Thoughts On Dogs and Aging

My prior blog piece shared aspects of our 14th Birthday party for Buddy and his sister, Howdy.

A grown up Howdy

A sampling of doggie themed tasty appetizers

We enjoyed feting these two old Border collies. Just think of it; 14-dog years are the equivalent of 94-human years. Such graceful aging by both dogs justifies giving them a party.

A young Buddy posing

It is hard for me to wrap my head around how Buddy who once was so active, athletic, and energetic, has become so old acting. I first observed him changing by his weight loss. Buddy has always been thin but he became even more so. I suspected Bella and Little Jack, our other dogs, were eating his food. We began taking precautions against this. Finally I added canned food to his dry food (plus table scraps) along with keeping a watchful eye during doggie dinner time. No poaching from the senior dog!

Buddy in recent years has developed a pained gait. No longer does he sprint across the pastures, spring across cattle guards in a single bound, and ferociously herd cattle fifty times his size. No, Buddy now gingerly walks cattle guards, has a mincing, head down gait and is subject to having his rear end collapse unceremoniously out from under him. He now even requires my assist getting into the cab of the pickup or into the bed of the pickup. Traveling in the pickup, though, is probably still his favorite activity. Buddy accepts my help, but I sense he doesn’t like his need for such help. But he still loves to ride in the pickup, traveling across the ranch with the breeze flapping his ears and barking happily. Watching this, I know his life is still good and enjoyable.

Buddy sleeps more now. I’ve noticed like Buddy my own fondness for afternoon naps. If he is not working on the ranch with me (which basically consists of Buddy sleeping under the pickup while I work), he travels among his many dog beds strewn throughout the house. He simply requires more rest now than he did previously. When sleeping I often see his legs moving. I imagine that Buddy is dreaming of prior exploits on the ranch, or else dealing with a particularly gnarly cow in his dream state.

Enjoying the warmth of the sun and a good nap

I’m surprised by how well Buddy has accepted his limitations. When Trudy and I return from a trip to town, we are always mobbed by our dogs. They bark and act as if we have just returned from an extended round-the-world trip. Buddy, however, can no longer compete with the other dogs for our attention and instead holds back. While Little Jack and Bella jump up, bark, and ferociously compete for our attention, Buddy hangs back, merely cutting his milky eyes in our direction with a look of hopefulness plastered across his graying doggie muzzle.  I can tell he loves it when we approach him and pay him special attention, while also needing to defend him from the onslaught of the other dogs.

Buddy long ago lost his position as dominant dog in the house. He can’t stand up to Bella or even Little Jack who are stronger now and more assertive than he. He seems reasonably content with his lowered station in life and doesn’t seem to fight the inevitable. This reminds me of humans on the brink of retirement who often say, “You just know when the time is right.”

Buddy shows resilience in the face of getting old. He accepts his infirmities, loss of station, and limited mobility. However, he does require greater affection and petting. He warts us for petting almost constantly. I wonder if his neediness for his human companions’ approval helps to mitigate his sense of loss in the other areas. While he no longer can achieve the redemptive power of work, he has put away a lifetime’s worth of impressive works.

For this, my old dog, I say thank you.

It seems to me there is wisdom for humans in watching our pets age. Perhaps Max Ehrmann in his Desiderata said it best:

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth…

He continues:

You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

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