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Old Dogs, No New Tricks

Why are change and compromise so difficult?

Friday really was a “good Friday.” The sun was so brilliant, the air so spring-like, I decided to scrap the house cleaning and take a little trip to the SHEW-ur. This was not to be a quick “jump-in-the-car-and-race-through-the-Pinelands”-type deal because, with no one else to watch them, the aged canines had to accompany me.

When you have two old dogs, it’s never a casual trip. It’s sort of like taking doddering Uncle Bean and fussy Aunt Lulu on an outing. You start off by prompting them over and over again to, well, use the facilities. Uncle Bean’s hearing is totally gone, so as he shuffles outside, you have to stomp on the ground with both feet while yelling at him to “hurry up.” Aunt Lulu is insecure, so every trip outside, according to her thinking, could be her last. 

I’m at that age where the internal alarm clock always goes off around 6 a.m., so I was ready to head out by 8:30 a.m. The old dogs? Not so much. They’re used to sleeping all day, with perhaps a little barking and mayhem when the mailman comes. Lulu can still spring up into the car unassisted. Beanie needs to be hoisted in because he refuses to use “Pup Step,” the folding contraption my husband bought to help him get in the car.

Bladders evacuated, car packed with leashes, bags, snacks and water, we drove through Chatsworth, sunroof open, delighting in the day. Actually, only two of us were delighting. Lulu was sure she was going to be dumped somewhere, fodder for the Jersey Devil. She just couldn’t settle down and kept waiting for the inevitable dump and run, the moment when I would leave her by the roadside and drive away forever. That, unfortunately, is the mindset of a "rescue" dog. Beanie, purebred and sure of himself, had his snout out the window, his spaniel ears flapping in the wind, oblivious to her anxiety and my oldies station.

During the off-season at the shore, dogs can go on the beach. To my idealistic thinking, we would walk on the beach, find some good shells and bask in the sun for a couple hours. The dogs would happily explore the new smells and the roaring ocean while I sat and breathed in the calming ocean air. The reality of our excursion ended up being worlds apart from my fluffy little daydream, and would lead me to reconsider the ancient adage about old dogs.

There were several other clots of people here and there, but for the most part, we were alone on the beach. Tandem leash off, the dogs and I headed for the more firm sand at the water’s edge. Beanie was thrilled and prancing like a teenager. Lulu, however, didn’t seem to enjoy the sand between her toes, so after about 20 minutes of walking toward Atlantic City, she did what any fed-up dog would do: She decided to run away. Actually, she really just slumped away. She went up a street three blocks from where we had started and just disappeared.

The next half hour was spent run-walking Beanie to the car and leaving him there, windows open, while I prowled through an unknown, deserted neighborhood, calling for Lulu in a silly falsetto. My heart was pounding at the thought of trying to explain to my family how I had lost our beloved girl. As I ran along, I was aware of the quiet stillness. How ironic that Lulu, our world-class barker, was now as silent as the Easter bunny. After what seemed like hours, she quietly slinked from between two houses and limped to me sheepishly. We hugged and began the very slow slog to our starting point. 

Back in the safety of the familiar car, both dogs put their heads down and immediately fell asleep, leaving me to ponder the lesson of old dogs and new tricks. Usually not one for adages, I had to admit this one had a particular resonance for me and for most people of a certain age. I started thinking of the major issues facing Mo’town right now and how, once we get set in our ways, it is very difficult for us to change our minds.

Because it is too expensive, the township does not have “recycle” receptacles at the playing fields. This means every plastic bottle thrown in a trash can, every aluminum can tossed in the weeds, eventually ends up in a landfill. I have dutifully recycled bottles and cans from for years. Every afternoon, when I walk the dogs, I take a large plastic bag, fill it with other people’s castoffs, and take them home to be recycled. How hard would it be for people to "carry out what they carry in"?

Some conscientious parents and coaches make sure the diamonds are cleaned after their games. Others apparently don’t care that the fields are strewn with water bottles, chewed bubblegum and gnawed orange rinds. One parent opined it was someone else’s job to clean up the field, not hers. We cannot realistically expect the teenagers who have weekly beer bashes at the rarely patrolled Memorial Field to “carry out what they carry in,” because then mom and dad would know what they were really up to.

We dig in our heels and nothing or no one can move us an inch. are firmly against. Those that see the as an anachronism want it torn down. There seems to be no middle ground anymore, and I am just as guilty of stepping over it as the next Mo’towner. I think it is also safe to say this is a national epidemic, and not just a local phenomenon. Newt hates Rick hates Mitt and they all despise Obama.

So where does that leave us? Do we “let sleeping dogs lie” and accept that “old dogs can’t learn new tricks”? Or do we admit both sides deserve for their wishes to be honored? 

To use another tired old adage, I don’t think I’m going to touch that one with a 10-foot pole!

Old Dog April 09, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Wonder how old dogs learn? How are plastic fields people going to take responsibility for recycling and paying for their private clubs? How is John Button going to learn to retire gracefully? How is town going to learn to put those recycle bins at our parks? How is Town Council going to learn to curb it appetite for expensive capital projects we can't afford? Maybe the Town Hall plot can be transformed into a community garden?
Wasabi Smogge April 09, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Marsia you're my favorite writer for the Patch. Thanks for sharing your considerable gift with us. As for teaching old dogs, here is what I've heard from friends and neighbors on my side of town: town council is a small club that will do whatever it wants to. That opinion is prevalent. Some have told me that "if you're elected then you get to reap the benefits and you get to accomplish whatever you want." That isn't the way the system was set up - get elected and nobody can stop you from doing anything you like - but that is the system. There is also a very clear message on the part of many that "sports trump art" (I'm including lots of sports and different kinds of art including music and writing and painting and so on). In the end we get the government, national and local, that we deserve. But we don't have to sit back and live with bad or controversial decisions, either. There is going to have to be more give and take (compromise) because some issues (THANKS TO YOU, MARSIA) are being challenged. Good. I've never considered recycle bins in Moorestown parks and fields, but now it makes perfect sense. AND HOW EXPENSIVE CAN THAT BE??!?! (I know there are issues there, too... people using recycle bins for trash, people stealing, etc, etc, etc - I don't care).

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