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Tag: aging

Look what this mailman delivered

Mailman Jeff Kramer met black Lab Tashi on his route in Boulder a few years ago.

“As fast as he could — which was not very fast — he ran up to me tail wagging, first day I met him,” Kramer said. “He’s just a really friendly dog. And I am a dog person, and they can tell.”

Kramer greeted and petted him nearly every day. But over the years, Tashi’s mobility declined — until the point that, after turning 13, the dog became unable to handle the steps of the front porch.

Kramer was in a position to help.

He’d built a ramp for his own elderly dog, Odie. But Odie passed away not long after that, about five years ago. The ramp sat in pieces in Kramer’s backyard.

So he offered it to Karen Dimetrosky and her family. Then he delivered it, in pieces.

rampAnd when two months went by and the family hadn’t assembled the ramp, Kramer came by on a day off and put it together for them.

“He’s just amazing,” she added. “We’ve had the ramp for a few months and he’s saved us …

“I can’t imagine not having the ramp now. It’s the only way he gets in and out.”

“We were literally carrying him up and down the stairs,” Dimetrosky told the Boulder Daily Camera. “And he weighs about 70 pounds.”

“I just noticed they needed it,” Kramer said. “I didn’t need it anymore and I hate throwing things away.”

Kramer said most of the dogs on his route are friendly.

“I’ve got about 30 or 40 that enthusiastically greet me,” Kramer said. “Then I’ve got three or four that enthusiastically want to eat me.”

Kramer recently attended Tashi’s 14th birthday party, and Dimetrosky said that Tashi, despite his achy bones, gets up off his bed whenever Kramer comes by.

Kramer said Tashi is one of his favorite dogs on the route.

“He’s just so happy with life.”

(Photo and video by Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera)

Stress can turn dogs prematurely gray

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Young dogs who are especially anxious and impulsive can grow gray hair on their muzzles prematurely — just like humans, a new study says.

Scientists involved in the study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, said they had long suspected stress led to premature gray around the muzzle in dogs, even though little research exists on the topic.

SONY DSC“Based on my years of experience observing and working with dogs, I’ve long had a suspicion that dogs with higher levels of anxiety and impulsiveness also show increased muzzle grayness,” said Camille King, a Denver area veterinarian who led the study.

Author Temple Grandin also took part in the study, according to a press release from Northern Illinois University, King’s alma mater.

To investigate, the researchers traveled to dog parks and veterinary clinics in Colorado, giving questionnaires to the owners of 400 dogs, CBS reported.

The owners answered 42 questions about their dogs’ behavior, age and health, while the researchers took photos of each dog.

The researchers excluded dogs with light-colored fur. They focused just on dogs between ages 1 and 4, as older dogs could have gray fur simply from aging, the researchers said.

To gauge anxiety levels, the researchers asked about whether the dog destroyed things when left alone, had hair loss during vet exams or when entering new places, or cringed or cowered around groups of people.

To rate impulsivity, the researchers asked if the dogs jumped on people, whether they could be calmed, if they had difficulty focusing, and if they continued to be hyperactive after exercising.

Female dogs tended to have higher levels of grayness than male dogs did, the researchers found, and dogs that showed fearfulness toward loud noises and unfamiliar animals and people also tended to have increased grayness, they said.

In contrast, they said, grayness had nothing to do with the dog’s size, whether it was fixed and whether it had any medical problems.

(Photos by John Woestendiek)

You want to put what where?

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Seems like Ace and I, as we keep piling on the years, take turns these days experiencing health problems — from the pesky to the potentially fatal.

Saturday was his turn again.

He woke me up about 5:30 a.m. to be let outside, not all that unusual. But then he declined to come back in. He just wandered about the backyard, stopping here and there, straining to pee, but to no avail.

Once he did come back in, he wanted out again two minutes later, where he again attempted, unsuccessfully, to complete the task.

As I do with my own ailments, I got on the Internet to Google the possibilities — urinary tract infection, stones of some sort, or some other kind of obstruction that was blocking him from doing what he needed to do.

Given it was already 10 a.m. when I called his vet, and that they close at noon on Saturday, I wasn’t too surprised when I was told all slots were filled. But I was promised that a vet would call me back.

When he did, about 30 minutes later, I told him Ace was struggling to pee and that, to my knowledge, he hadn’t been able to all morning. Otherwise, he seemed fairly normal, and not in pain, not even when I pushed and prodded around his abdomen.

The vet — not the one I usually see at the practice — told me that, while I might have to wait around for an opening, I could bring Ace in. And he told me I probably should. If I waited until Monday, and Ace went all that time without peeing, he’d likely be dead by then.

After taking some X-rays, the vet showed me what he said were bladder stones — faint little circles, and some not so little, inside his bladder. He said it would take some testing to determine which kind of stones they were (some are more easily treated than others). The first priority though, was to get that obstruction cleared and that bladder drained, so he suggested a catheter.

I winced at the word. It has only been a few months since I was treated to that process while in the hospital for bypass surgery. Of all the highly intrusive things they did to me (okay, for me) the installation of the catheter remains my most traumatic memory. The mere word gives me shivers.

Why, I wondered then, and still do, would they install this device into a person without knocking him out — good and out — first?

I would not wish it on my worst enemy, much less my best friend.

Ace, his tail tucked between his legs rather than in its normal full and upright position, was ushered to a back room, and I stepped outside to pace and worry. I didn’t exactly “feel his pain,” but I did remember mine.

As soon as I stepped back into the office, only about five minutes later, the vet and a technician came into the waiting room with Ace and said things were flowing again. Ace, thanks to the catheter, had peed, and peed some more, and one little stone came out in the process.

The vet tech took Ace outside and he peed some more. His curled-up tail, which had been in the down position all day, was up — generally a sign that all is right with the world, or at least his world.

While the emergency was over, the ailment remains. Tests of his urine this week will determine whether the stones still inside his bladder are of the struvite variety, which can sometimes be treated with a therapeutic diet, or calcium oxalate stones, which require surgical removal to totally get rid of them.

Whatever the case, I’m sure Ace will handle what’s ahead in a far more classy and stoic manner than I would.

These days, we both grunt a bit now when settling down, or getting up. We’re both a little slower. We both have to shift around a bit to get comfortable, then stretch ourselves out when we get back up again.

But somehow he is better at this aging thing than me. It has been almost three years since he, now 10, surpassed me, now 61, according to most formulas for comparing dog years to human years. Now, as a large dog, he’s aging much more quickly than I am — even though you wouldn’t know it to look at us.

This week’s medical agenda includes the testing of his urine, whatever steps are deemed necessary for him after that, an echocardiogram on me to assess how my heart is working after quintuple bypass surgery, and another visit to my physical therapist for a continuing back and shoulder problem, now being treated by something called “dry needling.”

I’ll spare you the details of that. Suffice to say, for me — and even for my dog — getting old is getting old.

(A special thanks to Brian LeFevre at Winston-Salem’s Ard-Vista Animal Hospital for working Ace into his schedule and getting things flowing again.)

How to stay young? How to grow old? Dogs show us the way to both

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Dogs have a knack for helping us accomplish our goals. Somehow, they seem to know what those goals are without ever being told. Maybe, they know our goals better than we do.

With no apparent effort, they can help us accomplish our missions … whatever the mission … even missions that are completely opposite from one another.

Dogs, for instance, can help us stick to a routine, or get us out of a rut. (Ace has done both for me.)

They can enlarge our circles of friends, and — at those times solitude might be best — keep it from getting too lonely. (Ace has done both of those, too.)

And they can both keep us young and show us how to grow old.

That last trick, I think, is particularly impressive.

Dogs, when you think about it, show us how to live our lives (in the moment, with abandon), cope with our maladies (with brave perseverance) and die our deaths (with grace and dignity).

Between the examples they offer, the similarities between our species and the uncovered secrets dogs may still hold, it’s no surprise that science and medicine and more than a few other fields of study are increasingly turning to them for answers.

What dogs have to teach us about living a healthy life — some of it obvious (if we pay attention), some of it suspected and undergoing research — was the subject of an article last month in AARP Magazine.

As it noted, dogs, as they continue to evolve alongside us, are increasingly mirroring us, right down to getting the same diseases and disorders.

“… This evolution is ongoing, a process scientists call convergence: Human and canine genes, shaped by the environment we share, are evolving in lockstep. Today, along with home security and leftover disposal, dogs confer a host of wellness benefits, especially to kids and older people,” the article’s author, David Dudley, wrote. “People with dogs sleep better, weigh less and get more exercise than dog-free peers.”

“And there are the less tangible perks, the ones cataloged in Marley & Me–style books. This burgeoning “dogoir” literary genre revolves around the reductive but basically correct idea that a dog is foremost an instrument of personal growth: It exists to ease your existential anxieties, impart lessons about love and friendship, and teach you how to be a better person.”

But as noted by Dudley, who weaves the lessons his dog Foghat taught him into the article, that’s just the beginning of what dogs might have to share.

He cites a couple of research projects as examples of the possible answers dogs may hold when it comes to aging.

Neuroscientist Elizabeth Head is studying elderly beagles at the University of Kentucky in an attempt to determine why, by age 6 or 7, they start showing signs of the microscopic beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

About a third of the beagles will succumb to canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, about the same percentage of Americans over 85 who will get Alzheimer’s.

“It could be that living in our environment — our food, our water, our homes — has made dogs more vulnerable,” she says.

Head thinks dogs might hold the key to defeating it. Past studies, she notes, have demonstrated that an antioxidant-rich diet and “behavioral enrichment” — a course of memory drills and new-skills training — can significantly delay or diminish plaque development and memory impairments.

At the University of Washington, Daniel Promislow, an aging researcher (in both meanings of the phrase), has assembled a team to join in a Canine Longevity Consortium. Through a a grant from the National Institute on Aging, they’re working on the first national longitudinal study on aging in dogs, which will include looking at how dogs stay so seemingly happy and carefree as they advance in years.

On the downside, as we all know, they can relatively suddenly become frail, forgetful and sick — as was the case with Dudley’s dog, Foghat.

“…He entered his dotage in roaring good health. Around his 18th birthday, I Googled “oldest dog in the world,” because I started to wonder if he was closing in on a record. He was what gerontologists would call a successful ager.

“And then, seemingly overnight, he wasn’t. If you have to go — and you do — a swift slide into decrepitude is the preferred way. The phrase is “compression of morbidity,” when the infirmities of age are delayed until the bitter end. Still, it’s no picnic. The joints went first. He started limping after a vigorous bouncing-a-soccer-ball-off-his-nose session. Then he needed help climbing into the car or crawling under the bed, his favorite sleeping spot.”

As Foghat declined, Dudley wrote, his “senescence appeared as both a comfort and a warning of what awaits: Some fears and eccentricities will lift with the years; others will only deepen. One by one, the things you love to do become too difficult and slip out of your life.”

With his death, Dudley says, “I was struck by the strange new stillness — the foreign silence of a household without a dog. It was as if a machine that had been humming in the background for a long time had suddenly been switched off.”

Amid that silence, Dudley, like many other grieving dog owners, started quantifying what he learned from Foghat.

” …And now that I’m no longer young, and he’s dead, I’ll do my best to follow the path Foghat blazed into my life’s last half…” he wrote.

“So eat the best food you can afford. Go for a walk, even if it’s raining. Take a lot of naps. Keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh, so that the people you lick will not flinch. And when someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, go totally insane with joy.”

(Photo: Foghat, the author’s dog, in 1995 at age 1, left, and in 2012 at age 18; courtesy of David Dudley / AARP Magazine)

The Honey Moon’s over; the honeymoon ain’t

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That up above is Friday, June 13th’s “Honey Moon,” under which Ace and I slept during a quick beach trip over the weekend.

Given the next Friday the 13th Honey Moon won’t come along until 2098 — and given Ace is 9 and I’m 60 — we decided, after some math, it was best to take full advantage of it.

So, even though there was plenty of room inside the home of our hosts on North Carolina’s Figure 8 Island, we slept outside on lounge chairs, so we could fully bask (though I remained clothed) in whatever it is that is so special about it.

The honey-colored full moon always occurs in June around the summer solstice, when the moon, in its orbit around the earth, comes closest to our humble planet.  That point is called “perigee,” not to be confused with pedigree, which is a silly certificate, or peregrine, which is a falcon.

On Friday, the perigee coincided with the moon’s full phase, and coincided with a Friday the 13th as well.

All of which sounded too magical to not sleep under. The last time all those coincided was June 13, 1919, according to Universe Today, and it won’t happen again until June 13, 2098.

The honey moon is likely what gave us the phrase “honeymoon,” according to atronomer Bob Berman.

“That phrase dates back nearly half a millennium, to 1552 … The idea back then was that a marriage is like the phases of the moon, with the full moon being analogous to a wedding … meaning, it’s the happiest and ‘brightest’ time in a relationship.”

We’re not sure what sunrises are analogous to, when it comes to relationships, but maybe they’re reminders to wake up and see the brightness in your partner every day — the Saturday the 14th’s, the Wednesday the 23rd’s, and all the other non-special ones.

In any event, there was a nice one the next morning — sunrise, that is.

One of the advantages of sleeping outside is that you get to wake up to something like this:

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Our beach trip is an annual affair, a gathering of college buddies, sponsored by the humans of a dog named Earl.

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Earl and Ace are both starting to get up in years

DSC02727 DSC02868 That’s them to the left in their University of North Carolina garb. That’s them, not so far left, receiving the daily doggy blessing from host Steve, during which they sit enraptured, either by his words or the Milk Bone they know is coming.  

As older dogs, Ace and Earl react a little more slowly (except when treats are involved); grunt, sigh and harrumph a bit more; sleep a lot more; and, unlike the sun and moon, they don’t always rise and set so effortlessly.

All of which I could also say about myself. I did manage on Saturday, even after my restful sleep under the Honey Moon, to work in two — or was it three? — naps.

I’ve noticed I seem to spend with each passing summer a little less time in the surf, a little more time in the hammock, only occasionally getting those dog-like, running-in-circles, bursts of energy.

But I guess all those quiet moments allow me to figure some things out — such as, when it comes to dogs, and truly good friends, the honeymoon is never over.

Drones and droids and robot dogs, oh my!

The older I get the more wary I become of technology.

What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?

Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.

It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.

Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.

I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.

droneLast month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.

Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.

Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.

Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?

It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).

biigdogBoston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.

So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on “Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.

The Times reports:  “… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”

EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room —  no matter how sexy its voice — saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”

I’m not a total Luddite.

I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.

But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.

What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.

The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?

I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.

Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.

I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.

But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)

I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.

Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.

Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.

Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.

It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives — though it’s arguable — more convenient.

But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.

Dogs with Old Man Faces

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Tom Cohen has taken some dogs with funny faces and made them funnier.

In “Dogs with Old Man Faces,” released earlier this month, Cohen has gathered photos of elderly dogs and combined them with tag lines reflecting not so much the wisdom that comes with being an old human, but the crankiness, irascibility, aches and fears — our increasing tendency, as we age, to seek out simple pleasures and our decreasing willingness to put up with annoyances.

“Muttley is worried about the future of Medicare,” reads one, next to a photo (at top of this post) of a wrinkled and anxious-looking pug.

“Duster enjoys a good knish,” reads another, accompanied by photo of a pooch whose white eyebrows hang over his eyes.

Roscoe

Each black and white image of an old dog is accompanied by a caption: “Roscoe was one of the original Hells Angels,” reads the one accompanying the shaggy and graying dog shown above.

Dogs With Old Man Faces Book JacketWe learn that “Pedro likes Old Spice and Sinatra,” “Jack enjoys a hot cup of Sanka,” and “Chet is still upset they canceled Matlock.” Geppeto is horrified at how much things cost.  Sumo wants those kids off his lawn. Sherman smoked too much pot in the 60’s. Riley can’t wait for tonight’s early bird special. And Pepper has been advised to cut down on salt.

Dogs with Old Man Faces: Portraits of Crotchety Canines” (published by Running Press, $13.95) isn’t the consumate old dog book — Old Dogs by Gene Weingarten holds that honor, in our view  — but it is a fun and lighthearted spin that incorporates photos of salty old dogs with stereotypical (but often true) phrases  that you might hear uttered by a senior citizen of the human species.

cohenCohen, a former stand-up comedian, is a television writer and producer who has won three Emmy Awards and lives in Maryland with his own old dog. He has worked on shows for MTV, Nickelodeon, NBC, History Channel, ABC Family, and most recently, Discovery Channel, serving as executive producer, director, and head writer of the  series “Cash Cab.”

Based on a photo we found of him, he doesn’t quite have an old man face yet, but appears to be working on it.

(Photos: From “Dogs with Old Man Faces.” Top photo (Muttley) by Richard Dudley; photo of Roscoe by Tom Cohen)