Senior dogs across America
June 25, 2011 5:52 PM   Subscribe

"'The dog lives in the present,' Ms. LeVine said. 'We don’t. Our body is fragile. We’re thinking about the past and what we could have done differently; we’re thinking about the future and what is going to happen to us.'" Senior Dogs Across America by Nancy LeVine (via)

"As a general rule, Ms. LeVine has been seeking dogs older than 15, though she was flexible with larger breeds, which often don’t live as long. Until she publishes her book, she’s open to suggestions. 'If someone says there’s a 20-year-old dog in Wisconsin,' she said, 'then I’d probably be on a plane.'"
posted by quiet coyote (55 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Those are awesome
posted by stbalbach at 6:02 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

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.
- "Why Old Dogs Are The Best Dogs"
posted by Trurl at 6:14 PM on June 25, 2011 [12 favorites]

A few months ago The Bark magazine did an issue dedicated to senior dogs. It was sweet and touching and utterly terrifying to a dog lover who eyes the inevitable with dread.
posted by workerant at 6:18 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

We often think of the difference in intelligence between humans and animals as being one of depth. Humans can understand more things than a dog, and we can also understand them more completely. But I also like to remind myself that the difference is additionally one of temporal breadth. We are aware of more things that are not happening presently—both things that have happened in the past, and things that are likely to happen in the future. The fact that we can maintain simultaneous awareness of a greater amount of time allows us to make better decisions in the present. We can integrate more of our past experiences into our current thought processes, and we can better predict what will happen in the future based on present circumstances.

The tradeoff is that we have greater difficulty living in the present, as we cannot help but be aware of all that we have endured, and all that we may have to endure in the future.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:22 PM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

dephlogisticated, I've also thought about dogs' perceptions of time. Their primary sense is smell, and I wonder how that informs their perception of the moment we think of as the present. They can smell what's in their environment now, what was recently (and not-so-recently) there, and sometimes what will be coming there. What we humans think of as "now" is a snapshot mostly of what we can see, with scent, touch and all the rest is sort of metadata about what we see. I imagine that a dog's "now" is more amorphous, sort of an accumulation of what is, what was and what might be, if we're downwind of something interesting.
posted by workerant at 6:31 PM on June 25, 2011 [9 favorites]

There's something so sweet and dignified about a dog with gray around it's muzzle. I love older dogs.
posted by jayder at 6:42 PM on June 25, 2011

There's something so sweet and dignified about a dog with gray around it's muzzle. I love older dogs.
posted by jayder at 6:42 PM on June 25 [+] [!]

Indeed. My Sister's dog is the greatest dude/philosopher I've met.
posted by basicchannel at 6:46 PM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

This one is my favorite.

I love dogs. They're like furry zen masters.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 7:10 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love this. I wish I'd known about the project earlier. We had to let go of our 16-year-old beagle in early May, and he would have been a fitting subject for her photography. In his last moments, on his own bed, in his own house, before the vet put in the final injection, he was so remarkably present to all of us, and reminded us to be present to one another. That's the gift of our old dog.

posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 7:15 PM on June 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

I love old dogs. Their lives pass by so much more quickly than ours, and yet somehow it always seems as though an old dog has done more living than us in a fraction of the time. I look at my 18-month-old mutt and her boundless energy and, though it saddens me, I know that as she ages she will get wiser, calmer, and as gentle a soul as you'll find. Because that's what old dogs are.
posted by ORthey at 7:42 PM on June 25, 2011

I've lived all my adult life with dogs, and all the stages of their lives are great to be part of. The weirdest time for me is that year or so during which a given dog starts out younger than I am but by her/his next birthday, I'm younger than the dog. This is, of course, happening later than it used to, and I guess I'll know I'm hellaciously old when dogs don't age past me anymore!
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:58 PM on June 25, 2011

Lulu's Pink Converse: I had to do the same with mine -- 15 years old --four weeks ago. I was lucky enough to get a good picture of her smile that morning.
posted by bentley at 8:18 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dogs are the best.
posted by Daddy-O at 9:27 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe I am looking at it from a human's point of view but usually when I see an old dog I think about how loved he or she is and how long and important the person and the dog end up being for each other. / I wish I had a dog.
posted by bquarters at 9:45 PM on June 25, 2011

The greatest scam dogs ever played on human kind is getting free room and board for basically sleeping, playing, and occasionally barking at noises only they hear.
That said, I'm totally in to my PITA little stray/shelter mutt. Even my wife, who occasionally suggested that maybe we should give him back to the Humane Society in the early days, is completely enamored of him.
Humans would not be the same without dogs to accompany them.
posted by Gilbert at 10:07 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Those are so sweet. I love how a bunch of them are ranch dogs, and are spending their old age riding tractors, chasing cows, and rolling in horse shit. For a dog, life doesn't get much better.
posted by Forktine at 10:08 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just realized that a love of dogs is almost genetic. I got my height and weight from my mother's father. My nose from my dad. My eyes and chin resemble my mother. My need to monitor my predilection for alcohol probably from my dad's side. And I absolutely need to have my dog. Probably because I grew up with several, but the need is baked in in almost a genetic way. When I got her seven years ago my mother said something like "that's a lot of responsibility, why are you tying yourself down?" And my response was: You did this to me. I can't help it.

When I got divorced all I wanted was the dog. The calphalon and knives came next.

Beautiful pictures. And dogs do get better with age.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 10:08 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by MarvinTheCat at 10:13 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

bentley: "Lulu's Pink Converse: I had to do the same with mine -- 15 years old --four weeks ago. I was lucky enough to get a good picture of her smile that morning."

I'm very sorry for your loss. We knew the day was coming, but that morning was ... hard. My husband said he suddenly really felt like an adult, having to make that decision.

posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:22 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I will forever maintain that the domestic dog is mankind's most beautiful achievement - creating a superior species.
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:27 PM on June 25, 2011 [15 favorites]

Great photos (and thanks for the link to the article, Trurl). Having seen the grace of my dog, Max, in handling arthritis and slow debilitation -- and with two more dogs 'in their prime,'I'm looking forward to seeing all of my dogs waiting at the Rainbow Bridge.

I'm with Will Rogers: "If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."
posted by Susurration at 10:35 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm of the opinion that there is heaven and there is dog heaven. If you're bad, you go to heaven. If you're good, you get to go to dog heaven. With all the dogs.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:27 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Another sucker for old dogs here. Fuzzy zen masters indeed!

The old lady. The old gentleman.
posted by scody at 12:11 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had two dogs, and I only don't have a third because I don't have the ability right now to give it the love it needs. Sorry, this dogs as wise old beings crap gives me the shits. They're animals, like us, but not as smart. Attributing wisdom to them is projection. It's easier to relate to them because they're not as duplicitous as primates, true.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:18 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

A: Wú!
posted by pracowity at 1:08 AM on June 26, 2011

i_am_joe's_spleen, I can't help but wonder if you aren't going through some kind of personal distress if an innocent post about aging dogs inspires you to actively shit on everyone's warm fuzzies. Whatever it is, I'm sorry about it. Maybe it would be a good idea to deal with it directly instead of lashing out at people who can't change it.
posted by katillathehun at 1:12 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Take your dog to visit the old people. Everybody's happy.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:02 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is great. I wanted to read the article linked by Trurl, but the site won't load, alas.
posted by maxwelton at 2:19 AM on June 26, 2011

(Also: I think I would go fairly gracefully into old age if I had a companion to love and care for me, and I had no worries about food or shelter. Which isn't to take anything away from the old dogs.)
posted by maxwelton at 2:58 AM on June 26, 2011

It's a pretty insecure, neurotic species that has to comfort itself by constantly asserting its perceived superiority over every other life form. Maybe if homo sapiens collectively bought a bitchin' Corvette, we'd feel better about ourselves.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:14 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The creature gazes into openness with all
its eyes. But our eyes are
as if they were reversed, and surround it,
everywhere, like barriers against its free passage.
We know what is outside us from the animal’s
face alone: since we already turn
the young child round and make it look
backwards at what is settled, not that openness
that is so deep in the animal’s vision. Free from death." - Rilke's Eighth Elegy
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:21 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a pretty insecure, neurotic species that has to comfort itself by constantly asserting its perceived superiority over every other life form.

And yet we love cats despite this, because they are furry and cute, and purr nicely.
posted by Forktine at 6:00 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Neither love nor compassion are finite resources, so it's sort of a moot point (and argument.)

Our dog is getting on in years; I have tracked the arrival of every grey hair as the white stripe on her muzzle begins to spread. My husband remained in denial about this for ages, insisting "that's just her muzzle, she doesn't have any grey hairs," but even he has had to accept that she is very much a mature dog these days.

I'm super impressed that there are such aged dogs in that shoot. Eimear is around 8 (she was a rescue) so I'm assuming we're entering her senior years now.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:17 AM on June 26, 2011

Our girl is 9, her muzzle went completely white last year. Aside from a health scare (all of which she recovered 100% from) she is still going strong. The only sign of aging is that after a walk she pauses at the foot of the stairs as though gathering her strength to mount them. When my husband's basset hound stopped trying to climb the steps leading to the backyard and started pooping in the pantry, we had to build him a ramp. I can see that day coming for Fanny. Me, too, come to that-- some days my arthritic knees are afraid of 30 more years of those stairs. Fortunately I don't have to go outside to pooh!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:31 AM on June 26, 2011

Last October, almost on impulse, we adopted a thirteen year old dog who was at our local shelter. He was scared and a little fractious, but we got a few minor hygiene issues cleaned up, started him on arthritis medicine, and gave him some time and space to adjust.

This morning, after a two mile walk, he spent almost ten minutes playing a super-raucous game of tag with our other dog, a big strong healthy pit bull mix about a third his age and three times his size. He's now settled in for a nap, but if history tells us anything, he'll be tootling around again in a couple of hours looking for something to get into.

I, on the other hand, am in my forties with no major health issues, and pretty much my first impulse this morning was to start fabricating excuses to just sit around on the couch complaining all day or something.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:28 AM on June 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Let go and let dog.
posted by caddis at 7:53 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

aww, thanks for posting this - brings back memories of our family dog. she was a german shepherd that somehow lived to be 17 years old (!!!). every six months or year or so we'd take her into the vet, and the vet would always say "god damn! is this the same dog?" and write us prescriptions for doggy arthritis meds.
she lived on the back porch and used to chase the sheep out of the yard and back into the pasture. as she got older, she seemed to make a reconciliation with the sheep -- when we'd come home, she'd see us and stand up and make token, feeble barks at the sheep from the back porch. and then lie back down. we buried her under the tulip garden and I still miss her and I think I got something in my eye writing this.
posted by circle_b at 8:36 AM on June 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I adore dogs beyond all reason, but even I must admit to a couple of shortcomings in their design. First of all, obviously, is their short lifespans - that's just plain criminal for such noble creatures. Secondly, they can't tell stories and some dogs clearly have a story or two to tell.

he spent almost ten minutes playing a super-raucous game of tag with our other dog, a big strong healthy pit bull mix about a third his age and three times his size

I love watching this kind of thing. Not long ago I was at a barbeque where my friend was housesitting and also dogsitting this pair of pooches - one an aged shepherd mix, the other a boxer / pitbull blend, barely more than a pup. They wrestled and chased plenty, and when grappling it was plain that the younger dog was of course faster and stronger but the older dog's technique was worlds better - he knew just when to turn and to push, how to impeccably time his leaps and foreleg grabs. The pup, on the other hand, was flailing all over the place and given to breaking off and running laps round the yard whenever the old dog won a round and stood patiently panting in the grass, waiting for the pup and to come back for another lesson.

Lastly, I'd like to share this wonderful and hilarious dog story as told by Bill Burr. (some language NSFW)
posted by EatTheWeek at 8:42 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

OK, I've decided that I cannot not address the old people vs. old dogs thing. I tried, though, bless my withered little heart.

Our neighborhood has tons of old folks homes. Tons. From my office window, I can see three of them.

There's a big one at the end of the street that's an assisted living facility, so they have private apartments but also have a full time onsite staff. There are two other similar facilities nearby, with about the same level of assistance provided. The difference is that this one allows pets. And every single day, rain or shine, there are old people with varying mobility issues out walking their dogs. You don't see as much going out and walking around near the other places, but just having a dog makes it mandatory to leave the apartment, even if you're depending on a scooter or a walker. Even if it's hot or it's raining or snowing. No excuses. Those little dogs with their little outfits and stuff do more to help their people stay active and engaged in the community than any other single factor I can think of.

And if you ever have a few minutes and want a friendly little chat with a neighbor, all you have to do is say, "What a cute dog!" to some passing old person. And lots of people do that.

Compassion isn't some zero sum people vs. animals thing. People and dogs are really kind of symbiotic, so caring about one edges over into caring about the other. Not everyone connects with dogs like that, but for those of us who do, their companionship is invaluable, and or valuing them as a species doesn't mean we don't also value our own.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

I feel actively sorry for people like I_am_joes_spleen. Seriously, I hope he only acquires his little animal slaves to perform vital work - like, he owns cattle or sheep that need herding, or poultry that needs protecting. People that oblivious to the interconnectedness of life don't deserve the blessing of a dog's unconditional love.

Fuzzy Zen masters. Indeed.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:31 AM on June 26, 2011

I want to conspicuously ignore the debate going on above, which annoyed me just by scanning it. I'll say what I came here to say: I thought I was going to regret clicking on the link and looking at the gallery but I didn't. Made me feel better about my old pooch (15, and still escapes from the yard once every year or so to go on (so far) death-defying adventures.)
posted by Buffaload at 10:32 AM on June 26, 2011

dephlogisticated: "The tradeoff is that we have greater difficulty living in the present, as we cannot help but be aware of all that we have endured, and all that we may have to endure in the future."

It reminds me of the "catch it if you can" passage from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
This is it, I think, this is it, right now, the present, this empty gas station, here, this western wind, this tang of coffee on the tongue, and I am petting the puppy, I am watching the mountain. And the second I verbalize this awareness in my brain, I cease to see the mountain or feel the puppy. I am opaque, so much black asphalt. But at the same second, the second I know I've lost it, I also realize that the puppy is still squirming on his back under my hand. Nothing has changed for him. He draws his legs down to stretch the skin taut so he feels every fingertip's stroke along his furred and arching side, his flank, his flung-back throat.

I sip my coffee. I look at the mountain, which is still doing its tricks, as you look at a still-beautiful face belonging to a person who was once your lover in another country years ago: with fond nostalgia, and recognition, but no real feeling save a secret astonishment that you are now strangers. Thanks. For the memories. It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize as separating us from our creator -- our very self-consciousness -- is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures. It was a bitter birthday present from evolution, cutting us off at both ends. I get in the car and drive home.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:38 AM on June 26, 2011

Sorry, this dogs as wise old beings crap gives me the shits.

I wasn't going to say anything, since the mood has been so happy in here, but as long as people are taking time out of their love-in to criticise this sentiment, well, let me say that I totally agree with it. I am a crazy dog lady and I've always had lots of dogs and we have always loved each other very much and gotten along fabulously. But they are dogs - capable of gentleness, sweetness, patience, obedience, loyalty - but limited, even the best of them, when it comes to intellectual things like trading temporary unpleasantness for future happiness, and moral things like being kind even to those they don't like. Their focus on the present means they suffer much less than people do thinking about things that have happened or might happen to them, but much more when something bad actually happens to them and they can't seem to imagine a moment past their present misery. They're still wonderful, of course, and it's wonderful to appreciate them and celebrate them, but things like "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." are annoying.

So often I find that celebrations of dogs are not really about dogs, and about the strange and fascinating way they really are, but only another excuse to talk about (and that is, complain about) what humans are like, and to express sentiments about human feelings and behaviour that would clearly be tedious, banal and, frankly, offensive if they appeared alongside any serious consideration of the things people lose and the pain their sense of time, space, justice and so on make them capable of feeling about it - rather than underneath an "I <3 Dogs" party hat with fistfuls of noise-makers and dog biscuits. No. Dogs and people are both more interesting than that. Over the years I've realised that I would rather grapple with trying to understand dogs in their real glory, with its real limits, than try to dress them up in wise old clothes that won't ever really fit them, just to make myself feel better about the world, or give myself some kind of prop for imagining another way of living in it. That's not what dogs, or any living things, are for. I just don't think you can really love animals if you have to make up all kinds of shit about them in order to do it.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:41 PM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I threw my old dog down the stairs in the winter of '08. It wasn't intentional, as it happens, but she'd been increasingly crippled by joint pain and couldn't get up or down the stairs anymore, so I had to gather up sixty some pounds of rumpled Shar Pei each morning like a pile of wet towels, with her growling at me the whole while, and lumber down the porch steps with my back a single searing knot of strained muscles. That morning, I was in a hurry, wearing my slippers, and when I hit the fine skin of ice on the top step, my feet went out from under me.

I launched Rose across the front walk in the motion, catching a glimpse of her flying, legs twisting in that atomized kind of time you experience when things happen so quickly, then the back of my head hit each step on the stairs on the way down with a flash of unearthly light like the flickering light from a machine gun. The early morning sky was indigo blue, with the stars fading in the turquoise onslaught of impending dawn, and I could see the little sparks of brain cells misfiring.

Some time passed. I don't know how long it was.

Rose had landed on her back in the flower bed, and was either content to just lie there, on her back with her feet in the air, or she was dead. I couldn't tell which, and I hadn't been able to take a breath in what seemed like an hour, so I figured I'd be along directly if it was the latter.

"Pup? Are you okay, pup?"

She stirred, stiff, sore legs working like she was trying to grind the rust out of her joints, and managed to get herself turned over, but just rested there, watching me. I got up, groaning, and walked a bow-legged walk to my poor old lady. I still had the beach towel slung over my shoulder that was a key part of our morning routine, and I picked her up, with her growling at me and trying to snap at my hands (a task made difficult by the fall and the fact that she found any sort of movement difficult at her age), and led her to her favored spot in the yard. She'd often get lost out there, just wandering aimlessly as her mind slipped into a cosmic place where it disconnected from the real world, and so I'd lead her to her destination, talking to her all the while.

The trick was simple enough. You'd sling the towel under her about midway, and hold her up like a whale being returned to the sea as she'd find the perfect place to pee, giving her just enough support so that when she'd start to squat, you'd supplement the work of joints and muscles that had worn out. Without the towel, she'd just collapse there, and pee on herself.

We're supposed to know when a dog is too old, but she was never a very normal dog.

Carrying her back up the steps, I was seeing stars from the pain of bursitis that I'd been developing for months, but we made it back in, and it was breakfast time.

The routine was increasingly set. I'd mix up her food, warm it up a bit with a little au jus and water, and put her bowl on the little platform I'd built so it'd be in exactly the right place for her, and she'd stagger over, looking at me with narrowed, distrustful eyes, and wait. I'd turn on the TV in the kitchen, then go back to the bedroom to blip through the saved programs on the DVR to cue up the right one.

"Now, let's use a little phthalo blue at the edges of the mountains," said a recorded Bob Ross in that soft, gentle Bob Ross voice. "Let's make a little fuzzy cloud over here, where a rainstorm is coming down the mountain."

Rose would perk up, look up to me and the place where the voice came from, then turn back to her bowl and slowly eat her meal as I cut my scrapple into slices exactly 5/16ths of an inch thick and laid them in the same pattern I always make in my French spring steel crepe pan that's not been touched by a single bubble of dish soap in twenty years.

"We'll cut in a few trees here. You can put in as many as you want. Maybe you don't want any trees at all," Bob said, and the gentle scruff scruff of a putty knife moving paint on coarse canvas was like the sound of monks raking gravel in a rock garden somewhere a million miles away.

She didn't love me anymore, but these things happen.

The Bob Ross connection was a side effect of my incoherent lifestyle, and I'd pack up and leave for my busy life in a museum for insane artists, leaving Rose curled up under the dining table, her wrinkly mug relaxed into an avalanche of sadness as I locked up. My ex would come down around ten each morning, rousing the only signs of genuine enthusiasm Rose was capable of anymore, and spend the rest of the day trading stocks on my computer with Bob Ross on the TV, painting pleasant scenes and happy little shrubs on sunlit hillsides forever and ever in his state of electronic preservation.

In a past life, we'd been closer, when I was still working in our family business on the night shift, and I'd take her in with me each night. She'd sit under my worktable while I wound huge reels of microfilm back and forth, bending to inspect questionable frames with a loupe, and would trot home at my heels each night with me, keeping watch on me like I was her own Chinese princess, to be protected at all costs.

Things change. Life takes away things we love, and sometimes there are gaps.

In a long, hopeless blue stretch, my house was haunted by a figure that wandered the house at night, acting out helpless analogues for insoluble problems, and she'd always be there, following along to look out for the well being of that lost and aimless guy. Where new people invariably flipped out, finding out about my superhero secret identity as an explorer of invisible, unconscious landscapes, she just took it all in stride, and watched out for danger.

When the next long blue night settled in, years later, she'd wake me up sometimes, and I'd sit up on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands and watch her following an empty space with the exact kind of attention she'd pay to a stranger in the house.

Someone's here to see you, Joe, her actions would say, and I'd look up, scowl at her and the space she was watching so closely, and sigh.

"Great, now I've gone completely insane," I'd say, and go upstairs to sleep on the couch in the apartment where my ex lives.

He became her Chinese princess once that mess had finally dissipated, and her patience with me and my abrupt, annoying habits slowly faded, but we were in it together, she and I, even if she was going to try and bite my every morning when I'd struggle to gather her up from under the table and carry her outside. There was something to her in those latter years, something wonderful and warm and comfortable and something I resented a bit, but we were in it together, right up to the end. When I was called on to kill her, I did what I had to do, and that's how I've earned the right to ever live with another dog.

This time, I've got two. Daisy's almost a puppy, a lithe, strong, boisterous presence with ancient genes and all sorts of odd habits common to primitive breeds, and I am awed by her athletic presence and wonder who she'll be when she's older, when she's settled and then when she's fading. There's a wild light in her eyes, and I hate to imagine it ever dimming, but things change. Lou's a sturdy beagle, already in middle age when I rescued him, and I just imagine he'll get more crotchety, racist, and Republican as time marches on. If my luck holds, I'll be 56 or so when Daisy goes, and I'll be getting sore and looking at the world through increasingly complicated eyeglasses.

I'll catch them watching me sometimes, just sitting on the bed and watching me as I sit here typing some blowhard nonsense into a comment window on metafilter, and I look over and say "What? What's so fascinating?"

There's a wisdom there, but it's nothing we can grasp. There's no religion, excepting the religion of food that all dogs practice, and there's no planning or regret, no language as we process it, no history beyond all the favored routines and rituals. They resemble us, sometimes, but they are not us. In those eyes, though, there's the glimmer of the gulf between wolves and us, the gap that we've narrowed with a hundred thousand years of companionship, forging a client species that's so well integrated now that we'll one day see them as a symbiotic subspecies to all of us reengineered monkeys in our shoes and Toyotas.

When they slow down, and age into those well-earned grey muzzles, we can pretend we're already there, and there's no harm in that. When the world beats us down, they're there, looking out, asking for so little in return. How can we fail to give them the mythologies we give to all amazing, joyous, impossible things in this world?
posted by sonascope at 1:43 PM on June 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Don't get me wrong. Dodger was dumb as dirt most of the time, occasionally a massive asshole, an epic money pit, and no one's food was ever safe around him. To my shame, I occasionally wished him gone. My husband is the dog person, not me. But I'll be damned if he didn't know/recognize - even if he didn't understand - when one of us was ill or distressed. And I'll be double-damned if he didn't recognize what we were doing for him when the vet put him down.

And I'll be triple-damned, because despite all the absolute bullshit that dog put us through, we learned valuable lessons from having him in our home, and I miss him.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 1:59 PM on June 26, 2011

two or three cars: thank you, that is very much how I feel, and I am glad you were able to put it in this non-confrontational way. Everyone else, I'm sorry to have expressed myself so bluntly. I assure you that in my bitter, withered heart I do love dogs, indeed old dogs. The sentimentality, not so much.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:39 PM on June 26, 2011

We have a mutt of 15 that doesn't just have a muzzle that's gone gray, her whole face is white. She's slowed down a lot, but there are times when she turns into a puppy for 5 minutes, and I just can't take my eyes off her. She's been there for me for so long, I know soon I'll need to be there for her.

i_am_joe's_spleen: On one hand, I understand where you're coming from. I feel the same way when a group of parents talk about their kids. But in general, I keep it to myself.

However, regarding your comment about why not visit the elderly instead (I think it's been since deleted). As already pointed out, looking at this as a one or the other thing is pretty shortsighted on your side. I can also tell you that I've worked in the medical field for many years, and almost every nurse or support staff that I knew that helped people, worked with the elderly, the sick, the dying, also had a dog or cat or some pet that they were also devoted to. For some, coming home to a dog is therapy after what see during the day.

I cared for my dying mother, and I visit elderly relatives that have been forgotten by their own kids, and I love my dogs. I'm not writing this to get a pat on the back, but to point out that your black and white world doesn't exist.
posted by justgary at 3:43 PM on June 26, 2011

but limited, even the best of them, when it comes to intellectual things like trading temporary unpleasantness for future happiness

And anyone that has ever had a dog would agree. It's fine to disagree with the sentiment in the thread, but starting out with an opposing view that doesn't exist kind of undermines your point.
posted by justgary at 4:00 PM on June 26, 2011

So mean, two or three cars parked under the stars, making me think about stuff.

The only thing I'd disagree is about the wisdom of thinking about dogs out of the context of what they are to us. Canis lupus familiaris is distinguished by familiaris. They evolved to be companions to us, and it's a huge part of what they are.

You're absolutely right that their 'wisdom' is really a lack thereof, but in context, it's a complementary type of intelligence to ours, and our mutual dependence is a significant characteristic of both of our species. Collectively, they need our planning and practicality to thrive, and a lot of us need their loyal companionship and enthusiasm and ability to live in the moment to stay grounded and happy in our daily lives.

Also, I asked my dogs if they minded being anthropomorphized, and they said, "Whatever floats your boat."
posted by ernielundquist at 4:04 PM on June 26, 2011

Isn't dogs' wisdom -- their ability to live in the present -- the very thing humans are striving to achieve in their pursuit of zen/oneness with the universe/the perennial philosophy? If so, then dogs do deserve credit for being wise.
posted by jayder at 8:48 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Like a miniature Buddha, covered in hair."
posted by Rhaomi at 10:19 PM on June 26, 2011

The old guy, even older now. Yay dogs.
posted by easilyamused at 10:44 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't have a dog, but am an aunt and dog sitter to several dogs. One of these is the grumpiest, most wonderful older dog ever. She totally lies about wanting to go for a walk - goes into conniptions at the production of a lead and is so excited for about the first 100 yards. After that she walks like a POW being led to their doom. She mainly lies about the house moving from sofa to sofa, only being woken by the sound of a milk bone being snapped. She takes up most of the bed when I stay over and tries gallantly to squish you out of the way when you sleep on her side. She's squirrely from a bad start to life (she was a rescue dog) and is grumpy about everything. But having her come over to sit beside me on a sofa and letting me brush her despite all her issues was one of the honors of my life.

When she dies the world will be a smaller place. I can't imagine what her owners will feel like. Dogs are great. Just great. I don't care if they're not zen masters or if they don't have the key to wisdom. Their greatness does not depend on anything except that they're dogs.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:33 PM on June 26, 2011

Boom...16 years old
posted by judson at 6:52 AM on June 27, 2011

Aw, cripes. Three photos in and I'm crying. Gah.
posted by Lexica at 8:41 PM on June 27, 2011

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