Some years ago, I was driving to the grocery store when I saw a man carrying a very large dog. Assuming the dog was hurt, I pulled over to see if I could help.
“Is your dog injured? Do you need a ride to the animal hospital?” I asked.
He gave me a smile that was a little bit sad, and said, “She’s fine. She’s 16 now, and she runs out of steam pretty fast these days. But she loves to walk in the sunshine, even though she can’t go very far anymore. So I take her out, and when she gets tired, I just carry her home.”
I remember thinking, what a remarkable man! Although he recognized the limitations that come with age, he still honored his dog’s desire to enjoy life to the fullest, for as long as she could, and he was helping to make that happen.
Back then, my dog was still cutting her puppy teeth on my furniture, and old age seemed a lifetime away. But now that my 100-pound shep mix is fast approaching 10, I sometimes think back on that chance meeting, and the lessons to be learned from it. And I wonder…was his dog still taking walks at 16 because of some genetic good fortune, or was his willingness to help his dog experience life to the fullest part of the reason for her longevity?
As our dogs age, it’s easy to want to wrap them in a plastic bubble wrap. Rest them so they don’t get “too tired.” Protect them from getting hurt. Guard them from all the dangers of the world, as if by doing so, we can somehow keep old age from catching up with them.
So maybe we may cut the walk a bit shorter…retire them from the agility field…leave them home from our favorite pet event because we don’t want to tire them out. Maybe we assume they can’t do something and don’t give them the opportunity to try.
We want to protect them, but is this making assumptions thing truly in the dog’s best interest?
I’m not saying it’s not perfectly reasonable to make allowances for a dog slowing down as the years creep up. But shouldn’t the dog have a say in it?
Dogs are, in many ways, born to be wanderers, joyful travelers who long to explore the world, whether their trip takes them cross country, or simply around the block. They thrive on stimulation, whether it’s a playdate with other dogs, a sniff fest along a wooded trail, a rousing game of “find the treat” or a social outing with their favorite humans.
And the same way many human seniors eschew retirement because they are happiest when they’re doing what they love, dogs, too, may want to continue their life travels for as long as their legs will hold them up. Or in the case of one 16 year old dog, even longer.
And it’s not such a bad thing, that.
Because the truth is, you can’t stave off old age. No amount of rest will prevent the years from passing. But though we can’t keep our dogs from getting older, we CAN keep their lives joyful by letting them do the things they love, for as long as they can.
Is your older dog living life to the fullest? Tell us about it!