The last pool game?

DSC00825.jpgTucker, who was our first CCI puppy and whom we adopted 11 years ago when he was released for excess energy and distractibility, never was much of a ball-player. In his youth, he would chase a thrown ball a few times. But he invariably got bored and would wander off to do something else.

One thing he did was to invent a variation of ball-playing that we came to refer to as The Pool Game. Tucker never cared much for swimming either. But during swimming season, The Pool Game gave him a novel way to engage with the water. When one or more of us were in the pool, he would find a ball, bring it to the edge, and bark insistently, demanding that the human in the pool pick up the ball and throw it. If we ignored him, he would often drop the ball into the water and bark louder. For some reason, this activity entranced him; the older the got, the more he seemed to like it. In recent years, the mere sight of one of us in swimwear and with a towel sent him into a state of quivering, barking excitement.

This summer, the heat drove Steve and me into the pool more than normal. Tucker will be 14 at the end of November (98 in dog years), and he spends most of his time sleeping. His back hips are failing, and most of the time, when he walks at all, his pace ranges from slow to glacial. So the first time we got into the pool, in June, we were mildly astonished to see him as eager as ever to play The Pool Game. Our routine went like this:

<p><a href=”″>The pool game</a> from <a href=”″>Jeannette De Wyze</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

One houseguest exclaimed, “I didn’t think he could move like that!” Sometimes he seemed sore after the fun was over. But it didn’t deter him.

It’s been sweet. But now the hot spell has ended; night seems to come earlier with each passing day, and in response to these changes, our solar-heated pool’s temperature has been dropping. Steve swam Wednesday, but we suspect neither of us will do that again this season.

Tucker may survive to next summer. We hope he does, but I can’t imagine how he could play any games by that point. Unless it’s in his dreams. The other day, I glimpsed how dreaming transports him to better days. He was on his bed, but running at full tilt. I imagined he was galloping through the woods, strong and joyful. Maybe next summer he’ll play that way.

<p><a href=”″>Tucker sleep-running</a> from <a href=”″>Jeannette De Wyze</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



Hero worship

People often ask me how Tucker is tolerating Adagio. I am pleased to report that yet again, even as a nonagenarian, Tucker seems not just resigned to the little guy but almost fond of him. He wags his tail when Adagio returns from some outing. He allows Adagio to snuggle up and nap next to him on his dog bed. To our astonishment, Tucker even initiates play from time to time.

They’ve had a couple of lively tug of war sessions recently. 

Adagio, for his part, seems sensitive to Tucker’s rules. After being reprimanded harshly (by Tucker) once or twice, he has learned NEVER to try and horn in on any dish Tucker is    eating from. He even waits, politely, while Tucker drinks from their water bowl (although I’m all but certain Tuck would willingly share consumption from it).IMG_1625.jpg

As far as Steve and I are concerned, the grossest thing about life with Tucker is the way he drools. He has long been prone to this, but it has become markedly worse as he’s moved into his dotage. It’s not uncommon for twin fangs of saliva to swing from his jowls. Don’t ask me why. It doesn’t have to be mealtime. Whenever we see it, we invariably grab a paper towel and clean him up, lest one of the slimy ribbons wind up on one of us. It’s disgusting.

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A minor example.

Also disgusting was the habit that Beverly developed for cleaning Tucker up. For reasons that defy comprehension, she came to routinely lick up the drool, whenever she noticed that it needed attending. This grossed us out but, perversely, served our interest (by sparing us the clean-up chores.)

And now Adagio is following in her footsteps!


Does the Tucker drool taste good to puppies? Is it thirst-quenching? Surely that’s unimaginable. My best guess is that it’s some twisted doggy sign of subservience and fealty. “Allow me to tidy you up, master.” Tucker permits such ministrations with the equanimity of a lord being attended by his manservant.

Meanwhile, in the two-steps-back-for-every-one-step-forward department,

— We have stowed away the exercise pen that we used at first to confine Adagio in my office. It now feels unnecessary.

— We have put the puppy carriage back into storage in our garage. Although Adagio rode in it for a few minutes yesterday, he walked beautifully for most of our three-plus-mile long Sunday walk. We’re confident he will be able to make it completely on his own by next week.

He almost never flings himself on the ground, trying to remove his halter. Most of the time he trots along in perfect position at our side.

— The backward step relates to my sheet labeled “Toileting Errors” on the refrigerator. It was empty all week long, but now it has two entries, added yesterday afternoon. Steve and I consider both to be instances of operator error; in each case, we forgot to take Adagio out to pee (and he failed to make his need known.) If only Tucker could read his mind for us.




Tucker’s last birthday?

Almost 13 years ago, we received our first CCI puppy, a shambling little guy whose goofy good nature was evident from the instant I first met him. Steve and I had made the decision to raise a CCI puppy for several reasons. The most potent was that I was sick of seeing our beloved pet dogs grow old and get so feeble we felt compelled to euthanize them. I knew it would be hard to give away a dog we’d raised for a life of service, but it seemed better than the alternative.

What I never expected is that Tucker would flunk out. Throughout his time with us, he seemed a wonder — far more attentive and well behaved than any other dog we’d ever had. Maybe 6 weeks after he’d gone to Advanced Training, when the puppy program director called to inform me Tuck was being “released,” I felt the blood drain from my face. It was like hearing that one of my children was being expelled from college. We knew that if a CCI puppy fails to graduate, the folks who raised it can adopt it at no charge, but we never expected to face that choice. Still, we didn’t hesitate to welcome Tucker back as a permanent member of our household.

Today is his 13th birthday, and it’s hard not to feel a little irony in our current life together. In the 18 months since he had a cancerous tumor removed from his side, he’s done well. But he’s also aged so much. He’s deaf now, and he sleeps so deeply it’s often hard to tell if he’s still breathing. Once again we’re living with a very elderly animal (“91 in people years!” Steve often reminds me), and wondering if we’ll have to make the dreaded call to the vet about him.

We’re not there yet. Yesterday Steve and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Riverside County tree farm for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, and Tucker pushed his way into the garage, determined to accompany us on our outing. (He didn’t know the destination; he didn’t care.) He shared the car kennel with Ressa (the little seven-month-old CCI pup whom we’ve been sitting), and at the farm, he tried to smell everything.

113017 car ride
Sharing the car kennel requires a tight squeeze, but they tolerate it.

He still wags his tail at every puppy we welcome into the house, and he plays his silly game with them, emitting gruff, old-man “WOOFs!” that make them race around as if they’re scared of him. And he still loves to eat. This morning, in honor of the day, we served him turkey and other scraps from my post-Thanksgiving stock, mixed with a little leftover fettuccine. Tuck looked a bit startled by this change from Eukanuba (even after Steve removed the candle), but he gobbled it down.

113017 breakfast

We figure he could slip away in his sleep two days from now. Or he could live another two years (any more than that is pretty inconceivable). Whenever he does go, we’ll miss him terribly. Maybe we’ll vow to never again have another pet dog. Maybe we’ll even mean it this time.