To love an old dog

These days we all need a bridge to another side. And for Ali Shah that bridge over troubled waters was his dog, Wally.

What is taking you through these difficult days? A bridge, I bet.

You have heard the phrase “a bridge too far”. It is often misused to mean “going too far,” but it actually means a company that is too ambitious and likely doomed to begin with. Nothing is inherently doomed than a relationship with a dog.

When the coronavirus came ashore, my bridge was the same as always: Wally, an oversized mix of black lab and Newfoundland.

Because of his affection for strangers and his supernaturally calm nature, he was the worst watchdog in the world. But he was also a certified therapy animal and a serial cheater of death: a shelter in rural Virginia, advanced pneumonia while waiting to be adopted, a distracted driver not looking at the zebra crossing, a tennis ball-sized lung ball, a profound one Lymphoma. He had it all.

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But loving an old dog is like being tied to a railroad track when you hear the train whistling louder in the distance. You live every day and you ignore it. Just me and he, a family of two, both reassured by the metronomic consistency of four daily walks, the ideal antidote to pandemic claustrophobia.

Two weeks ago on a Sunday morning, I took him on his slow, coughing, but determined walk down the block. Just a few steps from his return home, he collapsed and curled up on the sidewalk. I knew what was going on. It was the tunnel at the end of the light.

I felt him say, “As far as I can take you, boss. From here you are alone. “He bowed his head. I sat down next to him on the curb and patted his back. “You have done more than enough,” I said. In a few minutes he was gone.

Stepping from one bridge to the other dam will remind you that this is only a passing thing. The mutual love and devotion of the years you spend walking over it echoes in the terrible silence that comes after, the emptiness familiar to anyone who has said that inevitable goodbye. Eight years and 10,000 walks, far from any objective measure, and yet in the end a bridge that is altogether too close.


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