COLUMN: The Old-Dog.

Journalist seeks to build connections with elders

Keith Zhu urges engagement with elders through story of neglect 

“Pong, pong, pong .…” The sound is quite muffled as the Old-Dog desperately scratches on the glass slide door. Since the first time I moved to the house in the fall of 2016, I could always see the Old-Dog standing in the backyard, scratching at the door in a frenzy.

She longs to get inside; the pair of dull eyes shows me her desperation. She only scratches three times then stops, as soon as she realizes that nobody cares about her behavior, as everybody is accustomed to this sound.

The Mom opened the sliding door and let the other younger dog pass the Old-Dog to come inside. While the door was not closed yet, the Old-Dog stood by the edge of the sill, with one side of her body clanged on the glass door. Her oblong head attempted to turn, face inside of the house, as her leading nose and mouth crossed the sill border inside the house. Then she suddenly turned back right away. Finally, she plucked up, walked fast inside.

“What are you doing here,” yelled the mother. Then the Old-Dog stopped and turned to face where the yelling was from.

The Old Dog stays in the backyard.

The Old Dog stays in the backyard.

“Get out of here grandma,” the mother continued as she pulled the Old Dog’s collar, dragging her out of the house. The Old-Dog then turned around faced to the house, looked inside, as her oblong mouth still crossed the border of the doorframe. Then the Mom closed the door, forcing the Old-Dog’s head to turn back as the glass door was sliding closed. The Old-Dog then stepped away, ensconcing herself on a cozy cushion and lazed around in the sunshine.

She has been an outside-dog since 12 years ago when the mom of the house found herself pregnant, then had couple decided to keep this dog outside, away from the pregnant woman and children. Since then, whenever she sees her masters, she would start pawing the door.

This annoys the family and nobody understands her actions. In my memories, whenever the Old Dog is scratching at the door making noise, her desperate attempts for attention are returned not with warming care but a cold shoulder and impatience.

“What’s that? What is that? ” the father said as he looked at the frenzied Old Dog, grumbled with his left index finger pointing at head and circling, “you are crazy, crazy!”

The younger pet dog came to this family seven years after their second boy‘s birth. The couple likes younger dog and so does their kids, since she grew up with those boys inside of the house.  She is a vivacious Boxer, who can relax in the house. Maybe the Boxer is smarter than the Old Dog, and tamer, since the family taught the Boxer how to sit and shake hands with specific gestures. Every night, after the boys change into their pajamas, I always hear the younger son yelling the Boxer’s name and orders her to sit down and shake hands. He praises the dog by saying, “Good girl, good girl!”  Then he continues, “Come on girl,” inviting the Boxer to join him to sleep together on his bed.

Compared to the Old Dog, the Old Dog may be the better to just keep outside, because she always wants to get inside, but once she comes inside she wants to go back outside right after she comes in. All she does is just annoy the family.

The Old Dog always lays on the cushion.

The Old Dog always lays on the cushion.

The Boxer is really a family dog. Once the winter comes, glacial wind blows and chills the bone. We would hide ourselves inside of the house and ignite fireplace. The Boxer splays her large body across our legs and naps while we watch TV. We fall into sleep with the family dog, with the snaps of the burning wood. The fragrance of burning wood fills the house with a warm and cozy family atmosphere. And we can feel her chest heaving as she takes deep breaths breathing in the aromas while she slept.

How sweet is this Boxer? People like this kind of lovely dog, don’t they? In the last whole year, I realized the Old Dog existed only when she was scratching the door, making noises to attract my attention. I sometimes forget that the Old Dog exists.

The Old Dog quieted since I returned to the house from Switzerland in the August of 2017. Since my return, I hardly hear her scratching at the glass slide door for just a few times. Even though the lengthening days and 110+ ºF wilting days, and the scorching sunshine filled everyone with restlessness, the Old Dog just laid on the cushion and basked in the sun for the most of the time I saw her; she never bothered looking into of the house anymore.

It seems she had already become adjusted, the summer smeltery in the past 12 years, and had forgotten that the house, the escape of torridity. With no scratching to remind me of her, my memory of the Old Dog began fading and her existence ceasing in my mind.

But a while back, the Old Dog showed up before my eyes while I was absorbing the sunset glow one afternoon. I saw her and she came to me, sat down. I touched her head and my hand slipped down to her back; she always raised her head up a little bit trying to reach my falling hand as I felt her again and again. I could see her strain her face as her eyelids downed and squinted while my hand was on her head. “I might be the only person stroking this Old Dog,” I muttered to myself.

Her eye’s color dulls, that pair of eyes used to have circles of dynamic aquamarine now had turned to gray, dark and turbid.

Her eye’s color dulls, that pair of eyes used to have circles of dynamic aquamarine now had turned to gray, dark and turbid.

As a 14-year-old Weimaraner, she has already taken the step into the dusk time of her life, every movement she takes has always been with shaking and feeble gasp, gerontic and exhausted. Nevertheless, she still tried her best to catch my pace, tried to be like a puppy dog. I then walked forward and stopped, waited for her catching me, and walked forward when she almost reached me, on and on.

Maybe her solitude walks to the extreme so that she just wants to feel being by somebody. I gazed this Old Dog, feeling her hairs, it was sparse and coarse. She had lost her eyes’ color already, that pair of eyes used to have circles of dynamic aquamarine now had turned to fully gray, dark and turbid. That pair of muscular hind legs born for hunting, now could not even stand steadily.

I am always wondering if I share enough love to everyone, especially those elders who are ignored. Maybe sometimes giving a feel or an embrace would satisfy them with lonely and solitude. I try getting close to elders around in my life, then feel and hug, cling on their chests, I could hear the familiar sound once again, it sounds quite muffled but with full of vitality:

“Pong, Pong, Pong… Pong, Pong, Pong…”

I went back to that family in November 2018, the family told me she was too old so they had to put her to sleep.