Today is Pippin’s birthday, or at least it’s the day we count as his birthday. When I took him to his very first vet appointment, they asked if I was sure about his age. They didn’t ask with the perfunctory “just double checking” tone; it was a little more skeptical than that, so I wasn’t sure how to answer. I was certain I had accurately shared the date given by the shelter, and from what I knew of dogs, it seemed reasonable; he still had needle-sharp puppy teeth, after all. But I was pretty sure the shelter had estimated his age. I don’t think a lot of people surrender animals to shelters with a notarized birth certificates pinned to their collars. We adopted him from a shelter and the shelter didn’t have a lot of hard facts about him or his brothers, but from the evidence I’ve gathered, I’ve envisioned a scenario that my mind has accepted as likely enough to be considered true, even though I still have quite a few gaps in information. (As fans speculating on their favorite fandoms would put it, “headcanon accepted”).
I suspect that someone with large, happy, female dog realized one day in late summer that their dog had gotten out of the yard for a romantic rendezvous with a neighbor’s dog after which she became undeniably pregnant. They probably weren’t happy, but they knew they hadn’t had her spayed, so it wasn’t entirely the dog’s fault. She had a litter sometime in late September and her people tried to find homes for as many of the puppies as they could. Maybe the people had a couple kids who begged and pleaded to keep them, but puppies are a lot of work, though, and depending on how much was known about the parents, the puppies were only going to get bigger and would soon need a considerable amount of food. And so the people set a deadline and said any puppies that hadn’t been re-homed by Christmas would have to go to the Humane Society.
The shelter was closed on Christmas Day, but when they opened the day after Christmas, their intake included three little puppies who all looked very dissimilar whose similar size and familiarity suggested they were littermates. Maybe someone even delivered them personally, or maybe they were left by the door in a box with a blanket. I just hope they weren’t cold. One was reddish brown with a light brushing of black on the tip of his tail. Another had longer fur in a tawny, chocolate, and white pattern similar to famed Hollywood star Lassie. The third was white and gold with a docked tail. Someone at the shelter, with or without guidance from whomever surrendered the puppies, decided they might feasibly be a rough collie/Australian heeler mix, and as they still had their puppy teeth, looked to be about three months old, making their date of birth September 26th, or close enough. After a couple weeks of observation, they were made available for adoption.
So I don’t truly know if today specifically marks the day that Pippin has completed another journey around the sun, but it’s pretty close; probably within a week or two, so we count it. It almost feels ridiculous having so many different days to celebrate just the one dog: his birthday, the day we adopted him three months later, they day we actually got to bring him home two days after that. But he’s the goobest boi, so he deserves lots of celebration. I don’t know what became of his brothers, but I hope they are celebrated just as much.
And he’s eight this year! If he were a human child, he’d be a second grader. Strangers meeting Pippin often ask how old he is, and as that number grows, so does the dread in my heart; at eight years old, he’s technically a “senior dog,” and generally speaking, the larger the dog, the shorter their life span. The adoption application featured a reminder that dogs can be a twelve year commitment, and at the time I quelled at the thought of twelve years. That was nearly half of my life at that point. I quickly realized that twelve is nothing; even thirty years of Pippin still would not be enough. So Pippin’s birthdays are both happy and sad.
But true to form, Pippin relieves my anxiety before it looms too large. Friends and family mention how their senior pets become a little less social or get confused more easily than they used to. They don’t play with the energy of their youth, and they develop new health problems. The cold weather is especially hard, they say, with winter making joints stiff and painful while snow presents another obstacle to overcome. And though the gold in Pippin’s coat is peppered with white, especially around his eyes and along his back, and he’s grown a few wispy hairs on his otherwise short-haired face that remind me of crazy old man eyebrows (you know the ones), he still retains so much youth. He pounces toys and wrestles us on the floor. He gets overcome with excitement and bounces around the bed and zooms around the yard in a mania that seems impossible from a dog his size, let alone one that’s “over the hill.” His health remains good. He constantly reveals an astounding level of comprehension, learning new words and routines effortlessly. And this morning dawned cool and damp, the kind of morning that older friends and family often say they can feel in their knees and hips and decades-old sports injuries, and I assume their senior pets feel the same. But Pippin felt the chill in the air and was invigorated. He didn’t wait for me to open the door, instead letting himself out his dog door before I even got to the kitchen. He danced around the house in anticipation as I threw on a hoodie and laced up my shoes for our walk, eager to plunge into the cool autumn air that he’s waited all summer for.
He may be going gray. His coat might be getting a slightly different texture. He may technically be a senior dog, but Pippin will always be my baby puppy. I don’t know how long he will live, but he reminds me not to dwell on that and instead enjoy each day as it comes, and make the most of the time we have. I will, buddy. I will.