There is something almost mystical about old dogs. They hold your gaze with quiet eyes, as if to say they understand every little thing that there is to know.

We have known this one particular dog ever since she was a puppy. Without a doubt, she was very lucky to come live with us at the creek, because I doubt that she would have fit into any other world. She is beautiful, with sleek black fur, soft floppy ears and a long slender snout, but we have never been able to run our fingers down her back or caress her ears. She will run up to us and lean into our legs, but she taught us early on that to pet her is to be asking for trouble.

She has never actually bitten us, but her nips are a formidable warning, and we have not courted potential injury. I often find myself sitting beside her in the sunshine and wishing that I could lie down next to her, and stroke her, and hold her tight.

She has certainly been a happy dog, running after critters, chewing on bones that she hides buried in her special spots, swimming in the creek and walking by our sides these past 11 years. She always comes when called and does everything we ask her do to. She just won’t allow us to touch her. It has occurred to me that she has some sort of a physiological, tactile overload condition, and that is OK. We understand, and have accordingly always dressed her in a red collar, to serve as a warning sign to visitors that she is not one to pet, and when left alone, she is the perfect host. She happily leads the way on walks and bounds beautifully across the fields.



She really is wonderfully adapted to our creek valley life. She has never chased the chickens, and actually runs after the fox and raccoons when they snoop around in search of chicken dinner. She ignores the goats as they free range all winter and even lies down beside them in the warm winter sunshine. She strolls easily past the pigeons as they gather in a flock to peck at scattered scratch grain, and she trots happily beside the little horses when we lead them on walks up the creek valley road. She understands that these are our critters, not hers, but squirrels, raccoons and possum are all fair game.

Yet, this is a story about old dogs. Over our years at the creek, we have had a few more typical old dogs who have enjoyed our behind-the-ear scratching and who have really seemed almost an extension of our own bodies, as they were always so close to our sides. Without any doubt, it was difficult to part with these loving dogs, but somehow, I imagined such things would be easier on my heart as our touch-me-not dog grew older. It appears I was quite wrong.

It seems that now, when she finds a warm spot in the sunshine, I want to lie beside her even more and run my fingers through her sleek black fur. When she struggles to stand up, her hind legs slipping out from under her, I want to gather her in my arms and carry her wherever it is that she needs to go, but she is a big dog, a very, very big dog.

We seem to have reached an understanding, though. She has reluctantly decided to allow us to help her stand, and sometimes, when her legs will just not cooperate at all, to even allow us to support her weight, with a hug around her belly, for as far as she wishes to go.

Then, once she has settled in, she looks up at us, with her quiet gaze, as if to say that she understands every little thing that an old dog needs to know.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.