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Author: Subject: Why old dogs are the best dogs...

Universal Peach





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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 10:20 AM
I read this on the train on the way in this morning. Sure beat reading all the doom and gloom that's dominating the newspapers lately. It gave me pause...and I thought some here might want to hit the pause button for a bit, too.

http://www.theweek.com/article/index/89914/3/The_last_word_Why_old_dogs_are _the_best_dogs


The last word: Why old dogs are the best dogs

They can be eccentric, slow afoot, even grouchy. But dogs live out their final days, says The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten, with a humility and grace we all could learn from.

Not long before his death, Harry and I headed out for a walk that proved eventful. 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. When finished, he would shuffle home to his ratty old bed, which graced our living room because Harry could no longer ascend the stairs. On these walks, Harry seemed oblivious to his surroundings, absorbed in the arduous responsibility of placing foot before foot before foot before foot. But this time, on the edge of a small urban park, he stopped to watch something. A man was throwing a Frisbee to his dog. The dog, about Harry’s size, was tracking the flight expertly, as Harry had once done, anticipating hooks and slices by watching the pitch and roll and yaw of the disc, as Harry had done, then catching it with a joyful, punctuating leap, as Harry had once done, too.

Harry sat. For 10 minutes, he watched the fling and catch, fling and catch, his face contented, his eyes alight, his tail a-twitch. Our walk
home was almost … jaunty.

Some years ago, The Washington Post invited readers to come up with a midlife list of goals for an underachiever. The first-runner-up prize went to: “Win the admiration of my dog.”

It’s no big deal to love a dog; they make it so easy for you. They find you brilliant, even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you, even if you are a genocidal maniac. Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing—his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce. 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.

Kafka wrote that the meaning of life is that it ends. He meant that 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—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.

What dogs do not have is an abstract sense of fear, or a feeling of injustice or entitlement. They do not see themselves, as we do, as tragic heroes, battling ceaselessly against the merciless onslaught of time. Unlike us, old dogs lack the audacity to mythologize their lives. You’ve got to love them for that.

The product of a Kansas puppy mill, Harry was sold to us as a yellow Labrador retriever. I suppose it was technically true, but only in the sense that Tic Tacs are technically “food.” Harry’s lineage was suspect. He wasn’t the square-headed, elegant type of Labrador you can envision in the wilds of Canada hunting for ducks. He was the shape of a baked potato, with the color and luster of an interoffice envelope. You could envision him in the wilds of suburban Toledo, hunting for nuggets of dried food in a carpet.

His full name was Harry S Truman, and once he’d reached middle age, he had indeed developed the unassuming soul of a haberdasher. We sometimes called him Tru, which fit his loyalty but was in other ways a misnomer: Harry was a bit of an eccentric, a few bubbles off plumb. Though he had never experienced an electrical shock, whenever he encountered a wire on the floor—say, a power cord leading from a laptop to a wall socket—Harry would stop and refuse to proceed. To him, this barrier was as impassable as the Himalayas. He’d stand there, waiting for someone to move it. Also, he was afraid of wind.

While Harry lacked the wiliness and cunning of some dogs, I did watch one day as he figured out a basic principle of physics. He was playing with a water bottle in our backyard—it was one of those 5-gallon cylindrical plastic jugs from the top of a water cooler. At one point, it rolled down a hill, which surprised and delighted him. He retrieved it, brought it back up and tried to make it go down again. It wouldn’t. I watched him nudge it around until he discovered that for the bottle to roll, its long axis had to be perpendicular to the slope of the hill. You could see the understanding dawn on his face; it was Archimedes in his bath, Helen Keller at the water spigot.

That was probably the intellectual achievement of Harry’s life, tarnished only slightly by the fact that he spent the next two hours insipidly entranced, rolling the bottle down and hauling it back up. He did not come inside until it grew too dark for him to see.

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 in a way that is not immediately reconcilable with the musculature and skeleton of a dog’s front legs. I could not extricate myself from his grasp. We walked out of that house like a slow-dancing couple, and Harry did not let go until I opened the car door.

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.

In the year after our move, Harry began to age visibly, and he did it the way most dogs do. First his muzzle began to whiten, and then the white slowly crept backward to swallow his entire head. As he became more sedentary, he thickened a bit, too.

On walks, he would no longer bother to scout and circle for a place to relieve himself. He would simply do it in mid-plod, like a horse, leaving the difficult logistics of drive-by cleanup to me. Sometimes, while crossing a busy street, with cars whizzing by, he would plop down to scratch his ear. Sometimes, he would forget where he was and why he was there. To the amusement of passersby, I would have to hunker down beside him and say, “Harry, we’re on a walk, and we’re going home now. Home is this way, okay?” On these dutiful walks, Harry ignored almost everything he passed. The most notable exception was an old, barrel-chested female pit bull named Honey, whom he loved. This was surprising, both because other dogs had long ago ceased to interest Harry at all, and because even back when they did, Harry’s tastes were for the guys.

Still, when we met Honey on walks, Harry perked up. Honey was younger by five years and heartier by a mile, but she liked Harry and slowed her gait when he was around. They waddled together for blocks, eyes forward, hardly interacting but content in each other’s company. I will forever be grateful to Honey for sweetening Harry’s last days.

Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless 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.

____________________
From the book Old Dogs, text by Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson, based on a longer excerpt that originally appeared in The Washington Post. ©2008 by Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson.
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True Peach



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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 10:26 AM

 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 10:28 AM
Very

 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 10:44 AM
Thanks so much for sharing this touching article, Jeanne.
signed ...
a lover of all dogs (Lola in particular )

 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 10:49 AM
My dog Skye (named for Isle Skye the Clan Macleod is from, 10 yrs old)


 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 10:54 AM
I thought this was another post about John McCain!

 

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Well 30 years of heart and soul,lord we took it further than rock and roll.
We stood together thru thick and thin,yeah we made the best of it all back then.
Then I guess time took it's toll,cut me deep,cut me cold.
Brother against brother....

 

Universal Peach



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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 10:57 AM
The book "Old Dogs" might make a nice holiday gift for someone on your list. Not too hard on the pocketbook but priceless in the heartwarming category.

http://www.amazon.com/Old-Dogs-Are-Best/dp/1416534997/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UT F8&s=books&qid=1224775055&sr=8-1

 

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Universal Peach



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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 10:58 AM
...and no, I do not make a commission on the sales of this book!

 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 11:20 AM
quote:
...and no, I do not make a commission on the sales of this book!





 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 11:41 AM
What he said about "it is no big deal to love a dog, they make it easy for you", is so eloquently understated. One of the biggest joys of my work day is to get out of the car and see Pearl looking out the front window with her ears perked up (for an Aussie, that just means they are forward, cause they bend about halfway). Then when I get inside, she is just wiggling all over, and vocal. I am just showered with affection, and no matter what kind of day it was, she has no way of knowing, it goes away. She was six last Friday, and even though we celebrated, it was melancholy as I realized that our time together was halfway over if she lived to be 12. That's selfish, I know, but I can't help it.

The only people that don't love dogs have never allowed themselves to.

[Edited on 10/23/2008 by alanwoods]

 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 01:01 PM
quote:
What he said about "it is no big deal to love a dog, they make it easy for you", is so eloquently understated. One of the biggest joys of my work day is to get out of the car and see Pearl looking out the front window with her ears perked up (for an Aussie, that just means they are forward, cause they bend about halfway). Then when I get inside, she is just wiggling all over, and vocal. I am just showered with affection, and no matter what kind of day it was, she has no way of knowing, it goes away. She was six last Friday, and even though we celebrated, it was melancholy as I realized that our time together was halfway over if she lived to be 12. That's selfish, I know, but I can't help it.

The only people that don't love dogs have never allowed themselves to.

[Edited on 10/23/2008 by alanwoods]


I hear ya.

My bitch is 2.5 and follows me EVERYWHERE. Sometimes it's pretty cool, others
it's like, give me some space, damnit!

She's a light yellow lab I called Mango. Great dog, but dumb as a door nail.
Of course that's why i love her ...

 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 04:34 PM
I just like the story that begins this thread and wanted others to see it.

 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 05:02 PM
Very moving. I had to put my yellow lab down about two years ago. I held her in my arms and lap as the vet administered the final shot. I sobbed like a baby. I've always thought animals have more intelligence than we give them credit for. Dogs certainly have virtues we humans could learn from.
 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 07:06 PM
Thanks for posting this. It made my day!

When we die and move on to the here-after, hopefully it will be filled with our dogs. Then we can truly say we lived honorable lives.

 

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  posted on 10/23/2008 at 07:22 PM
I had to put my Lab down, it hurt so much. I miss Jazz so much.
Who said labs are dumb? They are used as seeing eye dogs because they are very smart and want to learn.

 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 08:49 AM
From yesterday's pumpkin carving with the kids

Skye


 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 11:40 AM
I can't see the picture of Skye, but the dog/pumkin connection sparked a memory.

I was around 8 and it had been a particularly fruitful Halloween a few days earlier. Actually there was no fruit involved at all, just a huge loot of really good candy and a limited number of those awful MaryJanes! My plastic pumpkin runneth over. I was in heaven. Or on a 3 day sugar binge. Either way, I was feeling pretty good.

I was at the kitchen table trying to figure out how I could make some peas disappear without having to eat them when I noticed Patches was nowhere to be found. Patches was a good dog and usually parked herself in the kitchen at dinnertime. Not on this night. I didn't think much of it at first because the pea dilemma was taking some thought.

Then it started. The thumping, the whimpering, the banging! It was coming down the hall from my room and headed toward the kitchen. Thump, bang, cry. I turned in time to see Patches bouncing off the hallway walls in a panic. She was having trouble navigating because she had a plastic pumpkin stuck on her head. Of course I was concerned for her safety. She was obviously scared and banging into the wall like that couldn't be a good thing. Then I became VERY concerned when I realized it was MY plastic pumpkin stuck on her head. The horror!!

Dad managed to grab her and get her head out of the pumpkin as I ran to my room to survey the damage. It was bad. Real bad. Patches dumped that pumpkin and it looked like she had a lick of everything. What didn't have teeth marks was wet. I couldn't believe it. My bedroom carpet-a lovely shade of orange-was a rainbow of ripped wrappers and half-chewed bubble gum. She left most of the MaryJanes untouched. Salt in the wound.

At least I didn't have to eat those peas.


 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 12:01 PM
quote:
At least I didn't have to eat those peas.
LOL - great story, Jeanne! Poor Patches ... did she get sick? Lola got ahold of a large sack of red Twizzlers once. Came home from work to discover what's red going down is red coming back up (however it comes up...). She had a horrible tummyache for awhile but I contacted the vet and was told to give her a TBLSP of Pepto for every 5 lbs of weight which turned out to be almost the whole large bottle in her case (she's a smaller size Rottie). New discovery - Lola doesn't like Pepto. I'd pour in in her mouth and she'd promptly spit it out (new discovery - what's pink going in is just as pink when spit all over the place). While she recovered I gagged myself around the house cleaning up the evidence of the crime (then needed full shower and change to rid myself of Pepto clothes).

Am planning on beginning my Christmas shopping by picking up some copies of the Old Dogs book for some dog lovers in my life and will be keeping one for myself, too. Thanks for the tip and the great story!

 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 12:31 PM
Pearl is at work with me today. With business as slow as it is, we have shut down production on Fridays. So Friday is work day for her. She seems to know somehow when I am getiing ready that it is her day.

A couple funny stories on her, well one is not so funny. I live close to the lake, and she goes fishing with me, too. She LOVES minnows. I am probably to blame, as I used to take the leftover minnows and put them in a bucket and fill it with water. She would "bob" for minnows, submerging her head completely in the bucket and chasing the minnows around. It would keep her and the humans present entertained for as long as the minnows lasted or until I took the bucket away.

One day, I loaded everything up in the boat, went down the hill and put in the water for a day of crappie fishing. Pearl was just ecstatic to be going, too. I was fishing aroung one of the neighbors dock and tossed the minnow over a rope that he had tied his boat up with. So, I just flipped it back over the rope and it landed in the floor of the boat right in front of Pearl. It was gone in an instant, before I could get to her. Minnow AND hook. Plus line and sinker. I grabbed her mouth and pried it open. All I could see was the line going down her throat, so I immediately bit it in two. Hadn't been in the water 5 mins., or started the boat motor. So I used the trolling motor, went back to the ramp, got the truck and loaded the boat. I was frantic, Pearl was oblivious. She didn't understand why the outing was cut short. Went back up to the house, and because it was Sat. afternoon, I knew my vet wasn't in. Called the pet emergency clinic. They told me to soak some cotton balls in milk and feed them to her and watch her for a couple days, including checking her poop for the line and hook. She ate the cotton without any problem. I was pissed by then so I went back fishing without her. She was pissed. I picked up poop in freezer bags for the next few days and checked for the hook. Never found it, she never had any adverse effects, and I just have to assume she passed it.

But, she don't get to "bob" for minnows anymore.

 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 01:06 PM
((( Pearl ))) No more minnows for that girl. (Bet she's loving being at work with you Alan. Lola loves going anywhere with me.)

[Edited on 10/24/2008 by lolasdeb]

 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 01:44 PM
Deb, Patches got through it without any trouble. A headache, perhaps, but no stomach upset. And I couldn't even stay mad at her.

Samson was my dog later in life who resembles Harry in the story in so many ways. Not only physically, but even down to having a 'sweetheart' named Honey. Honey is no pitbull. She is a purebread golden and she is something.

Sam would be content to just lie on the front lawn and watch the neighborhood walkers stroll by for hours without a fuss. There was no fence, no leash to keep him. But when Sam would start to pull himself up on those old, rickety hind legs and ramble down to the curb, it was a telltale sign Honey was not far. No sooner did he get there and Honey would come prancing down the street. She had a long, beautiful bushy tail that she held up high and fanned at Sam. I can still see him smiling at her if I close my eyes. She would nuzzle his neck and I swear Sam would stand a taller and thrust his chest out a bit. Their little rendez-vous would last a few minutes and then Honey would proceed with her walk and Sam would find his spot in the grass to savor in the moment.

Sam has been gone for years, but I still catch Honey out on her walks. She's a little slower and her snoot is graying but that tail.....that tail is still swaying in the breeze as it did when she first starting coming around. My heart always jumps when I see her and then falls a little because I automatically think of Samson.

Sam came around too late in my life to have the opportunity to steal candy from a pumpkin, but he did swipe a log of liverwurst off the table once. Yikes! Talk about an odiferous evening!! Whew...





 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 01:47 PM
quote:
Sam came around too late in my life to have the opportunity to steal candy from a pumpkin, but he did swipe a log of liverwurst off the table once. Yikes! Talk about an odiferous evening!! Whew...
LOL - I can only imagine liverwurst being somewhat odiferous to begin with!

 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 01:48 PM
quote:
((( Pearl ))) No more minnows for that girl. (Bet she's loving being at work with you Alan. Lola loves going anywhere with me.)

[Edited on 10/24/2008 by lolasdeb]


I wish we could have animals at work. These management types are always looking for cheap morale boosters. Having a four legged visitor once in awhile would do wonders!

Alan - years ago, my friend's dog ate her pantyhose and the vet told her to keep an eye on "the other end" for them. They appeared but apparently, pantyhose stretch about 10x while working through the digestive tract. It was like a circus clown pulling scarves out of his sleeve. Well...not really, but you know what I mean! Nobody has legs that long!

Dogs. Gotta love em!

[Edited on 10/24/2008 by Jeanne]

 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 01:52 PM
It'll be 20 years in December that Melissa died...

she was 13 (91 to you and me )

she went to the Indy 500, Kentucky Derby,
was backstage at the Roundup in Philly...
and met Gregg in Fort Wayne

brought me joy from the day
I picked her up at the Humane Society
until this very day, if only reminiscing
about the life she led... doggie bags from
Durgon Park in Boston (rib bone longer than she was)

dogs never get old, they just get wiser

 

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  posted on 10/24/2008 at 01:55 PM
quote:
quote:
((( Pearl ))) No more minnows for that girl. (Bet she's loving being at work with you Alan. Lola loves going anywhere with me.)

[Edited on 10/24/2008 by lolasdeb]


I wish we could have animals at work. These management types are always looking for cheap morale boosters. Having a four legged visitor once in awhile would do wonders!

Alan - years ago, my friend's dog ate her pantyhose and the vet told her to keep an eye on "the other end" for them. They appeared but apparently, pantyhose stretch about 10x while working through the digestive tract. It was like a circus clown pulling scarves out of his sleeve. Well...not really, but you know what I mean! Nobody has legs that long!

Dogs. Gotta love em!



The dog I had before Pearl was Molly, another Aussie. Molly was much more sedate than Pearl, a really sweet girl. But the panyhose reminds me of Molly, and an episode with dental floss. Not quite scarves, but still memorable.

Yes, you gotta love them - they can be so goofy and have no reservations about it.

 

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