Hans is aging quickly. He is 15-years old. It has been over a year since he could negotiate stairs. We have a ramp on the stairs leading to our front door just for him. Now, he has difficulty even standing up. Five out of every seven nights of the week, he will bark in the wee hours of the morning – between midnight and three. It used to annoy me terribly, but then I learned to get up without complaint and walk downstairs to lift him up so he can get a drink of water. He doesn’t bark to annoy me; he barks because he needs help getting to his feet. Sometimes, I think he is just comforted to know he is not alone and that we will respond to his needs.
Dogs as Teachers
While dogs like Caesar and Clarence teach us true unconditional love, aging dogs like Hans teach us true patience and compassion. Ten years ago, I would have bitched and moaned every time I got up with him or every time he stops for five minutes throughout a 10-minute walk to sniff every blade of grass. I would pull hard on his leash and demand that he ‘get moving.’ I don’t do that anymore, and the fact is, I wish I had learned this lesson from Hans much earlier in my life. If I had, I know I would have been far more patient and understanding with my own parents, particularly my father during those brutal – and that is not too strong a word – years of caregiving.
Dogs bark. When they do, the typical human response is, “Be quiet.” I’ve thought long and hard about that. To tell a dog to be quiet, not to bark is like telling a baby not to cry or telling a human being not to speak. Dogs bark for a reason, not to be annoying. If we are more intelligent than dogs – which I am far from convinced that we are – then it is our responsibility to learn their language, to learn what they are trying to say rather than to insist they learn our language.
Hans Has Made Me a Better Person
In my younger years, I was known as a man of little patience. My wife and children will attest to that, but I am different now. Hans is the greatest teacher of patience I have experienced. Although there are times when I waver and even fail, those closest to me can see the difference that Hans has made on my demeanor.
It is a beautiful August day in River Falls. We thought Hans might enjoy a walk at the horse farm in addition to his three daily walks up the street. We quickly learned that the ramp is too steep for him to climb into the back of the Escape. With the slightest of grumbles, he allowed me to lift him up and place him in the back. We went to the farm and walked for 20 minutes. The look on his face and his body language left no doubt that he enjoyed the excursion.