The Ages of Dogs

by Laura Lynch, Life Coach, LCSW

Recently, I admit, after a particularly bad week I told a colleague, “I am starting to like dogs more than people”. (Of course I like people, but sometimes….)

Well I certainly love my dogs. It is of course really nice to be greeted like a celebrity every time I come home, not that I want to be a celebrity. They bring me back to the present moment and joy of living.

 

dogs 1

MeMe, TJ, TJ & us, Julia & Bobby, Bobby & MeMe first day

For people who are tired of reading about dogs, STOP here. (Well at least I am not writing about parenting, my children are doing just fine thanks.)

I have come to appreciate that  our  animal companions have been along with us for the ride,  this great adventure of life.  They are open, honest, flexible yet love rituals, and much better communicators than most people.  [For that matter, there is a lot of interesting research out there on the life of dogs, and their importance to humankind].

Our first dog, was TJ, a cocker spaniel/spitz mix, had white hair, black eyes and fluffy tail that stood up like a flag. One of our oldest friends, who brought him over as a tiny puppy and said he could not keep him because his dog “might hurt him”.   We were young and went out a lot more then.  TJ loved car rides with his head out the window, ears flapping in the wind.  He liked hikes and was really good at climbing almost vertical boulders. We also did singing/howling sessions with him. One spring a hummingbird mommy made great use of hair, creating a lovely soft nest by our front door. We found out he had oral cancer only 6 months after losing my mother, while I was in graduate school.  During the last week of his life, he walked weakly but with great determination into the back yard, wanting to be in on the photo action. He lived to the age of 14.

A couple of years later, hearing we were thinking of becoming home owners after years of renting, my sister asked us to take in Winston, a middle aged Irish Wolfhound, who had been one of my mother’s dogs.  He had always been a favorite of my husband., Winston would always greet him eagerly looking for love. Before we moved, he slept in the front living room with a good friend who was living  with us at the time, sharing sleeping bags. So fittingly, although my mother did not get to see this major life transition, her dog came with us. As most dogs do, he took this major change with great equanimity.

 

 Winston and MeMe

Dogs are good at retaining their innate dignity even when having to endure indignities.

Winston had the look of a punk rocker, with an old soul.   We decided for the first time to get a second dog (on our  own volition for once). We brought Winston with us to an adoption day, and he seemed to like a cattle dog.   Her name was MeMe, and like the cattle dog she was, and fast on her paws.  Her ears stood up straight, like attennas.Her only flaw was shedding, if you call that a flaw.  At first she ran around the neighborhoods, and at one point she took Winston with her.  He came back with a look of regret, brambles sticking to his hair, very tired.  We soon trained MeMe to sit a few feet away from the door, even with it open, and not run out. Winston was a tough old dog, but he became terminally ill, and the Vet thought he should have been long gone.  We had already saved his life a couple of years before (see above photo).  I was knee deep in my career while providing support during my husband’s graduate school hoop jumping.   We could relate to Winston. He was old and tired but kept hanging in. He died peacefully in the bedroom on a Saturday.

We started looking for another dog.   We finally found Bobby online a dog through SPCA. Maybe its because my husband is an actor, but we were impressed with his headshot. I left during a lunch at an association conference to run down to a parking lot adoption fair. I was already in love. I saw him in a cage, quiet and composed. We named him Bobby, a lab mix, blind in one eye. He had been abused, based on his behavior, by a man.  However he was instantly comfotable with my husband.  He knew he was home.  As seen in the photo (See the photo collage, first day with MeMe and Bobby looking out the window).  He has gradually gotten better with the men who come to visit, no longer cowering and peeing in fear.  He has some PTSD, similar to some of my clients. He and MeMe were great companions for a few years. Out of the blue we discovered she had advanced kidney disease  and she was gone in two weeks, dying peacefully at home.  We made sure she had that last walk, even with slowed steps.

Julia

About two years ago  we adopted the smallest dog we ever had.  I can’t really handle a larger dog for walking with my knees and while TJ helped me grow into full adult maturity, I expect Julia to be with me as I age.  We won’t be doing a lot of hiking or climbing. She was 4 months old. She was a good sales person, the only  small dog pup in the adaption center who was not barking incessently. Instead she sat on her pillow, and walked over and tired to give me a kiss through the cage. Upon meeting Bobby Julia immediatley went into play position (crouching with head down, hips up). The first week she learned to use the doggy door and got potty trained. Her general mood is engaged joy, running in an out, barking to let everyone know how she is feelis. Sometimes, instead of watching TV we we watch evening wrestling matches with Julia & Bobby. (He is gentle, she is enthusiastic).  We now have a new bed because she discovered the foam under the broken mattess cover.

Each stage of my life my dogs have taught me so much. They have taught me about the importance of enjoying the moment, of being genuine, of not letting past hardships define your life, not living in fear, being forgiving and having trust. They have taught me the importance of being flexible,  playful, silly, curious and open to learning.  They have taught me settle conflicts quickly and let things go. They have taught me that life goes by quickly, to enjoy everything while you can and that love really does make a difference.  They have taught me to appreciate the stages and  transitions of life. One day can feel like a life time, one life may feel like a day.  May I make the most of each day, and make the most of my life. Thank you TJ, Winston, Meme, Bobby & Julia.

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