You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

This week’s Tuesday Tale:

“Edgar, don’t kick him, poor creature.”

Edgar Randall grunted. He did not like this dog. Maybe he was an old man set in his ways, but it was a dumb dog. The animal was always underfoot and Edgar was getting suspicious the dog was out to trip him up.  He kicked the dog again when his sister wasn’t looking.  

“Edgar!  I heard that!” Cheryl yelled from the hall after the dog yelped.

“I don’t care if’n you heard it. Dog’s got to learn manners.”

“Not like that,” she called back. 

Edgar stared at the cowering mutt.

“You’d make a fine meal, you know that?”

The dog cocked its head with curiosity at him. 

Edgar Randall did not hate dogs. Instead, he had what he liked to call a strong aversion to inept mongrels. He had a definite rule never to own or house a dog that wasn’t respectable.

The telephone rang and Cheryl answered it in the next room. They thought he could not hear well so she spoke openly in front of him.

“Yes, Martha, he’s been at it all morning. I’m afraid he’s going to hurt the poor dog.”

Edgar shook his head. He would not hurt the dog. Everyone was so afraid he would hurt that animal. No sense worrying over a mutt, but they insisted. His sisters were both younger than him and some time ago Cheryl took up living with him; he never could remember why. He didn’t mind so much, it was nice having a woman cooking for him and cleaning his laundry. He only wished they wouldn’t gossip so about him.

“No, Martha, the dog just stays right beside him, pathetic like, poor creature.”

Pathetic! Phew! Edgar laughed. His sisters were the two most sentimental creatures there were. The only way that dog was pathetic was in its disgrace as a canine. It sure had no affection for him like his sisters insisted. He shoved the dog out of the way and sat down on the couch. After a few minutes the dog crept back to his feet and laid down.

“You’re a glutton for punishment,” Edgar said and toed the dog in the ribs.

The dog did not budge.

Cheryl came back into the living room. She saw the dog at his feet and smiled.

“Wipe that smile off your face. It’s a mangy mutt. I don’t see why you insist on having it here.”

Cheryl didn’t say anything. She sat down and picked up the novel she was reading. Edgar couldn’t tell, but he was sure it was one of those dirty books, the kind that would turn their mother over in her grave. Edgar glared at her. After a moment, Cheryl looked up, no doubt in response  to his stare.

“Do you need something, Edgar?”

But he just glared at her without responding so she went back to her reading.

“Oh, Morris called today,” Cheryl said later that hour.

“Who’s Morris? …Why do I care he called?”

Edgar folded his arms over his chest. Cheryl was always telling him so-and-so had telephoned asking how he was and wanting to speak with him. After telling her a hundred times he didn’t know the person and didn’t want to speak with them did Cheryl give up asking. Now she just told him afterwards that someone had called for him. He didn’t get as angry then.

“Dr. Morris, the veterinarian. He asked about Polaris and when we would be bringing him in to get his shots. He said the dog needs updated vaccines. I made an appointment for next week. Do you want to go with me to take him? Morris would like to see you. I thought it was sweet for him to call personally.”

Cheryl had a way of talking that seemed to answer questions before they began to rise in his mind. She was good at communication –that’s why Edgar let her answer all the telephone calls. She had a way of knowing everybody and how they all fit together. The last time Edgar answered the phone someone tried to convince him that there was medication ready for him down at the pharmacy. Edgar had to inform them he didn’t take medication, but they were insistent that he was wrong. Cheryl took the call, calmed them down and handled it. But sometimes Cheryl got things wrong. Like this vet appointment. Never in his life had he worried about up-to-date vaccines, especially for this mangy mutt.

“If you take this dog to the vet, you’d better leave him there.”


“You got bad tastes in dogs. This one here ain’t worth the food you feed him.”

“Edgar, how dare you say that about your prized Polaris!”

Cheryl often called the dog his “prized Polaris.” He was sure she did it to irritate him. She liked to irritate him. He did not mind so much about other things, but he wished she wouldn’t bother him with this mutt. The dog was a disgrace.

When Cheryl left the next week to take the dog to the vet, Edgar got up from his coveted corner of the couch. He couldn’t move around freely when she was here, and she did not leave him alone often. He had to tell her four times that he would be just fine while she stepped out. She concerned herself too much over his welfare, but she had always been motherly like that ever since Edgar could remember.  

Edgar examined the books on the shelves. Cheryl had ditched his books and filled them with her own amusements. He didn’t miss his books so much — he hardly remembered what it was that he used to read and he didn’t care for reading anymore— but he wondered at her strange interests because they were so masculine. There was a collection on World War I and another on hunting. But the largest was on dog breeds and training. For all her research, Cheryl did not know the first thing about the species. It was embarrassing, her ignorance. Edgar constantly had to correct her.

A picture on the mantel caught his attention. He hadn’t noticed it before, but then, Cheryl was always adding her own things to his house. He picked up the small metal frame and examined the image. It was a picture of himself dressed in a suit with a funny blue band around his upper arm and beside him stood the mutt. Edgar rubbed his shirt sleeve over the glass to remove the dust, but the effort only sharpened the features. It was him, all right, with that dog.

Edgar set the frame back on the shelf and returned to his couch. When Cheryl got home, he would ask her why he was photographed with the mangy mutt. Cheryl would probably make up an unreasonable answer, but he was getting comfortable with her fiction as it was more palatable than the empty, uncertainties that filled his head.

“Cheryl,” he said as soon as he heard the door open, “what’s that picture doing above the mantel?”

“Which one?”

“The one with me and that mutt?”

“Polaris? Oh, that was taken when you two won first place at regionals.”

“You’re telling me that’s a show dog and I did the showing?”

“Yes, Edgar.”

She sounded so enthusiastic as with anticipation of something grand on the horizon. She would do that sometimes, but Edgar never understood what she was hoping would happen. Nothing ever did seem to happen.

“Don’t you remember?”

He shook his head.

“I think I should remember if I’d done such an embarrassing thing as take that mutt to a dog show.”

Cheryl frowned and patted the dog before unleashing him. The dog trotted to Edgar and nuzzled his hand. When Edgar shooed it away, the dog nestled down on the floor by his feet.  Edgar studied the animal that now rested its big Bernese Mountain head on his left slippered foot. For a moment, he had a vague notion of familiarity, but it slipped away before he could grasp it.

Thanks for reading! If you have a family member with dementia, what were the first signs you noticed?

2 thoughts on “You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

  1. Erin says:

    I think I know what dog gave you the inspiration for this story! Although, i was expecting a different ending 🙂 Well done as usual!

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