In Praise of an Old Dog

Ferris, our seventeen or eighteen year old mixed breed dog on short legs and a short fuse, left us suddenly in a decision surprisingly difficult for me.  Ferris has caused much angst in his life with us.  As I have noted in previous posts, Ferris was a most difficult dog.

My mother’s first dog when our family moved to Paramus, NJ in 1950 (I was an infant) was a Welsh Corgi.  She loved the dog and often spoke of the superior intelligence of this pet who would have a short life due to distemper.  Many years and many dogs later when my mother moved in with my family we decided it might be a good idea to get a dog again.  Our beloved Too-Sweet and Shortcake were gone and we had been dogless for a while.

A good hearted animal lover friend and colleague knew of my mother’s affection for Corgis. Deb came upon an unfortunate Corgi mix who was abandoned and sitting on the side of the road with his bag of dry dog food.  A couple of adolescent boys on bicycles were taunting the dog and she intervened.  After unsuccessfully attempting to rescue the dog herself , she called for help.  The dog was brought to an animal shelter.  Guilt ridden that she had also abandoned this little guy, she returned to the shelter and adopted the dog.

This then one or two year old dog was fearful, with good reason, and had the behaviors that accompany an unloved dog.  He visited us and immediately my mother fell in love with him.  The rest is history.  We welcomed this testy man into our home and hearts.  As in the past with other rescued pets, Ferris was on his best behavior totally misrepresenting himself and who he would become.

The name came from one of my students.  I asked for help in naming our new dog and offered some sort of extra credit prize.  Probably not the most educationally sound idea, but I did get a great name out of it.  The name Ferris represented not only his unpredictable personality (a little like Ferris Bueller of film fame) but his rich, red, rusty color. Ferris also had some black coloring below his nose which resembled what we called a Don Ameche moustache.  One of the many nicknames our son gave this dog was “Meech.” “Man,”  and “Fer Fer” along with a few names I may have called him, not appropriate for blogging, also worked their way into our dialog with Ferris.  We referred to his ability to curl one side of his upper lip and show some teeth as “Elvis Lip.”  He could be charming at times.

Our son was twelve at the time and ready for helping out with our newest family member. Recently Michael was clearly the only other person besides me who truly had a fondness for this dog.  In the early days my mother enjoyed walking him and often forgot to tell people not to attempt to pet him.  A simple outstretched hand would prompt Ferris to bite. Again, not the best behaved dog, but I excused him because of his probable past life of abuse.  When my mother was starting to wander, fall and lose her short term memory, I remember getting a call at work from the police who would deliver her to the hospital and Ferris back home to us.  He arrived in the back seat of the police car, unusually well behaved and seemingly pleased with his police escort.

I will try to focus on the positive side of this dog.  In the most recent past it was necessary to remind myself that he was old.  His existence was not joyful.  He suffered from arthritis, blindness, decaying teeth, (he could no longer tolerate the anesthesia to have a cleaning) dementia, incontinence and general grouchiness.  His wandering around the house, nails clicking on the floors, reminded me of an old man lost in a body that had long given up.

Ferris had an appetite that was predictably never ending.  A fondness for the cat’s litter boxes prompted my husband to erect a special room for the boxes at the bottom of our cellar steps. At this time Ferris was not known to use or climb steps.   One day he appeared to have gone missing in our house,  not easy to do in a small house.  Approaching our front door and panicked that somehow he had gotten outdoors without me I noticed the two young cats staring down our cellar steps.  To my surprise I found Ferris, investigating the ‘litter buffet’ and no worse for his travels.  I picture him stair surfing down the steps.  Ferris was also a gifted beggar.  He was known to hold the begging stance for an entire meal.

Ferris welcomed Bella as a puppy when he was about eleven years old.  At this point I felt Ferris was on the decline.  Bella perked him up and gave him new purpose.  They ran around the yard together and became fast friends.  Ferris was known to do “crazy dog” which meant he would race around the house, or more probably around the dining room table, in an burst of speed and determination.  The more we applauded him the more he was motivated to continue his performance.

Bella has few faults, but sometimes her barking can be a little annoying.  Whenever anyone comes near our front door Bella bursts into bark.  On a few occasions Ferris has been known to join in.  Even in old age we could hear Ferris vocalizing with his rooster like crow.  The memory of that sound still brings a smile to my face.  His little sigh or snort, sounding like “hurmph” seemed to come forth when he anticipated something good.  He actually produced this sound on his last day as I brought him outside for his last walk.

So, as I try to forget the last year, which was so difficult, I choose to remember that this dog, with all his many flaws, was a family member who actually had his moments.  RIP Ferris.

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About circuitousjourney

Retired Art Teacher
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