I suppose my first thought is that the term “older” is rather subjective. Some dog parents think a dog over seven years of age is “older”, others (mainly Lab and Retriever parents ha ha) would go much further and say an “older” dog is in double digits (11, 12, 13….).
Having guided two very much beloved dogs well into their teens, and poor Hector, who died just one week shy of his 10th birthday, I can see both sides of the spectrum. Personally, I consider a dog “older” if he/she reaches about 12 years old. In human years, that’s 84!
So, if you’ve got an “older” dog, consider yourself lucky. For, if you have earned the love of an older dog, you are truly blessed and honored. To me, things don’t get much more special in life than loving a senior pet.
Loving and living with an older dog
So, let’s talk about loving an older dog. It’s not hard to fall in love with your dog once he or she has gotten through the troublesome puppy and adolescent years. Some of my best memories are of when my dogs, Timba, Hector and Hobie became adults. They became more well-behaved, smarter, and devoted companions. What’s not to love? There were fewer, if any, instances of escaping over, under, and around fences; there were fewer incidents of me being pulled down on the ground by an over-exuberant canine wanting to greet another of their own species (or worse, wanting to chase after a non-canine such as a squirrel, bunny or…. skunk!). But that’s a whole other story for another day. To love a dog is to know that some day your heart and soul will break. You will outlive your dog, almost assuredly. One of my friends said that one of the cruelest facts of life is that our dogs’ lives are so short. I could not agree more.
The love I had for Hector, who died very suddenly, and “young” in my opinion (more because of his puppy-like behavior rather than his actual age in years), was very different from the love I had for Timba, who died at 18; and Hobie who died at 15. Hector was running around one moment, and dead the next. Timba withered away and died a slow, long, painful but natural death. Hobie, my beloved Hobie, the canine love of my life: it figures, he was the first dog (the only one so far) for whom I had to make the decision to euthanize. My love for each was special, but Hector’s passing hurt the most, because of its suddenness. Even though I consider Hobie the canine love of my life, his passing didn’t hurt as much as Hector’s, because I had to watch him suffer in pain and undignified failings for such a long time.
Tips for pet parents
There are many different ways to feel and express our love for our pets. Each animal is an individual, each with his or her own personality. Each one is unique and special in their own right. The most important part of loving an older pet is to see the commitment of the relationship through to its very end. I can’t tell you how upsetting it is for me to see older pets being given up on, surrendered to a shelter, or euthanized prematurely simply because caring for the pet has become difficult and/or burdensome. It’s a burden I’ve been through many times (if you include the dozens of senior cats I’ve parented), and I would gladly go through it again and again. It is the very essence of being committed to my pet for the pet’s entire life. Their lives are so short, it’s not a burden to take care of them, it is an honor.
Having spent my pet parenting years with larger dogs, most of my dogs have developed physical limitations that prevent them from running, jumping, climbing stairs and so forth. In the case of both Timba and Hobie, I had to make accommodations for them in the downstairs of my home to avoid stairways.
In the case of Hector, who was having seizures, it was necessary to spend a lot of time and money on veterinary visits and expenses, as well as learn how to administer medication, and learn how to care for him during the pre- and post-seizure phases which were frightening and unpredictable.
Each dog needed special accommodations, from medicine, to extra veterinary appointments, to special, super-reliable pet sitters if I need to travel for work or vacation, to special foods, special bowls, special leashes, ramps, and (in the case of Hobie) even relocation of the human’s bedroom! I did all of the above gladly with with love and devotion.
Never have I experienced the loyalty and devotion from humans that I have gotten from dogs. In their golden years, I wanted to return that loyalty and devotion to my beloved dogs. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Living a life with animals
As I watch my four-year-old twin dogs, Charlie Brown and Cooper, grow, I can’t imagine where these first four years went. Their fifth birthday is in November. Shortly after that, they will mature and become fantastic adult dogs.
Soon after, (and it will go by quickly…too quickly), they will become amazing older dogs. If I am lucky, they will follow in the paw steps of my previous pets, and live to a ripe old age. Since they are large, and I, myself, am getting older, a lot of decisions will need to be made. For starters: do we continue to live in our three-level house that consists of three long stairways? I won’t be able to carry them, like I was (barely) able to carry Hobie and Timba.
It’s a lot to think about, but I’m not going to do that yet! Hobie just left us a year ago (April of 2015). I intend to enjoy my years with Charlie and Cooper to their fullest, as they grow old(er), with me.
Thanks for reading!
Are we caring for our older dogs or are they really caring for us? Rosie just brought her leash to signify I need to get up and share a walk with her. Blessings, Judy Helm Wright