The Senior StrollFeb 09, 2021 10:53AM ● By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
More ball please.
Every pet owner, at one time or another, has experienced the joy of going for a WALK. Some dogs even know how to spell the W-A-L-K. I don’t know what’s better: the build-up to the walk or the actual stroll itself. When it comes to living with Lincoln, I’d have to give each a fair shake. Now that he’s a Senior Pet, walks have become even more interesting, and treasured.
“Want to go for a walk?”
The question passes through him like electricity while he relaxes in his preferred spot, the nook beneath our island countertop, his dog cave. He stiffens his posture, stretches his paws forward at an attentive numeral eleven, and tilts his square head. “Want to go for a walk?” I repeat the question just to plant that expression (a Dog Owner fave) in my mind.
The second request sells him. He springs from his cave and grabs the nearest dishrag, one of several used to clean dirty paws. “I love this idea!” He parades around the kitchen with the dirty rag.
It’s a Retriever thing.
Dogs remind us that the simple joys in life are the sweetest. He waits for me to grab my coat from the closet and, since its winter, tack on a hat, scarf, and gloves. Leave it to a dog to give “his person” the charm of a butler. He observes my routine carefully. He grins while I button my coat. He blinks while I wrap my scarf. Then he performs a happy dance, as though we’ve both just won the lottery. “Do you want to go see Gracie, Lincoln?” I keep the inspiration going. Naming other Goldens in the neighborhood turns on his heart light even more.
“Do you want to go see the new puppy?” He tap-dances and grabs a dropped glove. “Let it go, Lincoln.” I’ll admit, this particular habit has lost its luster. “Lincoln, please. I need the glove. Let it go.” Refusal. He wiggles to the front door mouthing the glove like a magician with a dove. I resort to the obvious: use my bare hands as a scissor to pry open his upper and lower jaw. The slimed glove drops to the floor like a dead bird.
“Go ahead, Lincoln.” Since he’s already pushed his way through the opened doorway, I gesture that he GO first.
“A couple throws?” Before I have a chance to attach leash to collar, he’s found a ball in the yard. Now that he’s ten, I have to monitor the number of throws because we still have an entire three mile walk to manage. “Just a few,” I say to him. He drops the ball by my feet and waits, the indent at his head creased with that expression again. I toss him a few and he completes the 40 yard dash to retrieve one of thousands of balls thrown over a decade. I resist the opportunity to offer the Gronk-toss—a high ball thrown perfectly to allow him to spring like a dolphin on all fours, catch the ball on the hop, and carry it back with a celebrity smile. 2020 has been a year of worry. Test positive? Torn ACL?
“We’re going for our walk now, Lincoln.” He stares up at me, foam lining his black lips like the suds of an ocean shoreline. He secures the ball to one side of his mouth with big canines that have been filed flat by so much ball play. He drools. A new battle begins. “Let it go, Lincoln.” He turns his head away from me—a subtle hint to let me know he’ll be bringing along the ball, thank you very much.
Our latest problem.
His breathing is already compromised due to age and, well, a few senior issues. I use gloved hands to pry a slurpy ball from a surprisingly strong, old mouth. In the process, the ball shoots off my hand and takes a bad bounce. The two of us scramble like football players for the fumble. “Leave it!” I shout. Too late. Lincoln recovers the ball, a close snag. A ghost from NFL Football Past announces the play while Lincoln celebrates the victory with a dance. Meanwhile, I produce Plan B.
I pretend I don’t mind that he has won the battle and walk to the edge of the driveway, as though to desert him. “Bye, Lincoln. Have fun.”
His expression softens. “You’re really going to go without me?” He tip-toes toward the mailbox, ever so slowly, a lion studying his prey. “Can we talk about it?”
“I’ll be right back, Lincoln,” I lie, and keep walking. He comes closer to the driveway threshold, more vulnerable now. I spin around, dash towards my ball-obsessed dog and perform a quick, unexpected extraction. Then I jog back down the driveway, place the ball on a high garage shelf, return to his side, and snap on a leash. We cross over to the street. He pulls me back in the direction of the garage. “Cheap shot.”
I tug him forward. Within seconds, the incident is a distant memory. Unlike humans, dogs forgive immediately, fully. They don’t hold grudges. We go for a walk. Lincoln wears a permanent smile that falls somewhere between the residue of ball play and the promise of new adventure. His trot is peppy, age-defiant. We pass kind neighbors, interesting shrubs, and the small, crabby pug whose bark is significantly worse than any dog’s bite. He tailgates Lincoln’s hairy butt with an obscene, gurgling rattle.
“Go home!” I turn around and stomp my foot. Lincoln shakes him off and proceeds, unaffected by bad behavior. “Hyper little fellow, isn’t he?”
We pass the deserted apple orchard and Lincoln takes a shot at pulling me back to beautiful “off-the-leash” years when we’d tour rows and rows of apple trees long since cut down. The field, now overgrown and fenced in, is nostalgic for both of us. “You remember the orchard, don’t you, Lincoln?”
I notice the memory emerge in his mind. He flecks me a knowing grin. Then, as quickly as it came, the memory morphs to a new sight. A friendly Human across the street walks a gorgeous German Shepherd pup. Normally, a tsunami could not hold me back from this pup. “What a beautiful pup!” I croon. Lincoln interrupts. “My name is Lincoln! I’m ten years old and have my own column! You can read about me in Living with Lincoln, of The Yankee Xpress!”
“I’m sorry. I’m on Day 10,” the Human says, and we part like the Red Sea. Lincoln tosses a glance up at me. “He had the puppy smell, too.”
It’s a 2020 thing.
We make our way to the “home stretch” at Dodge Road, where a trot becomes a stroll.
The pep in Lincoln’s step becomes a pause in his paws. “You want to take a rest, Lincoln?” He sits, lifts his head, and smiles proudly. Despite an already healthy self-esteem, I pour on praise. “You’re doing such a good job walking.” I massage his ears. “Most ten-year old dogs couldn’t walk this far. You’re so athletic. We’ll get some water when we get home. Sound good?”
He listens to me - happy tongue out - and agrees. Always, there is inspiration between us while we put our best foot forward and count our blessings. Life is worth living. Especially with a dog like Lincoln.