Tag Archives: On growing older

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.

Buddy’s Place In The Sun

Many years ago I read The Good Earth. Pearl Buck wrote this magnificent book in the early 1930s and won a Pulitzer prize in 1932 for it and received a Nobel in 1938. The story covers multiple generations of a Chinese family- a family that had to struggle against all types of external and internal challenges. Particularly vivid in my memory is the book’s ending where the old Chinese grandfather, who having run his race, retires to his comfortable chair, occupying his richly deserved place in the sun. He sits remembering and enjoying a deep sense of satisfaction from his long efforts.

I am reminded of this daily when I observe my thirteen-year-old Border collie, Buddy, and his aging behaviors. Due to infirmity he wisely retired from herding cattle over a year ago. I wrote the story, Buddy- The Slacker early on but did not get around to posting it until March 30 of 2018. In the story Buddy is only a half-grown dog but amazingly manages to break up a ferocious fight between two huge bulls. After so doing, he ran the neighbor’s bull off and then returned our bull unassisted through a forest and around rocks and streams to our ranch. This proved to be the single best herding achievement by a dog that I’ve ever witnessed. After witnessing this event, I no longer referred to the half-grown Border collie as Slacker.

One days several years later I was unaware of a Longhorn cow sneaking up on me while I fiddled with a difficult gate. Buddy saw the approaching cow and easily could have sped off. Instead he stood his ground, short canines against very long, heavy horns. The cow thumped me many times before Buddy helped to drive her back. I can think of no better example of Buddy’s loyalty.

While Buddy no longer herds, he still enjoys riding around the ranch in the back of my pickup. I must lift Buddy up and into the bed of my pickup to gain his rightful place of honor. His old gray snout becomes animated when riding in the back of the pickup and surveying his ranch. His ears perk up, his dull eyes become livelier and dart from object to object, and he stands erect and proud as if for a few moments his joints no longer pain him. He points his nose into the air and listens as intently as his old ears allow.

It’s my ranch and I still look out for it.

Because of his advanced age, Buddy has largely stopped going on walks with Bella, Little Jack, and me. He will usually await our return while waiting patiently beside my pickup that in the driveway. The effort to take a walk on his painful limbs must have simply become too great, I suppose, and he has taken this commonsense approach.

Buddy has multiple beds in the house which is only appropriate because the majority of his day is spent napping. He has a doggie bed in the study where he keeps track of me while I distractedly click away on my computer. Buddy has another bed “in his office” located in a corner behind a screen where he monitors the goings on in the living room. Buddy also has a doggie bed in our bedroom where he catches many a daytime nap.

Enjoying the warmth of the sun and a good nap

Buddy frequents all of his sleeping spots at various times during the day. These spots have something in common; each allows him to soak his aging bones in the warm sunlight streaming through nearby windows. Buddy migrates from spot to spot to capture the healing sunlight. I like to think this warmth provides pain free rest periods. These doggie beds, I believe, are Buddy’s places in the sun.

Hey, don’t forget I also like to lay in the sun.

I sometimes observe Buddy dreaming with his legs making running movements. His whiskers shake and shiver. I, of course, have no idea what he dreams about, but I hope Buddy is reliving his best herding memories and summing up his many adventures. I know that at age 13 (or 91 in dog years), Buddy won’t be around much longer. i can hardly bear to think about losing him.

Buddy was born on the ranch (actually in my bedroom closet) and has barely left the outer reaches of the ranch. He models stoicism and provides more unconditional love than we can ever hope to return.His loyalty and desire to protect his people goes beyond question.

During this wonderful holiday season, the thought occurs to me that God’s love for all his creatures is, in small part, represented by our dogs love for their humans. For this let us give thanks and offer in return unconditional love.

Dream on Buddy, my loyal companion. You’ve earned your place in the sun.

Buddy’s Retirement- April 20, 2018

Buddy as a younger dog

It was inevitable, I suppose. Retirement is part of life isn’t it, that is if we live long enough. Buddy about whom you’ve heard much lately (Buddy- The Slacker) retired from his life’s work today. His retirement from herding came suddenly or at least it surprised me.

On request Buddy declined to jump out of the bed of the pickup to help herd the mama cow about which I recently wrote (A Sad Day On The Ranch). This job in the past would have been an easy one for Buddy, merely moving one cow through a couple of gates and into an adjoining pasture where the remainder of the herd grazed.

When I called to Buddy, he merely stared back at me. Has he suddenly gone deaf? What’s wrong with that dog!

After a few moments of reflection on the statue-like, immobile Buddy, I thought perhaps his bad back might be hurting him or else he had judged after twelve and a half years he’d accomplished his limit of herding cattle. Nevertheless, pushing one cow through a couple of gates and into another pasture has previously hardly been work for our Buddy who has lived to herd. But I know twelve and a half years makes for an old dog, especially for a Border collie.

He’s been the best herder I’ve ever had on the ranch. His exploits are legion, as I tried to indicate in the Slacker piece, his first herding experience. Nevertheless, lately he has been less invested and less enthusiastic about this effort. I maintain that in his place today he urged the younger Bella to help me. Surprisingly Bella did a fairly good job but not up to the standards set earlier by Buddy.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Buddy has lately spent more time napping on one of his four beds (yes, can you believe it- four beds) that are scattered strategically around our house. He never has to take more than a few steps to find a doggie bed. If a bed is not immediately available, a low chair will do just fine.

While he still enjoys riding around in the pickup, he now seems anxious to return to the house and resume his doggie slumbers.

Perhaps his life’s arc from superb and indefatigable herding dog to his current “just don’t bother me” attitude is an expected part of normal aging thatis sure to affect us all. I’ll admit since retiring, I enjoy naps more.

Years ago when I asked my grandmother Hutton when she was quite elderly what it was like to get old, she replied, “Tom, you just slow up.” This observation must be as true for Border collies as it is for humans.

I hope Buddy reneges on his retirement for at least a brief period of time. What gives me hope is that Francisco, our ranch hand of seventy-five years old has retired at least five times. Each time after his announced retirement he came back to the ranch after having become thoroughly bored with watching TV and missing “his” ranch.

The animals, the beauty of nature, and the opportunity to make the ranch better proves for Francisco an incredibly strong draw. Might Buddy one day feel a spurt of new resolve along with a strong desire to herd- just one more cow? Time will tell.

By the way, what does one give a Border collie as a retirement gift? He has no use for a watch. Your thoughts?

Buddy, the retiree, taking one of his frequent naps

Reflections on Getting Older

You are likely familiar with the verse written by Robert Browning:

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.

When I first heard this verse, albeit at a much younger age, my thoughts were something like, “bunk, hogwash, senseless prattle, horse feathers!!!!”

Robert Browning 1888

Robert Browning 1888

Over the years though I’ve gained greater appreciation for what Robert Browning was getting at.  In part, admittedly, this was due to my professional interests in Gerontology and Geriatrics. But this was largely book learning and short on personal experiences. Now that I’m living the aging process, I can better understand both the challenges and gifts that accompany it.

I hope in a series of blog posts to explore this topic further and relate the accepted features of aging and also the personal anecdotes. As always, I look forward to reader’s comments.

I suppose what made me think about this topic was an eightieth birthday party I attended several weeks ago. My son’s father-in-law was turning eighty. Alissa, his daughter threw him a no-presents birthday party, and instead requested everyone submit a letter describing what her Dad had meant to their lives. An astounding 88 letters arrived! These were carefully cataloged by Alissa and presented to her Dad.

Now the really good part: Roger on seeing all this and better understanding the impact his life had on others- teared up and became quite emotional (well for a Norwegian anyway). Now this is a stoic man who was a very successful businessman, a real numbers cruncher type who had played athletics at a very high level. He is a stoic Scandinavian-American not prone to public displays of emotion. But a public display of emotion he showed. Why was that?

I began thinking about this and melding my inner thoughts with what I knew about developmental psychology. While I have taught a college course on this topic, I’m really not an expert, but I wish to share my musings.

On entering “the third act” of our lives, most folks begin summing up of their accomplishments and  coming to grips with areas in which they were less successful. This phase of life often includes the deepening of relationships, dousing the inner fires, reducing the drive for accomplishments, and the sharing wisdom with others. This is a phase when mentoring of younger people often takes place along with the passing on of meaningful experiences to others .

The testimonials offered about Roger impacted his personal developmental journey, as it did mine. The birthday party affirmed his life’s worth and informed him of long forgotten kindnesses and other positive impacts on others. This timely theme for the party blended perfectly with the very developmental process he was undergoing. What a stroke of genius by Alissa for organizing the event in this way.

If we are fortunate, we all will age to a ripe and healthy old age.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift

The more of life I experience, the greater I recognize that Robert Browning’s wisdom, “the best is yet to be.” Let’s hope so.

 

To Be Continued