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Slayton: Alice at Christmas

12/23/10 5:55PM By Tom Slayton
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(HOST)  Commentator Tom Slayton is spending this holiday season with an old friend.

(SLAYTON)  Alice still loves Christmas, even though she’s now the equivalent of almost 90 years old. I say "equivalent" because Alice is my aging female Airedale, and she’s actually some months over 12 years.

She is now showing the effects of age. She sleeps a lot, and after she sleeps she has some difficulty getting up. She has pills for her arthritis. (As the recipient a couple of years back of an artificial right hip, I know about arthritis.)

Alice has always been a tough case - headstrong, determined, a type-A kind of canine.

But as she gets older, she’s become milder and sweeter. Still the neighborhood loudmouth, still very sure of herself and what she wants, and still, Lord knows, a terrier. But she's somehow softer, as though time had buffed away the hard edges.

Alice now has kidney disease, one of the dividends of attaining senior citizenship. She has meds and a special diet. She’s a fussy eater, eagerly snapping up what she likes but rejecting what she doesn’t. She has trouble sitting down and standing up; but the arthritis hasn't stopped her... not yet.

In all this, she reminds me of some of my older relatives and friends - and of myself, as I stump stiffly around the kitchen in the morning. We’re not that much different, she and I. We’re both mammals, both aging; neither of us going gentle into that good night. It’s just that she, being canine, is going faster than I am.

Nevertheless, Alice still loves Christmas. She had been going through a lame and logy period, but the day we brought the tree in and put the lights on it, she perked right up. The more mysterious packages appeared, the more the house smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg, the brighter her eyes sparkled and the brisker her steps became.

She’s been sniffing at the packages - she loves to unwrap presents, whether they’re intended for her or not. And she's looking longingly at the little stuffed bears in Christmas garb that perch through December on shelves just out of Airedale reach.

I wonder if all this is because we brought her home as a puppy shortly before Christmas more than 12 years ago, and so some of her earliest memories involve a fragrant tree and silly stuffed toys. Or maybe she’s just keying off our anticipation and excitement. Whatever the reason, the holiday has given her a burst of her old energy and edge.

She’s been getting up briskly, playing in the snow with vigorous abandon, and poking around the tree eagerly, ready for new and wondrous surprises.

Every dog story is a minor tragedy because their lives are so much shorter than ours. We can watch the arc of their lives and know that they mirror, in some elemental way, our own.  I’m not really sure that Alice will live long enough to be excited by another Christmas.

And so I want to be sure to enjoy the season, and Alice too - although surely not as much as Alice does herself.
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