Even an old dog's spirit is forever young

I've got an old dog. Really, really old.

According to that familiar formula of multiplying by seven to obtain "dog years," Penny celebrated her 105th birthday on May 15. Of course, now the experts say that method isn't accurate, so I went online and found the new formula to calculate her age. At least I tried to, but the web site's graph didn't go past 14 years. That meant I'd have to extrapolate, which is something I never really figured out in high school pre-calculus.

Regardless, it's safe to say that if the dog world had a Willard Scott, Penny would deserve his recognition for being a centenarian.

In the unlikely event that I am still breathing 57 years from now, I won't be nearly as functional as my yellow Lab currently is. Not even close. She still races to the pickup anytime I put on hunting boots. She still flops on her back and rolls in the grass every time I let her out of her kennel.

As for her limitations — well, she's setting an example that I hope to remember when I'm old: She's making the most of them.


For example, she's losing her hearing. Five years ago, if a deer so much as breathed within 100 yards of our back yard, Penny was instantly on high alert. Now, however, a turkey gobbler can park himself 5 feet from her kennel and rattle our windows with gobbles, and Penny won't even wake up.

Suffice to say that she's never slept more, and she seems to relish the opportunity. And anytime she's running loose, whether we're hunting or simply on a walk, she appears to use her bad ears as an excuse to ignore me with impunity. I think she avoids making eye contact, just so she can continue on her own way for as long as she pleases.

She doesn't gain weight anymore, regardless of how much she eats, and she hits me up for a dog biscuit every 30 seconds or so. I give them to her, of course. Would you say "No!" to a hard-of-hearing 100-year old who wanted a chocolate chip cookie? I wouldn't. They've earned it.


Although her hips are still sound, she's figured out that if she simply looks pathetic enough, I'll take her crate out of the pickup, let her walk into it on ground level, then lift the whole thing back into the truck. And more importantly, I'll lift the crate out of the truck when it's time to unload, rather than force her to jump down.

I don't know if she'll hunt pheasants this fall. I'll give her a chance, of course, but she won't be able to plow through the swamp grass or bust through the cattails anymore. But her instincts are still there. Currently, our neighborhood on the southeast edge of Rochester has been invaded by killdeer, and when we're walking through the short grass behind our home, there's always a bird or two trying to lead us away from her youngsters.

Penny's eyes have clouded over pretty badly, so I don't think she can see the bird that's walking  30 feet in front of her, but she diligently follows the scent. The birds have played this game with us so often that they almost seem bored.

But not Penny. The only time she's bored is when she's in her kennel.


Sure, her knees and paws give her trouble as she's getting out of her doghouse, but she never passes up the opportunity to stretch her legs, dig a mouse out of the dirt or dash over to say a quick hello to neighboring kids as they play baseball, build forts or run in the sprinkler.

By now I'd expected to be training a young bird dog, but those plans are on hold. As long as Penny keeps coming out of her doghouse when I bang on it, then sniffs my pockets for treats before running to the pickup and putting her paws on the bumper, I've got all the dog I need.

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