Zorro is an 8 year old Leonberger. He is epileptic, arthritic, has Addison’s disease and polyneuropathy. That alone makes him a ‘project dog’. But even before health problems and old age began to take their toll, he was far from easy to live with. Right from the start Zorro was an enormous, athletic, strong-willed dog who feared absolutely nothing. He was also incredibly charming and had a strong desire to please……. himself.
Zorro enjoyed competitive obedience – and cheerfully ignored commands at home. He had a great flair for the dramatic. The first time we went into the obedience ring together, he executed the entire routine flawlessly – except for consistently remaining 6 feet behind me. Seven years ago he ran off into the November snow. Terrified that he’d find the busy road 500 feet through the woods, I took off after him - wearing only underpants, a sweatshirt and pac boots. My husband followed, with only a pair of slacks on. We finally cornered him in our neighbor’s garage. I’m sure they’re STILL laughing about that.
A later hunting trip resulted in him chewing a metal drain pipe off the wall of our house. In a another creative moment, he dove head first into a carrot cake. He learned how to open our sliding glass doors, screen doors, cabinet doors and gates. Life was never dull.
With time, patience, and training Zorro became an incredible dog. Obedience was an adventure and he was my willing partner. Utterly fearless and always cheerful, he was a joy to work with. He taught me more about dogs than anyone I know. Knowing him changed me and the years of his young adulthood were some of the most wonderful ones of my life.
Now the incredible dog who could clear a five-foot fence sometimes needs help getting into our minivan. His muzzle is gray, he drags his rear feet – but there’s still a gleam in his eye. These days I have to be careful about where I take the old fellow. He still sees himself as young and strong and if I let him, he’d try to race through the forests of our youth. Leaping over fallen logs, racing down steep hills, scrambling over rock falls – in my mind’s eye (and in his) he’s beautiful and fit, but reality can be cruel and I won’t risk his lovely bones.
We take fewer trips together these days, my old dog and I. The stress of travelling might trigger a seizure episode and the medications he needs to take to control the many illnesses of his aging body make frequent pee breaks a necessity. When I take a long hike my husband stays home with the old fellow. I hate to leave them behind but Mark assures me that Zorro only whines a bit when I leave and is quickly distracted by his Buster cube or a rousing game of tug.
I’m sure that his growing old is a lot harder on me than it is on him. After all, Zorro is a dog and he has a wonderful ability to take each day as it comes. Each disappointment is quickly forgotten in the joy of a new moment. The old dog sleeps peacefully and looks forward to each day as a new adventure. Its only me that yearns for the days of his youth and dreads the day we’ll have to part.
That old dog still has a lot to teach me.