COMMENT: The last time my dog met a vet he was 5 months old. At that point he hadn't had much of a life - dumped by his unknown owners, found by the dog-catcher, housed in the pound, weeks spent unclaimed and then the vet capped it off by castrating him. But it takes more than that to dissuade a dog from loving the world.
He's a mongrel, son of mongrels. You might see bits of various breeds in him - the false eyebrows of a Rottweiler, maybe, or the blunt muzzle of a Staffordshire terrier - but really all that you can say of him for sure, and all you need to say of him, is mongrel, son of mongrels. So of course he is roughly the size of a wild dog, the size that all dogs would rapidly revert to if we just left them alone.
A huge proportion of dog problems come from our messing about with them. It is we that have caused spaniel ears and Alsatian hips, we who have brought about poodle neurosis or collie hypertension. So perhaps it is no coincidence that mongrel son of mongrels hasn't had a day of vet-requiring illness since I brought him home.
Anyway, he was a pup when I got him and I was in late middle age. Now, 12 years on, we're effectively the same age. In other words we've got old together and I have seen the whole arc of his life, bar the very first chapter and, as yet, the very last. To see that arc is one of the pleasures of dog ownership.
Shakespeare despised dogs. It's his only flaw. Famously he wrote a speech for Jaques in As You Like It spelling out the seven ages of man. He would be appalled at the idea of doing the same for dogs. So here goes.
First comes the newborn, pinkish, hairless, a foetal blob that could be cat or rat or any mammal, blindly clambering through fur to clamp on to a teat. Neither mewling nor puking, just sucking and sleeping, an embryo of need.
But in weeks it's the tumble pup, a wide-eyed short-legged snub-nosed palm-of-the-handful, a clumsy rolling eighth-of-a-litter, a pet-shop sales pitch, an adorable.
The third age is the pup proper, teeth garlic white and diamond sharp, snout stretching, legs lengthening by the day, bounding over the surface of the earth, ungovernable, benignly destructive, so in love with the sapid world, so drunk with the evidence of his senses that if he's not sleeping he's moving. And even in sleep he yelps and canters. This pup on the leash is a fish on the line.
But he soon becomes young dog, proud dog, standing and strutting dog, hackles rising to other dogs, lean and eager, loyal as a good soldier, barker and guardian, up for anything anywhen, and day or night, whole or castrato, frantic for sex.
The fifth age is the steady dog, dog of adult dignity, less willing to stoop to romping, will put impertinent puppies in their place, thickening a little but still good for the longest walks. A dog of routine, a sober citizen and a solid one, never needing the lead.
Blood quiche brings out the bigots, and the fans
Then comes the sixth age, grey of muzzle and eyelash, stiff of hip, lumpy of chest. The eyes begin to cloud, the ears to muffle. Walks shorten, sleep lengthens and winter's spent close to the log-burner. But the world is still there to be loved with the nose and still no cat dares to trespass.
And that is the age where my dog is, and because of the stiffening joints and a trembling rear leg I summoned the vet who came to the house as doctors used to do. And the vet diagnosed age, arthritis and plumpness, and I said well that's him and me both, and the vet prescribed a white pill and fish oil and glucosamine for the dog but for me nothing.
That was a week ago. And the pill and the oil and glucosamine have done good - though mainly, I suspect, the pill - and my dog is moving better and has regained a little frisk. Which is lovely. And old dogs are lovely. But the path from here is known and inevitable and I'll nurse him down it till we reach the seventh age of dog, sans eyes, sans ears, fur patchy, spine sagging, slowly plodding, but look, the low old tail still wags.