Older dogs, like fine wine, only get better with time. Gene Weingarten, in his book, Old Dogs are the Best Dogs, explains that “Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, eccentric of habit, hard of hearing, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy, but to anyone who has ever loved an old dog, these things are of little consequence. There is something special about older dogs.” Older dogs enjoy the simple things: a gentle stroke on the head, a soft bed, a kind word. They offer unconditional love and loyalty. If you are not privileged to have an older dog in your own family, reach out to a lonely senior dog and make life better for him. Perhaps a neighbor or friend’s dog could use a little attention, or visit your local shelter, and you will find needy dogs who will appreciate any bit of attention that you offer them. As they share their beauty, dignity, and character with you, you will realize that old dogs are indeed the best dogs.
Dave Lucas, winner of the 2012 Ohioana Book Award For Poetry, and recently appointed second Poet Laureate of the state of Ohio, shares his thoughts on what it is to love an old dog:
“For 15 years I loved a hard-luck mongrel mix that I brought home from the pound where he’d lived most of his first year in the world. He kept at my heels through my twenties and thirties. As my own youth ended, I watched him grow old, rickety and lethargic , deaf, and half blind …
There were good days and bad days, until the bad became the new good days, with worse ones ahead. He could no longer even wag his tail. I admired the nobility in how he would bow in his weak legs to stand, how they would shake. That the vet said this was normal made it no easier to watch. Dogs make do. They do what they can, or, when they can’t, they look to us. Let me not be maudlin….this dog did not save my life, but there were times in those years when my sorrow was such that the only solace for it was to bury my face in his fur. Walt Whitman, in his “ Song of Myself #32, explains:
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins…
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented, with the mania of owning things.”
What is there to say of the end? It was as I had imagined, but worse, because it was real. I gathered him into my arms in a blanket and carried him to the car. When the time came, I leaned down close to him, put my face on his long face, and since I did not know what to say, I said” It’s okay, it’s okay, you are a good dog, you are my boy.” The words weren’t right but they didn’t matter. The last gift you give to your old friend is to stay with them until they sleep. Their last gift to you is that sometimes in your own sleep you see them again. In mine, he comes to me with his tail sweeping a slow arc, back and forth, resting his chin on your knee. I bend my face toward his. I speak some secret nonsense, I scratch around his ears.”
Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog!