Intermittent Grandparent: Ode to a Rescue Dog

photo of Ginger, an aging dog, riding passenger side in a car


Alzheimer's Association


My wife and I are residents of West Virginia but spend most of the summer in Montana. West Virginia is the home of our grandson—Montana the home of our two little granddaughters. Our geographically bifurcated lives have resulted in what I have come to call being intermittent grandparents—one of life’s great compromises. 

Our summer forays into Big Sky Country generally involve my driving out with a carload of possessions for use during our stay. My wife frequently flies. The drive to Montana involves three 10- to 12-hour days of hard driving. 

For companionship on this journey, I have always relied on our mutt of indeterminate breed—Ginger. Ginger is approximately 15 years old; ancient in dog years. On our daily walks, she no longer attempts to chase squirrels and balks at taking our former uphill route. 

She is on pain medication for arthritis and sometimes stumbles on steps. Although we are aging together, I fear her decline is outpacing mine. There is some question as to whether she will still be in my life by the time this summer’s road trip begins.

My observation of Ginger’s rapidly diminishing health has resulted in contemplation of the canine-human bonding that has taken place between us. This in turn inspired in the following ode.


You were a rescue dog: 

When we visited your “foster family,” you were wary, standoffish; perhaps abused by one who should have cared for you. Instead, that human gave you up to a shelter (a misnomer in this case) that euthanized the un-adopted creature castoffs of their former caretakers. 

We were told that you did not trust men:

You shied away from me. Would not come near me. Moved away with your tail between your legs when I approached you. So I lowered myself to your plane of existence and crawled upon the floor to introduce myself. 

I was drawn to your brokenness: 

I convinced my wife we should accept you. Despite your fear, you did not attempt to nip or bite. So, as gently as I could, I corralled you and carried you shivering to our car.

Tentatively, you began to exhibit trust:

You seemed to eventually accept there was actually a male of my species who had your welfare in mind. Still, the presence of other men upset you. But slowly, slowly your acceptance of me transferred to my male friends if they remained in my home long enough to have you screw up your courage to approach them. 

Remnants of what could only have been the traumatic echoes of your former life persisted: 

The basement was a place of horror for you. Men with sunglasses engendered an angry barking. The terror of basements passed. The hostility directed at men who wear darkened spectacles has not.

You do not deign to do tricks:

You are susceptible to a bribe now and then, but unlike the equally beloved Rufus, the English Setter who was your stablemate but has passed from our world, you rarely condescend to any inducement to earn them. You actually appeared to show disdain for his eagerness to please for a mere trifle. 

You have become my friend and companion: 

You seem genuinely happy to see me and will insist on being stroked until you have been satiated, then abruptly wander off to ignore me for a while, still showing that independent streak I admire. You take me for long walks, during which you stop to explore small aspects of the world and communicate with your fellow canines by sniffing their calling cards and leaving yours.

I have cared for multiple mutts in my time on this earth, and I have loved them all: 

But I am now at the stage of life where you may be my last. In heaven, assuming Billy Graham is correct, if we need our dogs for perfect happiness, they will be there—Prince and Sadie and Liebchen and Heidi and Rufus are all expected to convene as a pack to greet me. But you—the gentle, the damaged, the little girl who was coaxed out of her shell—I will look forward to seeing you most of all. MSN

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