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Outdoors Column | Les Winkeler: Graying with my golden retriever

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Like me, Beau, my 12-year-old golden retriever, is comfortably settling in to old age.

Our relationship has evolved markedly over the past couple years.

We’ve had three goldens in our lifetime … all three of which have been incredible blessings. Under different circumstances, all three of which could have been considered “the dog of a lifetime.”

Admittedly, Beau had the most difficult childhood/lean years.

Granted, he wasn’t a chewer like Buck, the nearly perfect dog, nor did he have narcissistic tendencies like Jack.

Beau had hyperactivity issues. He wasn’t destructive, but he never sat still either. He was/is a chronic pacer. There is nothing worse than being at the edge of your seat watching the last inning of a baseball game or the closing minutes of a hockey game and having your dog pacing in front of the television.

That behavior has moderated a bit over the past year or two. The moderation has nothing to do with my cajoling or pleading, Beau is just more comfortable being sprawled on the floor.

In fact, as his metabolism has slowed, we seemed to have developed an unspoken communication.

For instance, his nightly trip to the bathroom has changed markedly in the past year or so. In the past, he’d take advantage of being outside and drag me all over the neighborhood, regardless of the weather.

Not anymore. If it’s cold or if it’s raining, the trip outside is purely business. Frequently, he is the first to head for the door. He’ll turn to look at me as if to say, “I don’t know about you, but it’s a heckuva lot drier/warmer in the house.”

What’s more, he understands that you don’t go tromping around the house with wet, muddy feet.

Sunday morning was a prime example.

Prior to our morning walk, I tossed a towel on the floor near the front door to wipe his feet when we returned. Upon entering the house, Beau immediately sat down on the rug. After giving the “Stay” command, I unhooked the leash, stored it and grabbed the towel.

When I turned around, Beau was sitting on the rug, his right paw aloft, waiting to be wiped clean.

How can you not love a dog like that?

In the past year or so, we’ve also relaxed our “no dogs on the furniture” policy, something that Beau would adhere to in our presence. But, when we’d leave for the evening, he’d head directly to the couch.

Apparently, Beau never realized we knew about his love for the couch all these years. We still hear his feet hit the floor the instant the key hits the front door. And, during the winter months, we always sit on the couch to take advantage of the warm spot he created.

Finally, Beau helped us transition into empty nesters.

Although he’s always slept on a pillow beside our bed, his presence seems more comforting now than ever before. I can’t speak for my wife, but I know when she’s out of town, I just sleep better knowing Beau is at my side.

Whenever she is gone, I always make sure to say “Goodnight Beau” before drifting off to sleep.

Unfortunately, I can’t ignore the reality. Beau is 12 years old. Our previous goldens achieved ages of 9 and 14. He may be living on borrowed time, but, realistically, the same could be said about me.

I’m faced with that reality whenever he looks at me with those cataract-obscured eyes and that graying muzzle, but that only makes me appreciate him more.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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