. I envy her. I especially envy her, because I am the enabler who understands exactly what it is she needs at this twilight time of her life, and I hope that someone will know this about me when I am over 100 years old.

I hope they will take me outside and let me bury my feet in the dewy grass, thrust my face into the moist green life of the earth and wait patiently for me to finish fulfilling my needs.

I stand patiently and watch her. She moves from clump to clump of grass, snuffling in the rich smell of spring earth, not concerned with my time. She knows her time is priority, and that most of the day, she will relieve me of watch duty as she snoozes around the turn of the clock.

How long must I wait? Is it ten minutes? Fifteen? Isn’t this worth the time that I have been given to watch my old dog burying her nose into life itself?

Finally, she is done, and gives me that old dog signal. Yeah, I’m done. Let’s go home. I accompany her back to the driveway. She is panting every step of the way, and I worry. She will be gone soon. And I will have in my treasure chest, these midnight forays that made her later years worth living.

Perhaps I am simple minded. Perhaps.


  1. Fred Buls says:

    Good old Lila. I didn’t know that she’s blind. Good that she still has a dog’s most important sense. An old dog is good for teaching one how to be a good old dog.

  2. Susanna Natti says:

    Barbara – As always, I love your writing. And I LOVE this love story about your dog. You nailed it in all its deep message and details. Dogs are certainly a gift to us humans if we’re willing to listen and see.

  3. Barbara says:

    Thank you. She is a joy – and still kicking!

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