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Tucker

05/23/03 12:00AM By Willem Lange
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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has noticed recently that his closest companion is aging seven times faster than he.

(Lange) Five-thirty in the morning. The dog shakes her metal tags in my ear. Time to get the newspaper. The six hours between the late-night weather forecast and the shaking tags seem to have flown by. But in a larger sense, time seems to have stood still: The dog's been doing this for over a decade now, and nothing seems to change.

I dress; we shuffle down to the road for the paper. Reading the headlines, I trudge back up the hill. At the top, I pause for her to nose around the yard. But she's not here. She's only halfway up the hill, favoring a rear leg. She sees me watching, and tries to speed up a little. With a dull dread I realize that, for her, time is passing seven times faster than it is for us.

She came to us a refugee. Abused as an infant by the brothers of a fraternity in Ohio, she was rescued by our younger daughter, who brought her to Etna. I had decreed there was no way we were going to have a dog. But when I came home from work, there they were - Mother, daughter, puppy - gathered in the kitchen to greet me. I stopped in front of the puppy. She sat looking up at this new person, who radiated disapproval. As I returned her gaze, I saw the light of science burning in her eyes! I bent over to pet her. She peed on the floor. And we've been pals ever since.

Mother carried her for weeks in a sling across her bosom, talking softly to her all the time. I took her on walks through the woods, marveling at her sheer, leaping joy of movement.

She's heartbreakingly eager to please us. For me, she's perfectly quiet in the woods, and reads my sign language. If I pat my pockets and mutter, she runs to find whatever I've dropped. For Mother, she runs for reading glasses, the cordless phone, or slippers. At the bank, we hand her a purse with the deposits inside. She hops up onto the chair, and waits for the teller to take the purse. She gets a treat, and trots back outside with the receipts. When we walk the road, she crawls into the bushes for discarded beer cans.

Now suddenly she walks in the trail and falls behind by the end of the walk. But just let me try to slip out without her... the squeak of the coat closet door brings her sniffing and wagging -- are we going, are we going?! So while nothing seems to be changing, almost everything is, and far too fast. Soon I'll be slipping out quietly to spare her the pain of trying to follow.

As always, Robert Frost was here way ahead of me. He writes, "I tasted in little the grief that comes of dogs' lives being so brief."

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

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