In Praise of Elder Dogs

This blog is created in celebration of the elder dogs, of any breed, who've touched our hearts. You are invited to add your own reflections, or, if you wish, track the progress of your own elder dogs. ("Elder," BTW, is defined here as 10 years or more, except in breeds known for shorter lifespans, such as the Great Dane.) Send your stories and photos to me at branta(at)

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Location: Hunt, Texas, United States

I've been privileged to share my life with five unforgettable Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. This blog was inspired by Cooper, my first, whose indominatable bright spirit triumphed over his limitations. Every day of his life, till the very end, he woke joyously, happy to greet the day. I would wish the same for all of us!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tessie's New Life As An "Only" Dog

Our new life -- a life without Cooper -- has begun. I can't tell you exactly when mourning slipped away. But I know there was an afternoon last week or even the week before when, after finishing an hour of pool exercise, I realized that a whole hour had passed without thinking of him. There must have been a moment when, for the first time in so many years, we didn't instinctively, automatically, reflexively listen for his breath or tread carefully to avoid stepping on him in the dark. There must have been a moment when the depression lifted, when happiness displaced despair, but I can't say when or where we were when that happened.

We enjoyed a bit of cheese at lunch today and smiled as we remembered Cooper. We can now say his name without tears. I can handle his collar without breaking down.

Gradually, very gradually, Tessie (13) has been easing into her exciting new role as an "Only Dog." Initially, after Cooper passed, she was as distant as ever, keeping largely to herself and emerging only for meals, at which she did all she could to out-eat her brother. Like most elder dogs, she slept much of the day and night, often oblivious, it seemed, to where I was. Now, however, she stays close day and night, enjoying all the pleasures and privileges of only-dogdom -- a first for her.

As I move about the house all day, she comes with me ... not obsessively, but as Cooper used to do. As I work at my desk, she dozes in a Moses basket by my feet. Sometimes I inch my foot closer to feel her warm muzzle against my leg.

This is the quiet, reserved, even subdued dog I thought would never emerge from her brother's shadow. Initially, as we grieved for Cooper and she stayed remote, I found myself grumbling, "This is like not having a dog." But with the passing days -- and again, I can't tell you when it began, whether in a moment or gently over time -- Tessie stepped into her new life and we reached out to welcome her.

We have a new dog. And she has new people.


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