Mar 30, 2009 7:00 PM GMT
The Old Man and the Dog
by Catherine Moore
"Watch out! You nearly broad sided that car!" My father yelled at me.
"Can't you do anything right?"
Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly
man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my
throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn't prepared for another battle.
"I saw the car, Dad. Please don't yell at me when I'm driving."
My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really
Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad
in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts.
Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of
distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about
Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon . He had enjoyed
being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the
forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions and
had placed often.The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his
The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn't lift a
heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I saw him outside
alone, straining to lift it.. He became irritable whenever anyone teased
him about his advancing age or when he couldn't do something he had done
as a younger man.
Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An
ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to
keep blood and oxygen flowing.
At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he
survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He
obstinately refused to follow doctor's orders. Suggestions and offers of
help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults.. The number of visitors
thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.
My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small
farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him
Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed
nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became
frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We
began to bicker and argue.
Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The
clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of
each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad's troubled mind.
But the months wore on and God was silent.. Something had to be done and
it was up to me to do it.
The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each
of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my
problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain.
Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, "I
just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article."
I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at
a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic
depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were
given responsibility for a dog.
I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a
questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of
disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens. Each
contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black
dogs, spotted dogs all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one
but rejected one after the other for various reasons too big, too small,
too much hair. As I neared the last pen a dog in the shadows of the far
corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat
down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world's aristocrats. But this was
a caricature of the breed.
Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hipbones
jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and
held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.
I pointed to the dog. "Can you tell me about him?"
The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. "He's a funny
one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought
him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two
weeks ago and we've heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow." He gestured
helplessly. As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. "You mean you're
going to kill him?"
"Ma'am," he said gently, "that's our policy. We don'