We acquired AJ when he was two years old. He was a shy black lab with somber eyes that were slightly hooded, like a bird of prey. His flight instincts were and still are very strong. He was afraid of just about everything. We discovered very quickly that we would have work very hard to get him to overcome his fears of the unknown. AJ had never seen stairs and had no idea how to walk up or down them. He had never walked on hardwood and tile floors. The first week he was with us, we had to run a trail of throw rugs and towels throughout the house in order to get him from one side of the house to the other. People terrified him. He would hide behind me in order to get away from well meaning strangers. AJ was and still is the most beautiful hunting dog I’ve ever seen in the field. Graceful, fast and always in the right place to point, yes he’s a pointing lab, and flush the ever elusive pheasant. He is most alive out in the field working a hot scent.
Ten years later, AJ is one of our “official greeter” dogs, ready to greet anyone that wants to give away a few pets or ear scratches. His eyes are still soft and sweet when he looks at me, there is a complete devotion that I don’t think I will ever see in a dog’s eyes ever again. AJ loves me as much as I love him. He lays next to the bathtub when I take a shower and is a constant companion.
He has slowed down a bit over the years. His clownish antics are fewer and farther apart, though he will still wrestle briefly with Orso, but he can’t hang with the big dogs for long. AJ has some gray hair on his chin, but not that much. His hips are still strong and can jump in and out of the station wagon easily. His depth perception is starting to deteriorate. AJ struggles going from bright rooms to darker doorways, which breaks my heart, knowing that he is aging so I have to be grateful for the time I still have with him.
But not today. Today is AJ’s birthday. He turns twelve years old today. For breakfast we had peanut butter, one of AJ’s favorites and for dessert tonight, it will be frozen pumpkin yogurt pops. Even if AJ doesn’t quite get the reason for the special treats I do. AJ was and is truly a gift to me and I’ve been so lucky he came to live with us.