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Bernie has a birthday and I have a crisis
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Matt Keenan

I read once where the ideal age for a boy to own a dog is between 45 and 50. I’m just outside that window a bit, turning 53 this week. Still, whoever offered that insight clearly understood how quickly a house turns quiet when the children become young adults. College soon follows and bedrooms become ghost towns. Yet one family member wouldn’t dare consider leaving home for a girls gone wild party at Alpha Tappa Kegga: Bernie.
Bernie Keenan, a Wheaten, has a distinct aversion to barking, shedding and chewing up furniture. She enjoys favored-nation status in the family, and second place isn’t close. She has all the virtues and none of the vices of other family members. That Bernie found a home here was a long shot in the first place. Bernie was the biggest of the litter and the last one left.
“Most families don’t want a big dog,” the lady said. Size didn’t matter to us … personality did, and she had buckets of it. I like to think her story is a cross between “The Blind Side” and “Marley and Me” without the sad ending.
And so the words my wife declared two weeks ago shook up my entire day: “Oh my gosh, its Bernie’s birthday next week. And she’s 10!”
Staring at the calendar, she was pointing to Jan. 17. I put the remote on the couch and my brain started to spin, like a clogged hard drive sucking for RAM space, but finding little room among the files stored over the years.
“Bernie is 10?” In seconds I was considering a nightmarish timeline, from constant vet visits, incontinence, arthritis, to witnessing the one family member with endless energy slowing to a stop. My BFF, running buddy, greeter in chief. The one family member who barks at the UPS and Fed Ex man delivering something we don’t need. It was unthinkable.
“Ten means what? I mean what’s that in human years?” My world was in free fall.
“Relax. Bernie’s not going to die soon. She will probably outlive all of us. You might want to lay off the table scraps though. Probably not good for her heart.”
Instantly, I had to find her, to check in, thinking for a nanosecond she might be looking out the front window, poised in a wheelchair, sucking on a straw, with a Life Alert around her neck.
The panic was mine alone. Bernie was lying at the bottom of the stairs, feet up in the air, waiting for a belly massage — the kind that extends up one side and down the other, followed by two pats to her chest. I delivered, of course.
And then my thoughts returned to Lori’s declaration. Dogs don’t have the conventional signs of aging … she’s not going bald, deaf or forgetting where she leaves her valuables — bones, gloves or stocking caps, stuff like that. Neither does she get AARP fliers or ads for free hearing tests.
Bernie’s been impervious to aging. Indeed, immune to all things terrestrial. So I went online and plugged in the information to find out her age in human terms. The computer program spit out the answer in no uncertain terms: Bernie’s age: 53. Lori laughed. “Maybe you can get a two-for-one at John Knox Village.”