Here's what just happened: My husband was leaving to run a few errands in his truck. He'd probably take the dog to the park in the afternoon, he said, but not right now.
Two minutes later, my husband looked at the dog, who was sitting between him and the back door. Pip was watching him intently, all but quivering with expectation.
"He knows," my husband told me. "Look: He knows."
"So we'll see you later," said my husband, resigned, and he and the dog left in the truck.
As our dog ages, what he loses in physical vigor, he gains in influence and power over us. We are more than ever Silly Putty in his paws.
He isn't even all that aged. He still frisks with his toys. He still caroms around the yard, leaning like a bicyclist on the turns. He still pulls on the leash, straining to sniff the plant or the tree just out of his reach. He's still a pain in the neck to take anywhere.
When my husband is working in the garage and I'm weeding on the far side of the house, the dog gives us equal time, like a considerate waiter. First he'll hang around me, snuffling through the bushes and stepping on my hands before heading back to the garage to see what my husband's up to. Soon he'll return to me, and so on, unless the farmers who own the land around our house happen to be out back. Then, of course, he must trot out to greet them, interrupting their work, making unhelpful suggestions and getting underfoot like an annoying micromanager.
He no longer, however, follows his nose across corn and soybean fields and winds up miles away in a neighbor's yard. He no longer wakes us up at 6 a.m., impatient to charge outside and resume oversight of his property. He's content to be home; he's content to sleep until we wake him up.
The vet can only guess at his age, but he must be at least 13. His muzzle is gray, and when he isn't pouncing on disgusting bits of plush that used to be toy squirrels or giraffes or snakes, he's sacked out like an uncle on Thanksgiving afternoon.
Of course, he's deaf -- though he sometimes comes when my husband calls, when my husband turns the volume all the way up to 11. Even then, Pip's expression, when he materializes, is one of casual perplexity: "Did you hear something?" he seems to say, even as my husband waves his arms to beckon him in.
His deafness isn't without advantages. Thunderstorms no longer terrify him. Ringing cellphones don't startle him. The vacuum cleaner is but a silent, rolling piece of furniture. Even baths are simpler, because he doesn't hide when he hears the water running. We simply pick him up where he stands and plop him in.
Another beloved dog, an oversized German shepherd named Jeffrey, lived to be 14, but grappled in his last months with hip dysplasia that would immobilize him for long stretches. He often needed to go outside after midnight, only to become incapacitated 50 yards from the door. He weighed well over 100 pounds, and I couldn't carry him. Neither could I waltz back to bed, leaving him hunched miserably in the grass. My husband and I more than once employed the 3 a.m. blanket carry to lift him up to the back porch and through the door.
The things we do for our dogs. Even now, with Jeffrey long resting near the wildflowers in our yard, I remember the feeling of his head under my palm, his improbably enormous ears standing up on either side of my hand like party hats.
I also remember my mother, a sucker for human babies, who shuddered and flapped her hands around animals. "Get it away!" she'd say when I'd try to hand her a breathing ball of fur. I assumed I'd understand her aversion when I grew up, but then I did grow up, and what I understand is my mother was just plain weird about animals.
Well, I'm not, and I'm grateful. Animals -- dogs, cats, any creature whose need for us answers our need for it -- are a saving grace. They soothe us, calm us and give us hope. They temper selfishness, kindle empathy and encourage generosity. They make us ashamed of our power and mindful of our weaknesses.
But mostly, of course, when we go someplace in the truck, they make us take them along. Everybody wins.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.