Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer nights and old dogs.

There’s a dyspeptic old beagle in our neighborhood. His name is Root Beer, and he’s on the lam again tonight. He has that distinctive, high, braying beagle bark, and even though he’s old and seems to be channeling Burgess Meredith in Rocky, these warm, moonlit summer nights stir something deep in his soul.

These are grand nights for yelping. And, for an hour or two, Root Beer gets to ramble and pretend he’s young again. One minute he’s in discourse with the moon three blocks to the east. The next he’s telling the entire neighborhood about the raccoon he treed four blocks to the west—displaying remarkable range. Root Beer must be at least eighty in dog years.

This is probably Root Beer’s last hurrah, and in bedrooms for miles around, there are people with heads scrunched under pillows for whom the end can’t come soon enough.

Not me. I’ve come to appreciate the old neighborhood dogs and the way their names and personalities seem to converge late in life—how they acquire a certain distinction and dignity in the last few years before they go.

There was an irascible old Sheltie—Elmo—who used to stand over his food dish, and growl when toddlers were in the room. He relented somehow, and found peace there toward the end.

There was a small, remarkably-mixed breed named Lady who acquired the soul of a sixty-five year old Lake Street waitress, fallen arches and all. And Max, a Wheaton Terrier who thought he was Felix Unger from “The Odd Couple.”

Happily, for every old neighborhood dog that grew into its name and passed on, there’s a new dog with a new name to grow into. There’s Linus—part whippet, part something very un-whippet. And Cal—a pleasant enough young Australian Silky.

Young or old, it’s a great neighborhood to be a Minnesota dog. Always has been. Always will be.

I say let Root Beer outrun and out-bark his mortality just as long and as happily as he can. And when his time comes, here’s hoping he passes on to a neighborhood full of soup bones to gnaw, summer nights to ramble through, and disapproving old neighborhood cats to aggravate from here to eternity.