Dogs grow older sooner than we humans. Watching them become crippled with arthritis and their eyesight begin to dim reminds us of our own inevitable deterioration as we age. And so as I watch Hershey struggle up steps he once flew up in two bounds, his struggle mirrors my own as I, in effect, "go to the dogs."
Hershey is a dark chocolate lab, 12 years old. His arthritic legs sometimes are unable to take him up the six wooden steps to the back door after we let him out in the morning.
During April's unseasonable freezing weather, he lay sprawled out, legs unable to get a grip on the ice, until I helped lift his heavy rear end. My wife and I, both in our 70s, experience the same aches in our joints that Hershey uncomplainingly feels.
Hershey is really our youngest daughter's dog. She picked him out of a pound in Galveston, Texas, when he was a puppy. Galveston was one of her stops on a meandering drive across the country from New York City, where she had quit her job in the World Trade Center.
My daughter was bound for the West Coast -- no particular destination -- and she got Hershey for protection. She is an attractive and popular miss, a former homecoming queen at Hamburg High School and president of her class at St. Bonaventure.
In Vail, Col., where she stopped to visit friends, Hershey got deathly sick and she spent the rest of her money on vet bills. Broke, she lived in a tent in the surrounding White River National Forest until a bear destroyed her campground when she was away. She returned to find Hershey lying under a log.
She got a ticket from a forest ranger for keeping an unclean campground. It didn't surprise me. I remembered how she kept her room.
Without money and a place to stay, she got a job digging ditches with a Mexican crew to survive. Somehow, Hershey got away and I received a call on my telephone answering machine from an angry young man. "I guess you were too busy to take your dog with you."
I was to discover that, without a permanent address of her own, my daughter had put our address and telephone number on the dog tag.
A return call to the young man told him who the owner was and he got in touch with her. She had been frantically searching for Hershey and had been told by the operator of the dog pound that no dog of his description had been found. I discovered that the operator had lied and she was intending to give Hershey to a friend.
The young man who called had worked in the dog pound and had a key. He and my daughter broke in and rescued Hershey. The police charged them with dognapping and the operator of the pound was discharged.
My daughter found it difficult to rent a room with a dog, so Hershey was flown home to us, where he has grown old as we have aged.
She still lives in Vail where she earns a precarious living teaching skiing in the winter and working as a whitewater rafting guide in summer.
Hershey gives no indication of remembering her. But then, he has grown old. Still, I wonder if he recalls the adventures he had. As we grow old, it is our memories that we cherish.