Watching him age has been both beautiful and painful. I did not get the chance to embrace Briggs’ aging process … he was an old soul from the time he was small, and his health problems aged him faster than he deserved, or I could believe. He was always an old dog, to me, and I lost him when he was not yet 11 years old. I always felt robbed of his twilight years, but also, somehow, robbed of his youth.
And Tweed is not Briggs. Briggs lived his while life asking me, “What now, Boss?” but from the time he was small, Tweed only ever asked me “Why?” Why should he sit there, stand on that, leave that alone, stop barking, be nice to the cat? “What’s in for me?” he always wanted to know. He still does.
Tweed has always questioned everything – he’s a born skeptic. And he’s cautious, about everything. Never was Tweed one to run headfirst into a tree after a ball, like Piper; never has he skidded to a stop throwing up mud answering his recall, like Dexter. His steps are measured, his enthusiasm always tempered with reserve. Strangers, new places, foreign objects, new commands – he’s been cautious about them all. He’s not like Woo, who exists only to please himself. Quite the opposite, Tweed has always wanted to be good, but first he just wanted to know why. If I’ve failed him in any way, it’s that it took me ages to recognize that he really is a very good dog. In many ways, he’s smarter than Briggs ever was, and the smartest dog I know.
I’m an impatient trainer; my temper is quick, my impulse control needs work. I struggle with it often. And Tweed’s questions always drove me crazy – “Just do it!” I’d seethe, and Tweed would tilt his head at me and ask “But why?”
It was not until after Briggs’ death that Tweed began to shine for me. Although he was a difficult dog in so many ways, Briggs was so easy for me because he always wanted to do what I asked. Briggs was a foot soldier, a loyal subject, who could not even fathom asking “Why.” It saved him from himself, and his demons, but at the time I didn’t see it as a survival mechanism; I only recognized it as Super Dog, and more robust, more rounded dogs seemed petty irritations to me. But when I no longer had anything to compare Tweed to but a memory, I began to see what an amazing dog he really is.
And this is what Tweed has taught me – forgiveness. He forgave me, instantly, for assuming he was a lesser dog than Briggs. He never lost faith in me, even when I had so little in him. It pains me that for so many years, I failed to see how many times the “Why?” I saw in Tweed was really TRY. He tries so hard, he’s full of try. Once I learned how answer his questions, he has given me more back that I have ever deserved.
Years ago, I was walking around a lake with my two red dogs, and Briggs stepped on a big, fat thorn that shoved itself way up into his pad. He yelped, held up his foot and limped over to me – held out his paw and trusted I would take care of it. I pulled the pointy barb out of his flesh and tossed it to the side of the path where Tweed, meandering by, immediately stepped on it. He screamed, tucked down his tail and took off on three legs – unlike Briggs, he didn’t come to me to save him. And I used to think that illustrated the difference between my two dogs, and was such a clear indication of why Briggs was so superior to his little brother. I was too selfish to see that all it illustrated was how much less I valued him.
Today, while we walked along the dykes we came to the place where we have to cross a sea of boulders – about 50 feet long, and 20 feet wide, there’s no other way to get to the other side. As the pups and Piper danced across the uneven surface, Tweed picked his way carefully along behind me, stepping where I stepped, choosing the same flat surfaces where he saw my feet go. He trusted me to lead him safely across this small challenge, and it made me so glad to see how far we had come.
And then he fell – he lost his footing and slipped. He went down rather heavily, and two of his legs disappeared into crevices, trapping him with his chest pressed against the jagged edge of a big boulder where he tried to balance. And it was then that I realized Tweed is getting old. I’ve seen Piper fall on these same boulders and recover herself before she’s fully hit the rocks, but Tweed went down and he stayed down. He’s not 5 years old anymore – he’s almost 10 years old, and his body knows it, even if I don’t.
For a second or two he struggled and I thought “don’t panic Tweed, don’t – you’ll break your legs if you do!” and then he turned his head and looked at me. He just met my eyes for a long second and I could see he was asking, again, “Why?” But not “Why is my body failing me? Why am I getting old?” Rather, he was just asking me, “Why are you just standing there, you flippin’ idiot, can’t you see I’m stuck?”
“Sorry, sorry!” I said and picked my way across the rocks back the way I’d come. I bent down and carefully lifted him out of his little prison and set him back on a flat surface. He wagged his tail and stuck his nose in my pocket. “Cookie please, that was really traumatic.”
I laughed. Tweed loves it when he thinks he’s been funny, and he barked back. Of course I gave him a cookie. I’m looking forward to giving him cookies for barking at me for many more years to come.
(I promise not to make these long winded, sort of maudlin posts very often)