11/20/2006 03:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

My Dog is Incontinent

She turned 13 years old two weeks ago, the day after the election. Please forgive me if my priorities--local versus national, personal versus political, private versus public--have become somewhat skewed.

Molly Marie, our beloved Dalmatian, has in her senior dog years become, well, gross. I'll spare you the undignified details. But let me just say that we've been buying "pet odor remover" solution in gallon containers. We've worn out the brushes on our Hoover Carpet Shampooer. Lately we've been covering much of our household in plastic sheeting.

I don't think she's really lost her potty-trained muscular functions, or that she's experiencing doggie dementia. I think she's just gotten old, and decided at some point that it isn't worth the trouble to venture outside, onto the cold grass, to do her business.

It's not time, however, to put her down. She's not in pain. She's still full of life, and she has a lot of love yet to give (and receive). Gone are the days when she would run and run and fetch and fetch. But she lives to have her ears scratched and to follow family members from room to room. So we hold our noses and continue to clean up after her. Loyalty is a two-way street, and sometimes those "you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back" arrangements involve time lags on the part of one transactional party or the other.

I think back on all that she's given me. For instance, I owe my short-lived foray into community politics all to her spotted example. Young Dalmatians need a lot of exercise, and for that reason, about twelve years ago I found myself named "Dog President" (I preferred the title "Alpha Male") of a local citizens group pressing the City Council for an off-leash dog park. The council eventually agreed, but the hitch was that we citizens had to raise the funds for developing the park. Molly became the poster pooch of those efforts. We printed hundreds of black-and-white t-shirts with her likeness on them. As part of the fundraising campaign, I offered then-Claremont resident Calvin Broadus, better known at the time as Snoop Doggy Dogg, a deal: Donate a large sum to develop the park, and we'll name it Snoop Doggy Dogg's Dog Park. Snoop never ponied up the bucks, and we ended up naming the park the Claremont Pooch Park (POOCH = Providing an Outdoor Oasis for Canines and Humans). But it turned out to be a successful and fun endeavor.

At the opening ceremony, the mayor presented me with a gold (painted, that is) pooper-scooper, I'm proud to say. Other residents in neighboring cities started inviting me to speak to skeptical officials about the benefits of off-leash dog parks. I had my tag lines down ("Mao Tse Tung claimed that power comes out of the barrel of a gun; but I say to you, political power in southern California today comes out of the butt of a dog..."). Eventually appointed a city commissioner because of these dog-park initiatives, on a commission whose jurisdiction included parks, sidewalks, trees, sewage, trash disposal, and cemetery maintenance (oh, the glory of public fame!), my political career arc came to an abrupt end when I resigned the day before a poorly written Ralph Nader-initiative took hold in the city. Oh well.

But a quiet lesson I learned from the whole affair: If the story of the 1929 version of The Jazz Singer is that Al Jolson needed the dubious cover of "black face" to get ahead in a gentile world, I found that I benefited, if undeservingly so, from "spotted face" as my entrée into public life--or rather, the growing dog park movement had benefited from that inter-species collaboration. In some ways that's a sad commentary, too: Thanks largely to the warm and fuzzy presence of dogs, city officials and residents could overcome their hostilities and agree to develop a new public park; yet many in the city of Claremont today remain acrimonious, embittered actually, over the prospect of building of a new public park for children.

Finally, however, I cannot pretend that my debts to Molly are mainly public and utilitarian. It all comes down to love, which defies rational analysis, especially on those cranky mornings when you wake up and step in something squishy and smelly (oops, too much information). My kids know that Molly's days are numbered, and they, too, have learned of late to be more gracious than reproachful, to affirm what they can in the present, stinky as it occasionally may be, while staving off the long view.

All life is precious.