His muzzle is gray. His joints are sore, and he is undeniably in the twilight of his days.
But Cash, our 13-year-old German wire-haired pointer still has the drive to follow his nose as he criss-crosses open country in search of game birds.
We don’t hunt him as much any more. At one point this fall, we retired him altogether, fearing the end was near. He’d accompanied me on a couple of long hikes, and his body was having trouble recovering. His back end was stove up, and he was having a difficult time with simple movements. His pain was sufficient to require a trip to the vet and medication to get him back on his feet.
He’d also recently become exceedingly anxious and was perhaps showing the first signs of doggy dementia. For the first time, we talked openly about his pending death and discussed under what circumstances we would step in and end his life humanely.
But then Cash did what he has done many times in his life. He got better. At least his body did. Although diminished from his prime, Cash’s dexterity returned, and his energy and appetite improved.
Still, we decided he was done hunting and that he would live out his remaining days in comfort. He’d be spoiled with wet dog food and frequent treats. Unlike many humans, his metabolism seems to have sped up with age, and though not ill, he’s had trouble maintaining his already slender frame.
So his dog food bowl was filled to the brim twice daily. He gained a few pounds and resumed his daily walks. Eventually I brought him along on short hunts — no more than half an hour in length and on mild terrain.
But I left him home on longer excursions and took only Mae, his 6-year-old mate. Cash was a nervous wreck when left behind. He would shake and pace. It got so bad, I came to believe it was better to bring him along than leave him at home in a state of extreme anxiety.
So now he goes. The hunts are still short compared to those in his prime, but he has responded positively. While he is still prone to bouts of anxiety, modest and measured exercise seems to help.
We still get a thrill when he displays the posture and movements that signal he’s on the scent of birds. When his old body stiffens into a hard point, it reminds us and perhaps him of some of the best of times.
Pets are wonderful and bring joy to the lives of their owners. But losing them is excruciating. My wife, Sadie, and I are well aware it won’t be long. We don’t know if he’ll be alive next fall or, if he is, if he’ll have the energy to take to the field.
But this hunting season, while almost over, isn’t quite finished yet, and neither is our little buddy’s hunting career.
So for now, Cash is a hunting dog, and he gets to go along.
That means short hunts, but they are all the more special.