Tag: old dogs
I don’t do it often, but every now and then, when a dog I’ve had the fortune to connect with passes on, I post a little memorial, like this one for Butch, a pug who lived down the road.
Butch’s human, Martha, had to have him put down last week.
Ace and I would run into Butch pretty regularly on our walks around the block since we moved into the neighborhood a few months back.
Usually, we’d see them not far from their front yard, because Butch, at 15, stayed pretty close to home. In addition to possibly having had some strokes and other health problems, he was also blind. And deaf.
He still had life in him, though. A few times, I saw him get playful, with Ace and once with another dog. Even though he couldn’t see them, he’d do a slow spin and do his best to get into a play stance.
But he’d always stop, wagging his tail even before I reached down to scratch him, as if he somehow knew it was coming.
A while back, when she was having back problems, Martha let me take him for a walk along with Ace. She explained the basics to me: Pull up on his leash to support when when he’s going up or down a curb. Try not to let him walk into a telephone pole. But if he does, don’t worry. He’s a resilient little fellow who has gotten good at absorbing the bumps life brings our way.
That resiliency came to an end last week. Seeing her dog constantly panting, losing control of his bowels, getting right up into her face and staring at her as if to send a message, she knew the time had come.
Martha told me the news on Friday night.
I said the words we say at times like those — always inadequate, but even moreso in her case, for I’d seen the strong bond between them, the joy he brought her, and the fine home she provided for Butch.
Feeling not the least bit helpful, I went home and got a copy of my book, “DOG, INC.,” which, while it relates to dog death, is definitely not feel-good, Rainbow-Bridge, chicken-soup type reading.
Instead, it looks at the ever-strengthening bond between people and their dogs, and the extremes humans sometimes go to after they lose a pet — focusing on the newest and most technologically dazzling of those: cloning.
Martha, I know, would never clone her dog, and, if you’ve read the book, you know I would never suggest it. Martha, pained as she was by Butch’s death, didn’t seem to be going over the edge, and I guess I wanted to give her the book because I admired that.
From our short talk Friday night, she seemed to be handling it, probably better than I would. She seemed to have the right approach — focusing not on the loss, not on herself, but on the happy times the two shared. Happy memories beat a stuffed version of your dog, jewelry made from his ashes, or a laboratory-created genetic replica any day, at least as I see it.
It doesn’t make it easy, but I think that having experienced all you can with your dog, having fully appreciated your dog during his or her life, can somewhat blunt the pain of his or her death — knowing the two of you, and that bond, became all it could be. That seemed to be the case with Martha.
I signed the book, “In memory of Butch, a dog savored in life and lovingly remembered in death — as it should be.”
I rang her doorbell and yelled at Ace to sit down — for he tries to enter any door that opens — and when Martha saw him she said, “Oh perfect!”
When your dog dies, decisions have to be made about what to keep and what to jettison. A favorite toy might be comforting to hang on to, but there are some things painful to look at, like the lingering treats that he or she will never be served. It hurts to see it. It hurts to throw it away.
“I’ve got some bacon I was saving for Butch,” she said. “I’d really appreciate it if Ace would eat it.”
I accepted the package, neatly wrapped in tin foil, and carried it down the sidewalk as Ace jumped up and down next to me, acting anything but mournful. I don’t think he paused for a millisecond to appreciate the significance of the bacon. To him, bacon needs no added significance. He gobbled all three strips down, barely chewing, and kept bouncing up and down beside me even when I told him it was gone.
From a dog who had dispensed much of it in his 15 years, it was like one final dose of joy, courtesy of Butch.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 20th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, blind, bond, butch, connection, deaf, death, dogs, euthanized, grieving, health, ill, in memory, losing a pet, love, memorial, mourning, neighbor, north carolina, old dogs, pets, pug, put down, sick dogs, strokes, winston-salem
The Shelter Pet Project was launched about two years ago, and quickly teamed up with Patrick McDonnell, creator of Mutts comics.
The series of animated ads they’ve produced are aimed at encouraging pet adoptions, and reducing the 3 million deaths of cats in shelters each year.
In the one above — and they are all equal parts sweet and funny – an old dog finds a home.
In another, a Boston Terrier watches while his owner gets arrested for insider trading. “He’s going to jail and I’m going to a shelter. And no, they’re not the same thing.”
The Shelter Pet Project marks the first Ad Council campaign to focus on pets.
In addition to the animated “Mutts” ads, the campaign has produced some pretty memorable non-animated ads as well. Here’s one, called “Ditched.”
(All of our “Woof in Advertising” selections can be found archived here.)
Posted by jwoestendiek October 1st, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: adopt, ads, advertising, animal welfare, animals, animation, ditched, dogs, dogs in advertising, marketing, mutts, old dogs, patrick mcdonnell, pets, psa, rescue, shelter, shelter pet project, woof in advertising
Are we old yet?
Sure, age is just a number; sure, it’s relative; sure, you’re as young as you feel, and all those other clichés that, when applied liberally, work much like salve on dry and wrinkly skin.
But feel-good truisms aside – those truisms are, after all, nothing more than Botox for the brain (and generally not true, either) — the answer is yes, we are. I may do all in my power not to act like it in public, and not to admit it, often, to myself, but old age is not-so slowly and ever-so-slyly creeping up on us.
During our year of travels across America, Ace and I became the same age. For six years, he was the youngster and I the elder. Then he caught up, as dogs do, and while I stayed 57, he passed me – at least according to the mathematical formula we’re basing all this on.
I don’t need math to know I’m getting old. There are reminders everyday – like the day I tried to open the front door of my apartment by pointing my car key at it and pushing the unlock button, like the day I put Preparation H on my toothbrush, like all those times I’ve been enjoying the smell of coffee brewing only to realize I neglected to place the pot in the machine.
On top of these golden moments of mental lapse, on top of the physiological ones, such as hills, or stairs, that magically get steeper each time you go up them, there are visual reminders, too, and they may be the most painful of all – those mirror moments when your generous perception of yourself and harsh reality collide.
A couple of weeks ago, driving down the interstate with my son, I saw a truly hideous sight. My window was open; my left arm – you remember my left arm – was resting on it, forming an “L,” my hand on the roof.
Did you ever see your grandma, in a sleeveless outfit, screw in a light bulb? Remember how the underside of her upper arm, that pasty part that never gets any sun, became something of a kinetic miracle — excess skin in perpetual motion, like a slowly swinging hammock, or perhaps a pendulum would be a better analogy?
This was worse than that.
When Ace sticks his head out the window, the effect is something like a facelift — his loose skin is pushed back, giving him that tightened-up look, like Joan Rivers has. The same cannot be said of my arm.
The wind, at 65 miles per hour, was not just sending my skin to flapping, almost audibly, but transforming my arm into an entirely different shape, stretching it out like Silly Putty and yet, at the same time, accentuating all the leathery wrinkles that I’d never noticed before. It seemed an alien appendage. I stared at it in something close to horror. “Look what’s happening to my arm,” I told my son. “Let’s turn the air conditioner on.” (It occurred to me my left arm would be less flabby if we still had roll-up windows.)
If you’ve been following the continuing adventures of Marshmallow Man and Wonder Dog, as we’re thinking of renaming our saga, you know that Ace is six, going on seven and that, in recent months, he has been slowed by some back troubles. He seems to have gotten over them, though he’s still using the ramp to get into the back of the car. (That’s him in the first three photos, young Ace on the top left, current Ace on the top right; these others are other old dogs I have known and loved.)
You know that I am a not-particularly-buff, not-particularly-health-conscious 57 — about the same age John Steinbeck was when he set off on his trip across America with his poodle, Charley.
You may realize, too, that Travels with Ace has been — in addition to a modern-day retracing of Steinbeck’s route, in addition to a search for dog friendliness and human friendliness, in addition to seeking out America’s dog-loving soul — a quest for identity. (At least for me; Ace seems comfortable with his.)
Being a newspaper reporter without a newspaper, an author whose book was finished, a workaholic without work, I think that, in addition to showing my dog a good time, I was trying to find my new self. My old self – a newspaper reporter, for 34 years – was gone, ever since I left my last job in 2008, departing an industry that was sickly, desperately searching for a cure and not aging gracefully at all.
I left to write a book and, even though it has been published, I have trouble proclaiming myself an author. Maybe you’re not an author until you’ve written two books. “Rambling Man” was a great identity, and a great time, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Being a “Blogger” doesn’t pay the bills, either, or work for me as an identity. Everybody in the world is a blogger.
As an adult, I’ve always identified myself – rightly or wrongly — through my occupation, probably because it was what I was most proud of. I’m less proud of the industry now. And I’m not sure what to make of myself. I’m nearing retirement age but in no position to do that. The uncertainty, the trepidations, the lack of confidence are similar to the feelings I had when I started my first real job in Tucson, even as I approach “senior” status, though I’m not sure when that kicks in these days.
In some ways, Travels with Ace has been a coming of age story. Unfortunately, that age is 57.
Fifty-seven has its advantages – I just don’t remember them right now — but to be honest (OK, there’s one of them) it is not the prime of life, for either man or dog.
I think Ace and I concur on this point.
When we gaze into each other’s eyes for extended periods of time, as we are wont to do, having wordless conversations that somehow sum up the sum total, and then sum, of the shared pain, joy, uncertainty, contentment, confusion, gratitude, respect and love that make us us — I get the feeling we are on the same page, and the same paragraph. I get the feeling that, being peers now, age-wise, we are even more bonded and syncopated.
In those silent conversations, we encourage each other to live in the moment, because our hips could go out in the next one.
As best as I can figure, it was somewhere around Fargo, curiously enough (for one actual winter there seems like five years) that our aging arcs intersected. It most likely happened in a Motel 6 (which in dog years would be Motel 42).
There are various formulas for converting dog years into human ones. Under the traditional view, one human year equals seven dog years. That would make Ace about 45. But that formula has been all but thrown out the window by experts. According to most recent research, which incorporates a dog’s size into the equation, your big dog is probably older than you think he is, and aging at a truly frightening clip.
Based on the formula we’re inclined to believe — you can see the chart we’re using here — Ace and I converged at the age, in human terms, of 57. By the time I’m 60, Ace will be nearing 70. By the time I’m 65, Ace, if he’s still around, while 13 in actual years, will have passed 100 in dog ones.
It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all – and by that I mean aging in general, and the fact that dogs age more quickly, and the fact that a big dog ages so much more rapidly than a yappy little one.
A yappy little one – and we know all little ones aren’t yappy, and love them even if they are – lives much longer. When Ace turns 100, a little one, on earth for the same amount of time, would only be 60.
My hopes are that, being a certified mutt, Ace might outlive comparably sized purebreds, and that if we both drop 10 pounds or so, we might buy some extra time, which we can spend whimpering and groaning about our aches and pains.
As near seniors, though I am running ahead in terms of my fur turning grey, I think we are both a little crankier, more easily annoyed. We both sleep more and grumble more.
We heave more sighs, and utter more harrumphs – getting down on the floor harrumphs, getting up from the floor harrumphs, getting resituated harrumphs, and sometimes harrumphs that have no apparent reason at all.
We both walk more slowly, and only rarely see cause to run.
We both take more pleasure in consuming food, and in voiding ourselves of it. One attaches more importance to digestive issues the older one gets, leading to our motto: Stay regular, but be exceptional.
We both have energy spurts. I’m not sure where his come from. He uses them to chase something briefly, chew a stick, get some human attention, or to just joyfully romp for a couple of minutes. I get mine from coffee, and use them to write things like this, or clean the house.
John Steinbeck, when, 50 years ago, he took the trip we emulated, was 58. He was chronically cranky by then. He missed the “good old days” and wondered “what’s this world coming to,” like old men do everywhere. Were it not for his poodle, who he took along as an afterthought, “Travels With Charley” – in addition to just being “Travels” — would have been one extended, ponderous, but well-written downer.
Steinbeck seemed seething with impatience at times, stuck in the past a lot and not an entirely happy camper, on those occasions he actually camped, or at least alleged that he did.
The most glorious moments in the book, the most graceful moments in the book, Steinbeck’s most patient and whimsical moments in the book, all revolved around Charley.
As with life, the book’s best moments centered on the dog. I am of the opinion there should have been much more Charley in the book, and that there should be a dog in the life of every person nearing 60, or above it.
That’s not just because they are exemplars of growing old gracefully. It’s also because it’s good to have a dog around when we grow old, especially if one is growing old alone, and even though the dog is growing old faster.
A dog helps us fight the crankiness, avoid an all-too-somber and serious outlook on life, keep the mind open and the legs moving, and, I think most important of all, maintain the whimsy.
Some people lose the whimsy way before they get old. Life, they seem to think, is too serious a proposition to waste time doing something spontaneous, or outlandish or just plain silly, something that doesn’t further their personal goals. It’s a terrible thing to see an old young person. It’s a wonderful thing to see a young old person.
Whimsy, I think, is the key, and if you don’t understand what I mean by whimsy look at it this way: It’s the human equivalent of a dog’s wagging tail. It states “I’m up for it,” “I’m open to suggestions,” “Let’s take a trip with no destination.”
It says, “Guess which direction I’m going to go in?”
It says, “OK, I’m going to do something really goofy now.”
It says, “Even with all that life has thrown at me, I’m still happy. Haha.”
The whimsy is easier to maintain when you have a dog – it being a whimsical creature itself.
Getting tied to a routine, and making that routine the most important thing in the world, is part of getting older. It’s also a whimsy-killer. I think an underlying reason we set off on our trip in the first place was the feeling that we — and using the editorial “we” when I mean I could be another sign of aging, I never used to do that — had fallen too far into a routine, and were sinking into it like quicksand.
Now that the trip is over, now that we’re settled down, at least for now, it sometimes seems like something’s gaining on us.
What do you think that might be? Actually, I don’t much care what you think. (Not caring what others think is often described as another benefit of being old, but in truth I haven’t fully reached that point yet.)
The biggest downside of getting old, of course, is death. I find myself thinking about it more, but that could be because, for my book, I spent a year immersed in the topic, at least as it applied to dogs. Part of it, too, may be spending more time at the retirement community in which my mother lives, where at least every month there’s a reminder of it.
But probably the biggest part is the simple and steady tick tock of advancing time, that swinging pendulum, mechanically and monotonously dancing towards what’s inevitable – despite the best efforts of doctors and scientists, drugs and cosmetic surgery.
The only real way to combat it is with a wag of the tail.
My brother says he once asked my mother how she would like her remains disposed of after death – if she wanted to be buried or cremated.
“Surprise me,” she said.
Now that’s whimsy.
(Tomorrow: The kudzu dogs return)
Posted by jwoestendiek July 14th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, aches, aging, aging gracefully, america, author, blog, blogger, book, cranky, death, dog inc., dog years, dogs, elderly, fargo, flapping skin, getting old, grouchy, growing old, grumpy, human years, humans, identity, john steinbeck, newspapers, old dogs, old man, outlook, pains, purpose, reporters, retirement, road trip, seniors, tail, tired, travels with ace, travels with charley, wag, wagging tail, whimsy, years
A dog friend we told you about during our travels was put down last week, at precisely 1:45 a.m. on Friday, after some long goodbyes from his family — George and Kathleen, who bid him farewell at the vet’s office in Virginia, and their daughter Elizabeth, who had a final talk with him via cellphone from California.
Puck was six weeks shy of turning 18.
Blind and deaf for the past two years, with one eye surgically removed, and diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Puck persevered — and did so with dignity, despite the diapers he wore and the daily shots he had to receive.
After months of wondering how they would know when it was time, they knew it was time.
The veterinary staff sent them to a room where they could say their goodbyes. They hugged him, cried a lot, and fed him turkey breast. He wagged his tail. They placed a call to their daughter in California and held the cell phone to Puck’s ear as she said goodbye.
Elizabeth was 7 when they got Puck, and she came up with the name — as in pucker up — because he liked to kiss. She’s 24 now.
A neighbor offered them the dog back then, describing the pup as a poodle. He didn’t look much like a poodle at all. That didn’t matter. They raised and taught Puck, and when he grew old, he, as dogs will do, taught them a thing or two, by example.
Puck was toted upstairs every night, carried downstairs every morning. Despite all his medical issues, the suspected strokes, the epilepsy, Puck was a stoic little guy. He never whined.
Despite all the inconveniences, the diapers, the shots, the veterinary bills, neither did Kathleen and George.
Near the end, Puck didn’t do much more than eat, sleep and cuddle.
Still, George noted, “It’s amazing the void there is now that he’s gone.”
Rest in peace, Puck.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aging dogs, america, animals, dead, death, dogs, dying, elderly dogs, goodbye, grieving, illness, in memory, medicine, mixed breed, old dogs, pets, poodle, puck, road trip, saying goodbye, terrier, travels with ace, veterinary, void
Puck’s family thinks their aging dog has lost most of his senses. He’s deaf. He’s blind in the one eye he has left. And if you put a treat on the ground in front of him, he can’t seem to hone in on it by sniffing. It’s more of a random search. He may or may not taste his watered down food.
But at least one sense remains — not one of the big five, but an important one all the same — his sense of dignity.
At 17, Puck doesn’t run anymore. In recent years, his three block walks shrunk to two block walks, then one block walks, then no block walks. He can’t do the stairs anymore. He has epilepsy, an enlarged heart, a hacking cough. He goes through long periods where he seems to zone out – standing motionlessly like a mini-cow in pasture — possibly the result of mini-strokes. He wears a diaper around the clock.
These days, Puck doesn’t jump, doesn’t play – instead he spends his days asleep or in quiet reflection.
And that’s just fine with George Fish and Kathleen Sullivan.
Puck can cuddle as well as he ever did; relishes a scratch behind the ears as much as he ever did – maybe even more.
George was once my college roommate; and my overnight visit with them last week at their home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the third time I’d seen Puck – the first being when he was a youngster, the second about two years ago. When I reconnect with George on the phone, I’m usually afraid to ask about Puck, fearing the worst. But George generally volunteers the information: “Puck’s still alive.” Or “Puck’s still around.”
George and Kathleen’s daughter, Elizabeth, was 7 when they got Puck, and she came up with the name — as in pucker up — based on how much he liked to kiss. She’s 24 now and living in California.
The dog – part of a litter that resulted from an unauthorized get-together between a poodle and a terrier — didn’t look anything like a poodle, Kathleen notes. “But it was cute.”
She called her husband to let him know: “We sort of have a dog now.”
“George came home and I think in three seconds he was in love,” she said.
Nearly a generation later, Puck remains – less lively, less mobile and diaper clad. It attaches with Velcro and holds a sanitary napkin, a regular one during the day, a maxi pad at night. It’s removed for his trips outside, where he mostly stands motionlessly, his tail periodically going into bouts of wagging.
Every night, they tote him to his upstairs bed. Every morning, they carry him to his downstairs bed, which they call his “office.” Next to it is a family portrait, a toy fax machine,a stapler and a collection of Puck’s other favorite things.
George says he has learned a lot from Puck – both about patience and grace.
Puck has had to put up with eye ulcers, which led to the removal of one of his eyes a year ago, and after that he lost sight in the remaining one. Vet bills amounted to about $4,000 for the eye problems alone. He also has been on medication for epileptic seizures since he was a pup. He’s probably had some small strokes, and his cough has led to more vet bills and interrupted sleep.
How much does all that matter in the big scheme of dog-family love? Not a bit.
Some friends tell George it’s time to put Puck down, but George can’t see doing that – “not as long as his tail keeps wagging.”
Posted by jwoestendiek August 29th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, aging, animals, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, elderly, fredericksburg, george fish, kathleen sullivan, mixed breed, mutt, old, old dogs, pets, poodle, puck, road trip, terrier, virginia
Dogs, among all the other things they teach us, show us how to live in the moment — to see the snow as something to be played in as opposed to something to be whined about.
Then again, they don’t have to shovel it.
Part of me, upon confronting two feet of snow, wants to go to sleep in that moment and wake up in a future moment when it has all melted, and then proceed to live in that moment.
Which brings us to this weekend’s momentous snow.
Like most dogs, Ace loves the snow. A good covering of it seems to take years off his age. Snow, for dogs, is a fountain of youth. It brings out their inner child, which, with them, is already pretty close to the surface anyway.
That said, even Ace was briefly flummoxed by 25 inches of it — the most he’s ever seen. When I opened the front door, there was a two-foot wall of snow. He stared at it for a few seconds, then busted through and down the steps.
Even for a big dog like him, the only way to move forward was with a series of bunny-style hops — and, unlike with me, each hop served to invigorate him more. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” his entire body said. With me trudging and him hopping, we worked our way to a plowed road and to the park, where other snow-invigorated canines frolicked with abandon.
Even among more elderly dogs at the park, the snow seemed to have made them young again, bringing more spring to their steps, more sparkle to their eyes. It made me reflect back to my New Year’s resolutions – to look at things, including burdensome ones like two feet of snow, and see the joyous opportunities they present.
Like dogs do.
(Photos by John Woestendiek)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 7th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 2010, 25 inches, ace, age, animals, blizzard, bulldog, dog, dogs, dogs in the snow, fountain of youth, frolic, invigorate, joy, living in the moment, old dogs, park, pets, photography, photos, play, rottweiler, shovel, snow, snowfall, two feet, weather, youth
There was a gem of a story in the New York Times last week — about two elderly but popular neighborhood dogs who died within a day of each other.
Both lived in an apartment building on West 86th Street. Harry died Friday evening, his friend Bix died on Saturday.
“The fact that they were not human, but were instead a pair of 14-year-old dogs, seems only to have magnified the bereavement in their building, where they had lived longer than most tenants; on their block, where Harry held court at sidewalk cafes and was known as the Mayor of 86th Street; and deep into Central Park, where Bix had been the ringleader of a 9 a.m. play group since 1997,” the article reported.
Harry was a purebred Shar-Pei. Bix, named for the jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke,was a mix of Akita, Saint Bernard and German shepherd.
His 84-year-old owner, the documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, said he never knew any of his neighbors until Bix moved in, serving as an icebreaker and conversation-starter.
“Over the years, because of him, my circle of friends changed, I met people I never would have met; I came to see my whole life depending on this dog I hadn’t wanted at all,” said Pennebaker. “I’d expected having to walk him in the rain in the middle of the night. But I never expected to lose him. If ever you put a dog down, some of you goes with him.”
Rafael Curbelo, the building’s doorman, who kept a stash of treats behind his desk in the lobby, cried upon hearing the news. “Harry was my best friend here,” he said.
As has become the tradition in the dog-friendly building, two dog death announcements were posted in the elevator. Within hours, both had been inscribed with expressions of sympathy from tenants.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 1st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, apartment, bix, bond, building, central park, d.a. pennebaker, death, dog, dog friendly, dog park, dogs, elderly, friends, harry, mix, mourning, mutt, new york, new york times, old dogs, pets, relationship, shar-pei, sharpei, west 86th street
I’ve only seen an excerpt, printed in the Washington Post last weekend — and about to be liberally excerpted here — but Gene Weingarten’s new book, Old Dogs Are the Best Dogs, looks like one I want to carry with me into old age.
Weingarten, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and humor columnist for the Post, teamed up with photographer Michael Williamson to profile 63 old dogs, all between the ages of 10 and 17 when they were photographed.
One of those profiled is Weingarten’s dog, Harry.
“He was nearly 13, old for a big dog. Walks were no longer the slap-happy Iditarods of his youth, frenzies of purposeless pulling in which we would cast madly off in all directions, fighting for command. Nor were they the exuberant archaeological expeditions of his middle years, when every other tree or hydrant or blade of grass held tantalizing secrets about his neighbors. In his old age, Harry had transformed his walk into a simple process of elimination — a dutiful, utilitarian, head-down trudge. “
Weingarten begins the piece with a description of old Harry wistfully watching a younger dog play Frisbee in the park and goes on to share some valuable insights — both about aging mutts and their humans.
“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace…”
Weingarten writes that his dog became “old” at the age of 9.
“I believe I know exactly when Harry became an old dog. He was about 9 years old. It happened at 10:15 on the evening of June 21, 2001, the day my family moved from the suburbs to the city. The move took longer than we’d anticipated. Inexcusably, Harry had been left alone in the vacated house — eerie, echoing, empty of furniture and of all belongings except Harry and his bed– for eight hours. When I arrived to pick him up, he was beyond frantic.
“He met me at the door and embraced me around the waist … He wasn’t barking at me in reprimand, as he once might have done. He hadn’t fouled the house in spite. That night, Harry was simply scared and vulnerable, impossibly sweet and needy and grateful. He had lost something of himself, but he had gained something more touching and more valuable. He had entered old age.
Quoting Kafka — “the meaning of life is that it ends” — Weingarten goes on to talk about mortality, and what dogs might teach us about it.
” …Our lives are shaped and shaded by the existential terror of knowing that all is finite. This anxiety informs poetry, literature, the monuments we build, the wars we wage, the ways we love and hate and procreate — all of it. Kafka was talking, of course, about people. Among animals, only humans are said to be self-aware enough to comprehend the passage of time and the grim truth of mortality. How then, to explain old Harry at the edge of that park, gray and lame, just days from the end, experiencing what can only be called wistfulness and nostalgia? I have lived with eight dogs, watched six of them grow old and infirm with grace and dignity, and die with what seemed to be acceptance. I have seen old dogs grieve at the loss of their friends. I have come to believe that as they age, dogs comprehend the passage of time, and, if not the inevitability of death, certainly the relentlessness of the onset of their frailties. They understand that what’s gone is gone.”
At the risk of getting sued for over-excerpting, here’s the conclusion he reaches:
“Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless summon outrage over the mistreatment of animals, and they will grieve inconsolably over the loss of the family dog. People who find this behavior distasteful are often the ones without pets. It is hard to understand, in the abstract, the degree to which a companion animal, particularly after a long life, becomes a part of you. I believe I’ve figured out what this is all about. It is not as noble as I’d like it to be, but it is not anything of which to be ashamed, either.
“In our dogs, we see ourselves. Dogs exhibit almost all of our emotions; if you think a dog cannot register envy or pity or pride or melancholia, you have never lived with one for any length of time. What dogs lack is our ability to dissimulate. They wear their emotions nakedly, and so, in watching them, we see ourselves as we would be if we were stripped of posture and pretense. Their innocence is enormously appealing. When we watch a dog progress from puppyhood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves.”
Weingarten said in his Post blog last week that, in the introduction to the book — it’s just released, by Simon & Schuster, and should showing up in bookstores about now – he anticipated lots of questions from readers wanting to know how many of the featured dogs are still alive.
“Our answer will be: ‘All of them.’”
(Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster)
Posted by jwoestendiek October 12th, 2008 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aging, animals, book, columnist, death, dog, dogs, elderly, emotions, feelings, gene weingarten, harry, michael williamson, mortality, news, old dogs, photographs, photography, washington post, weingarten