Living with old dogs…it’s an adventure, to put it kindly. A rollercoaster, even. It’s what my life is like these days.
New Delhi, November 10, 2019: It’s after dark and drizzly, and Bullet has come in from his final bathroom break of the night: a quick pee in the downstairs yard a few hours after our last walk. This is how it is when you live with an old dog: you measure your days and nights by the size of his bladder.
When Bullet was younger, he would pace and whine when he needed to go out; nowadays, he totters to his feet even as you curse yourself for moving into a top floor house for its views. I’m thankful for him because while he’s 12, he makes it all the way outside before relieving himself. But soon, he might not. “How old is your dog,” strangers will sometimes ask me on our puttering neighbourhood dog walks. “Twelve,” I’ll answer, to varying responses.
Some folks marvel at how good Bullet looks for his age: slow-moving and methodical, but without noticeable graying. Other folks the ones who have lived with old dogs of their own, I suspect nod with a resigned expression. Twelve, both they and I know, is real old for a Labrador: a handful of friends have lost their dogs this past year, and all of those dogs were even less. When you live with a 12-year-old dog, you have no delusions: you know nothing is guaranteed, just this walk, this step.
It’s the most valuable lesson any old dog–any sentient being–can offer. When you live with an old dog, you gradually become accustomed to living your life moment-by-moment, the limitations of your pet’s declining body revealing the breadth and depth of your patience and priorities. Mindful of the length of even the healthiest dog’s life, you learn to take the long view in all you do. “After he’s gone,” you silently ask yourself, “will I care whether I finished those papers, answered those emails, or checked off those other to-dos?” When you live with an old dog, you remind yourself time and again that sentient beings are always more important than tasks. After Bullet’s gone, I won’t care whether I accomplished everything on my to-do list, but I will care that I was fully present for his final days, however many they might be. When you live with an old dog, you sometimes find yourself getting teary-eyed on an otherwise serene dog-walk because you know these days are precious: one day, you know, you’ll miss the trouble of cleaning up accidents and the glacial pace of coaxing an elderly animal down stairs, one step at a time.
Are you living with an old dog? Write to us with your adventures and roller coaster rides. We’d love to empathize with you.
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