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New Dog, Old Tricks

The ups and "Down, boy!" of adopting a puppy in the dog days of middle age

By Peter Gerstenzang

Throughout my life, I have had several dogs, and I’ve always been lucky with them. Each one has been sweet and, in the case of my bichon, helpful. Fluffy was not only well-trained, she was soon going around the neighborhood training others. I took a long break after losing my gorgeous Fluff. It was a tough, lonely period. But, as a plain-looking man, I finally understood how Billy Bob Thornton felt when he lost Angelina Jolie.

Still, I couldn’t stay dogless forever.

Eventually, I missed the canine kisses when I came home. The body-snuggle when I was sad. The horrified yelp and running from the room when the dog heard Geddy Lee on the radio. So, a year ago, I adopted a golden retriever puppy.
And found out that getting a pup in middle age is slightly different than when you’re 25.  
It began in the area of sleep — or lack of it. I’d forgotten that new puppies can’t get through the night without needing a walk. And how did little Happy let me know he had to go out at 3 a.m.? By making a spooky, low, buzzing moan that meant, "Take me out, dude." Either that or he was saying, "Hey, ever hear my imitation of a Tuvan throat singer?"
Other things also change when you’re an older guy with a puppy. Like, simply bending over to pick him up. I used to do that easily. Then, time passed. One day, Happy looked so cute and helpless, I bent over quickly to scoop him in my arms. Which was great. Until I realized my back had locked and I couldn’t straighten up without screaming like Geddy Lee. I released the dog safely, but I stayed stuck and didn’t know what to do. I considered opening a school for manners, but realized I’d only be able to teach people how to bow.
(MORE: The 10 Best Pet Companions to Have at Your Side)

Walks didn’t sweeten the deal. Happy would start out trotting. Invariably, he’d see some imaginary weasel and take off — with me attached, running and yelling with all the grace and elan of Elmer Fudd. Happy got some outdoors time, at least. Even if my irregular heartbeat the next day was intense. That's no laughing matter. You try dating a younger woman while you’re wearing a Holter monitor.
Just when I thought that reliving my youth by getting a dog could only result in girls calling me "Pops," things turned around nicely. My golden started growing up and I began calming down. Even better: I started getting a bit more sleep than the West African fruit fly.


Best of all, the old story of "Man gets dog so he can pick up woman" (sorry for the Stone Age syntax) started panning out. When I took my growing golden out in the morning, I invariably met attractive gals who couldn’t wait to pet my pup. They certainly weren’t interested in me at that hour. With my hair sticking up, unshaven, my old letterman’s jacket on, I didn’t look like a movie star. Unless you count Michael Landon in I Was A Teenage Werewolf. But my little frisky pup drew women in effortlessly and I even got the occasional phone number. Happy’s so cute, though, he got invites to go to other peoples’ homes — without me. See, in addition to my looks, I was still bent over. I'm lucky I wasn’t kidnapped and put in a sideshow tent.

But I know the real reason why I got a dog at this age.           
No matter how many rejections I get from women who say they can’t date me because they don’t like the Werewolf look, I’ve got somebody who always wants to see me. I go to the playroom at sunrise and there’s a full-grown golden retriever wagging his tail whenever I appear. He nuzzles me. He’s thrilled by my presence and agrees with everything I say. It might be something simple like, "Happy, you like the generic brand of dog cookie as much as Milk Bones, right?" Or something weightier, like: "It’s not political. Everybody knows improvisation isn’t Clint Eastwood’s strong suit!" Happy will nod his head. Under the law, that’s tacit agreement. And that’s why I’ll always have a dog.
As for petting him? I’ve learned to kneel. You can go just as low and your back doesn’t lock. It’s OK, Happy. I know you would’ve told me that last year, but I’m glad you didn’t. I love you.

Besides, talking dogs really freak me out.

Peter Gerstenzang is a humorist, video director and journalist. Read More
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