"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Aging (gracefully) with dogs

By on February 25, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Jim Brigleb

By James Brigleb

My parents had some friends who were a bit older than they, with no children at home. 

We visited their home when I was perhaps 12. The couple had a Pomeranian named Teddy. The wife, Gerry, spoke to the dog, “Where is your daddy, Teddy?” Teddy ran obediently to find the man of the house, Howard. 

I was horrified. “Daddy?” This couple referred to themselves as mommy and daddy to a purse dog.

Now, my wife and I are empty nesters. 

After a lifetime of having a series of Labrador Retrievers, my wife Linda came up with the brilliant idea of having a miniature Australian Shepherd because her uncle had one, and it had the most amazing personality. 

After scouring the marketplace, I found a breeder in Eastern Oregon and secured our next dog. 

Welcome, Tillie, who also has an amazing personality, but not at all like the one modeled by the uncle’s dog. Tillie would probably excel at rounding up sheep. But she’s a suburban dog who likes to round up the neighbors, the mailman, and the UPS driver. 

Basically, she sees every living thing outside of our “pack” as a possible predator. Tillie wears a leash.

Having grown up with one of our Labs who was on the downhill side of life, Tillie needed an emergency backup dog to settle her nerves. 

After losing the Lab, we scoured the rescue dog ads and found a suitable match — a mixed mini-Aussie and Border Collie named Mick. This dog was SO loving, but obviously the victim of some trauma. 

Jim Brigleb, his wife Linda and their two babies — unconditional love in furry bodies.

What I’m getting at here is this: We had become a retired couple with two dogs that had some deep-seated emotional needs. And so, we became mom and dad to our dogs.

When I was young and virile, I really held the line with disciplining my dogs. 

Now that I’m not young and virile, I let a lot of things slide. 

For instance, the basic dog commands first taught are “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Come.” 

Our dogs will sit if offered a treat. Stay has never really been covered. And they will come after they have satisfied the urge to smell something, relieve themselves, and decide that they are good and ready — hopefully, a treat might be offered. 

It’s pathetic, and sometimes embarrassing. 

Tillie will charge after a predator, such as a neighbor… “Tillie! Come! Tillie! Tillie! Come!” 

As an elderly citizen, you try to hurry to the location of your dog, apologize, and then praise the dog. Why praise it? Because the dog let you get to it, pick it up, and nobody is bleeding. This is called dog whispering.

What else? 

Our dogs sleep on the bed with us. Any good dog trainer will tell you this is a huge mistake. As old people we ignore that advice. 

Consequently, the dogs find the premium spots on the bed, and we adjust our sleeping position to accommodate them. 

Rather than physically move the dog, or insist on them sleeping on a readily available, yet unused dog bed, we will spend a good deal of the night going without sleep, or wake up with kinks due to awkward posture, so as to not disturb the dogs.

Vacations are often determined by how this might affect the dogs. 

Does the Airbnb location allow dogs? No? Okay, we won’t go there. If separated, do we have someone who will truly understand the needs of our dogs? Maybe we should just stay home and save money.

Separation anxiety. It’s a toss up between who suffers this most — the dogs or us. I know this sounds pathetic, but I’m just being honest here. 

And lest you think we suffer from not having kids and grandkids nearby, that is not the case. It’s just that the dogs love us so unconditionally — the kids and grandkids, not so much. 

After say, a long trip to the market, like an hour or more, the reunion is magical. When we pull up, the dogs are at the window — squirming with anticipation. 

Entering the house, mayhem and frolic breaks forth as the dogs run around in circles, bark, chortle, whine and let us know that our return is the greatest event of their lives. 

In response, we say all kinds of embarrassing things that are usually reserved for parents saying to their firstborn infant. 

Are you familiar with the Mark Twain quote, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog?” 

I’ll admit, Mommy and Daddy love their two little babies. And my 12-year old grandson is horrified by my behavior. 

Oh well. He never wags his tail anyway. 

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