Carol Reiter: Fleeting moments in a dog's life

04/04/2009 1:54 AM

10/19/2009 10:51 AM

It seems like it was just this morning that my dog Gwyn came to Merced, tucked in a crate from a cold South Dakota sheep ranch. She was a little blue fluff of hair, only 9 weeks old, and I was tickled to death with her.

It was mid-morning when Gwyn had her first litter of puppies, the litter that Ty came from. Just a couple of hours after he was born, Ty was working cattle at trials, and taking his owner from being a teenager with no clue how to work a dog to being a seasoned dog trainer with a dangerous dog.

And then it was noontime, and Gwyn's last litter of puppies was born. I kept Ox and Ted and Kate, and they were all so different, but all such border collies. Just a few minutes after the puppies were born, Kate was grown up and Ted was a father.

By mid-afternoon, Kate's face was gray and Ted and Ox and Ty and Gwyn were gone. I blinked my eyes, and then Kate was gone too.

What happened? It was really only a day since I first saw Gwyn, I swear it was. I remember Kate brand-new, wet and tiny, and I remember how Gwyn tried to eat her way through a door to get to her puppies, and it was just hours ago that my father and I fixed that door.

Wasn't it just a few hours ago that my friend and I drove to Oregon and back in a day, bringing back Jan and two of her brothers? It was hot and close on the way up there, and then that night it rained. I couldn't remember those details so clearly if it had really been five years ago. Maybe it was last week, but it certainly couldn't have been any longer ago than that. No way.

Unfortunately, our dogs don't live as long as we do. We bring puppies home, and we turn around and those puppies are gray-faced, lovely friends who grew old while we weren't looking.

I only have three dogs now. Jan and Peg and Len, and it will only be a few hours before those dogs too are gone. I try to slow down and enjoy them, taking them out to run and giving them their treats at night and rubbing Jan's belly just the way she likes it.

But no matter how slow I move, the hours go by quickly, and suddenly Len is almost 9 years old. He was just born, I swear he was. His mother, Copper, just went to live with a horse trainer a few minutes ago, and Lenny's brothers and sisters were driven away in their new owners' cars, ready to face their new lives, earlier today.

But I'm wrong. It hasn't been only a day, or even a week, and in most cases, not even a few years. Gwyn would be 18 now, and it's hard for me to believe that. I still think I see her once in a while, or hear her little yappy bark that tells me she wants to come in the house.

So I watch my dogs grow older, and I enjoy them with all my heart. I know that Len will never, ever be a puppy again, and even Peg, the evil, fast Peg, is slowing down, just a bit. I get mad at her, then I remember that one day too soon, Peg will be slow and gray and I will once again be trying to convince myself that the time really has gone by that fast.

But now I have a little bit of a hedge against time. Even though my dogs will eventually turn as gray as I am, I have made a tiny step toward making sure that time doesn't go too terribly fast.

Last weekend, we sat on a sawdust-covered floor with a litter of puppies and chose the one that would become ours. We looked at the five puppies related to Jan and Ted, and we chose a male that will become the newest member of our family. My friend and I looked at each puppy carefully, and we chose with care. The puppy is still with his mom, he's only four weeks old. In another month, there will be another needle-nosed, freckle-faced little puppy sharing our lives, and reminding me how quickly time goes by as I watch him grow.

The pup already has a name, a name that he will have to grow into, because we're naming him after one of the best dogs that ever set foot on our ranch. A dog that came into our lives with a gray face and proved that old dogs still have a lot to give.

A dog that was pretty to look at, and nice to be around. A dog we called Moss. When Moss died, another of my friends asked me what dog we were going to use to get the cows out of our field. With that question, I realized that Moss was more than just a rescue dog, a dog that came from our animal shelter, a dog that had outlived his usefulness somewhere before he came into our world.

Moss was a special dog, one of those souls that come into our lives and leaves a scar on our heart when they leave. Our new puppy will be called Moss, and he has a lot to live up to. But this time, I get to have Moss from the time he has sweet-smelling puppy breath and unbelievably big feet. He won't come with a gray face and arthritic joints, he will come with a brand-new world ahead of him.

I miss the old Moss, and I'm looking forward to the new Moss. I hope that this little pup will get just a little piece of the old Moss, because if he does, he'll be a heck of a dog.

And I hope that it takes this puppy a little longer than a couple of hours to grow up and grow old. I intend on enjoying him, and that should slow time down a bit. I certainly hope it does.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com

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