It has always been my dream to have a large Rottweiler retirement ranch, where old Rotties, that no one else wants, can come and live out their days in comfort. Alas, this is just a dream but it is a nice dream. In the meantime, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of old Rottweilers over the years, including several I opened my home to. It is one thing to have a dog from a young age and see it through to the end many years down the road. For me, that was the case with Mickey and Griz, who lived to ten and thirteen-years-old, respectively. As dear as those dogs are to me, it was the ones that I had the shortest time that seemed to impact me the most.
One such dog was named Draco. I had received a phone call from a shelter in Idaho asking if Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue could help them out. A member of the community had passed away, leaving his very large Rottweiler behind at his house all alone. In the month that it took to sort things out, the man’s brother had been stopping by daily to feed the dog but otherwise the poor old dog was by himself. The shelter was desperate to find a home for him, though they knew it would be difficult. You see, Draco was over ten-years-old and had Cushing’s Disease. His time was limited, and few people were willing to take in a dog who would die in just a few months. I didn’t even bother speaking with the other members of Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue. I told the shelter I would adopt him, myself, and began making arrangements. I didn’t see the point in taking up valuable kennel space when I had a home that was perfect for Draco. I already had two old dogs, Griz and Grace, so adding one to the canine geriatric ward was not a big deal.
I didn’t know much about Draco other than that he was old and very big - one hundred and forty four pounds to be exact. I also knew that he was the grand puppy of the Rottweiler that had stared in the motion picture Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Matthew Broderick. Other than that, I was walking into this one blind.
I drove down to Dillon, Montana to meet the transport halfway. Like many rescue transports, the car was not just hauling one dog but many. The back seat was stuffed full of crates filled with dogs going onto other rescues or forever homes. There, in the front seat, sitting and looking most uncomfortable, was Draco. He was so stiff from the long ride that he needed help out of the car. I took him for a short walk before having to help him into my car. With the entire back end to himself, Draco lay down with such a contented look that I just knew he would fit in.
Once home, my other old dogs went through the normal greetings, and then they all settled into the old dog routine. Meal, short walk, sleep all day, meal, short walk, then sleep all night. Such is the life of an old dog. Another routine was ear rubs. If Draco had one desire, it was to lay his head on your lap and have you rub his ears. He seemed to prefer such attention from my step-dad. Perhaps it was the kindred spirit of two old beings, or maybe Draco just knew that he was the best human from whom to seek such attention. All I know is that when I first introduced them, Draco walked right over and lay his massive head on my step-dad’s lap and looked up with the saddest eyes imaginable. As my step-dad started to rub Draco’s ears, the old dog let out a sigh so full of contentment it would be impossible to quantify. At that moment Draco was in heaven.
After the first few days, I could see that Draco was very overweight due to the Cushing’s Disease, so I put him on a crash diet to give his joints some relief. By the time he got down to 125 pounds he was more energetic and playful, but the attack on his joints from his illness was taking its toll. Just six months after he arrived, on Memorial Day 2011, I had to make the phone call that no dog owner ever wants to make. Draco had collapsed several times, his body finally giving into age and disease. In tears, I sat on the floor next to Draco, petting him as I talked to my veterinarian who was kind enough to meet me at his clinic despite it being a holiday.
I backed my car up to my front porch, trying to minimize how far I was going to have to carry the massive dog. With the tailgate of the car and the house front door opened, I walked back to my room. Draco was looking so tired, but I decided to see if he had the strength to walk to the car.
“Do you want to go for a drive?” I said as happily as I could, given the emotions of the moment. Draco’s ears perked up and then, with great effort, he got to his feet and hobbled towards the door. I was barely able to keep up as he went out the door, and, to my surprise, Draco jumped into the back of the car. He stood for a moment and then laid down for the last time. His ride to the vet was not a bad one. It was a beautiful day, and we stopped for a burger and chicken nuggets which he enjoyed while waiting for Dr. Anderson.
As the end came, I rubbed Draco’s ears and told him how good a dog he was. He had been in my life just six months, yet the holes that were left in my heart and the hearts of my mom and step-dad, and all that knew him, were immense. There is a quote by Bonnie Wilcox that I've always been fond of. It goes, "Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a bit out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well." I have to agree. I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to take Draco and I wouldn’t trade any of it, including the grief of his passing.
As my boy Bradum ages, I’m seeing more and more similarities between him and Draco. There’s the slowness in his walk, the sad yet loving eyes, and the desire to just be near and to have his ears rubbed. With each grey hair on his muzzle, I know that the time will come when I have to say goodbye to another old dog. That is okay though; it is a price worth paying for the blessing they give us, even if only for a short while.
For a fictional story about the bond between humans and dogs, check out my novel, Stranger’sDance. Available in paperback and kindle.