“Ace is falling down.”
The group text to our four family members came across my phone late on a hot, Friday afternoon. I was busy, but the words stopped me in my tracks.
It was from GirlWonder. She was home alone and our dog, Ace, 13+ years old, was falling over. I didn’t even know what to say.
Her brother, BoyWonder, responded quickly. “I’m heading home. I’ll check on him.”
Within the hour, Boywonder reassured us that Ace seemed fine. We teased Girlwonder a bit about overreacting. Still, I knew she had not imagined it. I also knew that at 13-plus years, Ace is a very senior dog.
His birthday is July 8, 2004. We know this to be fact because he came with papers from the American Kennel Club. He is a purebred German Shepherd of very important breeding. His father was a champion. He came to us for free.
He became ours on the spur of the moment when his father’s owner, a lovely lady, told my mother-in-law that she was too old to take care of a puppy.
We needed a puppy like we needed a hole in the head. We had just gotten a puppy, a rescue, weeks earlier. We had two small children, a puppy, two goats, two cats, a lot of land and a house perpetually under construction. Why not a second puppy?
Of course, the Lord knows what we needed better than we do sometimes. This dog came to us at the perfect time to grow along with our young family.
There were some missteps along the way, one serious enough for us to realize that we had to learn to handle him in a specific way. Fiercely loyal and completely protective, he absolutely would harm anyone he felt was a threat to our children or one of us. It wasn’t always easy having that kind of protection.
Our home requires signage to warn people of the dogs and we are fine with that. Even in a quiet, rural area burglaries happen, but never at our house. The Constable suggested more than once that our affinity for aggressive dogs had something to do with it.
This dog protected our children, herded our goats, kept marauding squirrels at bay, and came to us endlessly with tattered soccer balls, sticks, buckets and anything else he could get his mouth around to “fetch.”
Still, this spring it became apparent he was really slowing down. The dog that once ran to greet us now gave a passing nod from where he was sprawled. Soon after, he didn’t bother to greet us at all.
When an entire flock of turkeys paraded across the yard not far from him, we knew that his instincts were all but gone. No furred or feathered interloper would have dreamed of such trespass not long ago. Now he sleeps.
We suspect he sees little and hears less. That he is falling down is both heartbreaking and not terribly surprising.
We have prepared ourselves all summer. “He won’t make it another winter,” we said. As if words could somehow lessen the surprise.
We would love to make him a bed by the fireplace and pamper him with all the people food he never cared for anyway. That, however, is not what he enjoys. He has never been an indoor dog by choice. He makes a perimeter check of the house, upstairs and down, then stands at the door demanding to go back outside.
He is a shepherd. He protects and serves. Squirrels and new arrivals are equally distrusted.
This dog watched us put our youngest child on the kindergarten bus, sat with her when that same bus once left her stranded alone, at age 6, in the 20-degree cold.
“Ace kept bringing me his ball to throw so I wouldn’t cry.”
He kept a watchful eye on her in the play yard, swimming pool, and later when dates walked her to the door. Good boy indeed.
He was here when she posed in the yard in her cap and gown for graduation. He watched a small girl grow into a salutatorian and was the beneficiary of countless worn-out soccer balls (and some fairly new ones they slipped to him out of love).
Now the ready supply of soccer balls has come to an end. Time marches on and 13 is a lot of growing years for both children and dogs.
For all those years, he took care of us. Now it is up to us to take care of him. Over the weekend he fell over some more. I picked up the phone to call the vet. They call it a “senior checkup” but I think we all know. There is no magical cure for old age.
I hold out a little hope, of course, we always do. Still, I know that ownership of a life requires responsibility for it. He will not suffer on our watch.
We will, however, suffer without him.