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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A graceful way of growing old

By David Shapiro

I knew my Shar-pei, Bingo, was getting old when he stopped fighting me to be first through the door.

I'd read that dogs regard this as a test of macho dominance, and you should never let them enter ahead of you if you hope to ever establish discipline.

So we'd battle at the doorway, throwing hips like a couple of NBA centers jockeying for position in the low post.

Usually I'd prevail, and he'd slink in behind me with his ear flaps and corkscrew tail in full droop. Once in a while, though, he'd slip in before me and taunt me with a victory dance that resembled a tail-wagging Michael Jackson moonwalk.

When he started letting me go first without a brawl, I thought he was finally recognizing my superior position in the family. Then I realized he was just getting too old and tired to fight over manini stuff.

Unlike me, he'd gained the maturity to save his energy for more important things — like napping.

Even so, his tail instinctively droops in defeat whenever he watches me enter the house ahead of him.

Shar-pei live an average of 7 to 9 years, and Bingo is 8 1/2. It's difficult to accept that the pup we've raised since he was weaned is growing old. His playful nature and good company have infused moments of joy into even our toughest times.

I used to write a lot about our growing pains together, and I titled my one and only book after Bingo. Even a cute picture of him on the cover, however, failed to send the tome flying off the shelves. Still, people stop me every week to ask how he's doing.

I used to hear Bingo running around the yard chasing butterflies and stalking imaginary prey. Now I hear only the buzz of the horseflies that chase him as he limps around on arthritic legs.

Bingo used to love car rides, but now he develops vertigo. I recently gave a lift to a friend who sniffed and remarked, "I see Bingo has been traveling with you today."

Actually, it had been more than a year since he'd been in the van. Either he'd left a lasting impression or I'd forgotten to apply my deodorant again.

Bingo always took his watchdog duties seriously and never let anybody suspicious near our house. He's not big at 50 pounds, but he has an intimidating bark and a mouthful of snarling teeth to back it up.

Some days now, he'll barely lift his head to give a halfhearted "woof" to the postman.

Even while asleep, he was once sensitive to the slightest stirring on our loop. This week, I came into the house while he napped and he didn't awaken until I was on top of him, at which point he jumped up disoriented and barked at me as though I had ax murder on my mind.

"Good dog," I said, and gave him a biscuit for effort.

Lately, I've been showing some maturity of my own by letting him through the door first out of respect for his age and his superior position in the family. He knows I'm throwing him one, but can't suppress a little victory wag anyway.

Even when he's looking up from his splayed nap position, swarmed by flies, Bingo still has that snooty Shar-pei way of looking down his nose at me through hooded eyes.

I have to respect the dignity he projects, and can only hope to emulate his grace as I grow old myself.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.