He's 15. Blind. Confused. Somewhat incontinent. Shaky. Very little of the spunky, fiery personality he had is left. But he's still with us and seems to some of life's pleasures. Clearly, though, the end is not too far off.
As I walked him this morning -- in the bitter cold -- hoping to get him to go to the bathroom outside, he straggled behind and frequently stopped, causing me (accidentally) to drag him. When he walked, it was as slow as he could go without falling over.
Frustration gripped me, the cold increased the tenseness in my muscles. "Come on, Fritz, just go to the bathroom already!"
Then it hit me. I flashed back to his days when he was in "Puppy Kindergarten" class at one of the local big box pet stores. It was Spring 1995 and I was still living at home. He was the cutest little puppy, a ton of fun, a bit aggressive, but very likable. I loved him and I was glad to take him to obedience training just to spend time with him.
Even though he graduated, he was a poor student. While other puppies dutifully walked in the circle on their leashes, Fritz would dig in his heels and make me drag him. The instructor -- a lady I cared for not at all, who had an obvious dislike of Mini Schnauzers -- insisted that I drag him until he capitulated and would walk at my side. During the walk sessions, he spent more time on his back legs and butt than on all fours. It was particularly funny when he did this to the instructor. I felt a bond with him; I was glad he was sticking it to the teacher.
He was pretty easy to house train. But there were accidents he had in the house as a puppy. It was typically my job to clean up his messes. I didn't like it but I understood that it takes puppies time to learn the ropes.
The flashback left me with a love and warmth for this animal that I had forgotten was there. I felt sorry that he is moving toward the end of his life, that he's physically failing and that he doesn't have the vibrance he did a decade ago. I felt a little guilty for worrying about the inside of the house and for dragging him out in the bitter cold. I remembered that old dogs can't necessarily control when and where they go to the bathroom. That's no longer a luxury they have.
I was happy and sad to remember him as he had been. I was glad he's still here but questioned whether or not that should be the case. I was thankful that he has given my family all those years of unconditional love, companionship and entertainment.
Most surprisingly, I realized how much the end looks like the beginning.