It's 8:30 in the evening, and Bisou, who knows that she will get a treat when she comes in from her last outing of the day, starts agitating to go outside. She jumps off my lap, plants herself at my feet and gives me a meaningful stare. She wags her tail. She gives her signature sound--half moan, half whine--which is next to impossible to ignore. But I'm familiar with her tricks, and do. So she goes over to my spouse and repeats the sit, the stare, the wag, the imperious moan/whine.
"I think she really needs to go out," he says.
"No she doesn't. She just wants to get a you-know-what," I respond.
Sit, stare, wiggle. She adds a tremolo to the moan/whine. The spouse caves, "I don't think we should ignore her signals," he says.
By now it's ten til nine, so I take a breath preparatory to standing up and the three dogs go out of their minds, as if they hadn't been out in a month. In his excitement, Wolfie bumps Lexi, whose hind legs buckle, but she recovers and they're off! into the outer darkness where I hope no bear or coyote has wandered inside the confines of the electric fence or, if so, that Wolfie will defend Bisou, who is right at his heels. Lexi, meanwhile, has disappeared into the woods.
I go into the kitchen to get three treats out of the treat jar by the stove. Bisou is already at the back door, putting nose prints on the glass. I let her in, throw her a treat. Wolfie comes careening around the raised beds, gets his treat. But the third treat is still in my hand.
"Lexi co-ome!" I carol into the dark.
"Lexi, treat!" enticingly.
"Lexi, komm!" in my lowest growl.
I put the treat between my teeth and clap. I replace the treat with the dog whistle and blow. Then I click the yard light on and off, on and off (the spouse swears that this never fails).
But it fails with me. I hear Lexi behind the trees, barking her wheezy, half-hearted, old-dog bark: woof...woof. Does she know I'm calling her? Does she care?
I close the door, replace the treat in the jar. I return to the spouse, shrug my shoulders, sit down. Bisou, at peace now, curls into my lap with a final moan. But Wolfie is still at the back door, ears straight up, eyes piercing the outer darkness, waiting for Lexi.
"Woof, woof," she barks in the woods. "Could you try to get her in?" I say to the man who never wanted a dog in the first place. He goes to the door, claps his hands. Lexi comes inside.
At close to fourteen years, she has become an enigma. Can she hear? Sometimes. Can she see? Not well. Has her enfeebled brain forgotten what "come" means? Possibly. Or is she, sensing our reluctance to discipline her now that she's old and pathetic, making up for all those years when she thought she had to obey?
She's a good dog, but also a clever one. I wouldn't put it past her to take full advantage of this chink in our armor.
I will not pretend that I don't find her failure to come when called extremely irritating. It is a real pain to have all those years of patient training washed away by age, or by an old dog's wiliness. But my irritation is tinged with sadness, because I know that before too long there will be no need at all for me to stand at the back door, shouting "Lexi, come!"