When I first went volunteering at HUHA, without a single thought of adopting a dog (I had a dog, thank you very much) – I was mesmerised by this greyhound there. She was eight and a half years old with this grey face and sparkling big brown eyes and her name was Angel. She was lying on her bed, waiting for her turn to go out and have her room tidied prior to breakfast. I thought “Oh, what a lovely dear old girl”. The shift leader opened her bedroom door, where upon the lovely dear old girl shot out like a scud missile (in the shape of a cheeky gazelle) and instead of going straight out into the yard, she did her tour of torment down the big noisy dog aisle, flaunting her freedom and her wiry awesomeness and positively laughing her head off. Absolute barking uproar and outrage erupted from the aisle and so, her work done and mission accomplished, she finally shot out into the yard with her brindle, three-year old, bull terrier-cross friend, Beckett. It was like she was two years old.
I looked up her facebook adoption post and someone had commented on it saying how sad it was that anyone would only get two years at the most from her (before her demise, presumably). I didn’t know then that that was wrong; I just thought – imagine getting to live with that for a whole two years; someone would be so lucky. Well, she’s twelve and a half now and she still tears out of her room like a crazed bundle of joy every morning, except now it’s out of my room. And instead of tormenting an aisle of big dogs, she torments her brother, who is five years younger and has to be rescued as he is chased and nibbled by his cheeky big sis.
What is it that concerns us about taking home an older dog? Mostly, it’ll be two things – we are concerned about the costs that are likely for aging dogs developing old dog ailments and we are concerned about our hearts and the pain of loss after only a short time in their company. In actual fact, though, we don’t know how long we are going to get with any dog at any age and veterinary bills and unforeseen ailments can afflict a dog at any time.
The benefits of an older dog, however, are theirs alone. Older dogs have worked things out – they know about leads and collars and harnesses. They know about peeing outside. They have decided whether they can cope with children, chickens, other dogs, people – hopefully they cope with all of these things but you will at least know in advance of taking them home. Older dogs know things – they don’t fret about the younger generation, they don’t want to have sex with everything, they quickly establish how the pecking order will be (whether they are at the top or not – they’re not even that bothered about that); they love comfort, time, warmth, you. How great it is to take your older dog out for a meander at the beach and not feel you have been enrolled in dog owner bootcamp and are failing miserably at the 50kph fast walk endurance test. When they’re really old, you can poddle down to the river with your old Mum as well and make everybody happy.
The other lovely thing about the older dog is the opportunity to nurture and make a difference to their lives – the squishy beds, the winter coats, the special delicacies and if you’re really lucky, the snake-off together in the hammock, remembering all the great things you’ve done and the gentle banter as to who will be the one to get the tea cake and lemonade out.
It is enriching for us to think about the life of another and to quietly watch them over time – are their legs a little more wobbly, is that biscuit too hard, why do they particularly like that toy and not the others, how can I make it easier for them to get on the bed or in the car. We shouldn’t view these things as sad signs of demise – the slow goodbye. Good grief no and also, why? You are dealing with now, as they are; as for any living creature at any time. I used to like fish, now I’m vegan. I used to like swimming at the pool, now I like swimming in the sea. Things change all the time in our lives without them being a judgment on our state of demise. Addressing our changes is not an inconvenience in life, it’s participation.
The older dog has everything to offer that the youngsters have – life is still fresh and happy for them because they live in the right this minute. It is such a joy and also a privilege to make an older dog happy. Don’t deny yourself or them the pleasure out of fear of the unknown – fear has no place in the presence of love and delight.