Saturday, September 3, 2016
Can Old Dogs Teach Us New Tricks?
We lost our sheepdogs about a year ago, Duffy in June of 2015 and Mike in November. Despite the passage of time, we’re still recovering — the dogs were such ever-present sources of pleasure. We do still enjoy sheepdog perks, though, because our good friend Donna owns Sophie, Mike and Duffy’s younger sister. When Donna went to Nashville last weekend, Sophie came to stay with us, as she does every now and then. It was good to have a sheepdog back in the house, and I took lots of pics.
At thirteen and a half, Sophie is approaching 95 in human years, and she clearly has various infirmities of a senior dog. One of her eyes is clouded over, and she’s lost about 90% of her hearing. Getting up from the floor is a struggle, and its’s been a couple of years since she was able to jump into the SUV. Sophie gets a painkiller for arthritis at bedtime, another pill for a leaky bladder. At the same time, her basic personality hasn’t really changed since she was a year-old puppy — sweet, frisky, attentive, good-natured. Overall, Sophie enjoys a high quality of life for her advanced age and continues to be a happy, active dog. If she were able to talk, Sophie might tell us a lot about the secrets of successful aging. As far as I can tell, the following are some of the sheepdog lessons about managing old age that we’d be wise to attend to.
(1) Stay positive. Despite lots of discomfort, Sophie’s most frequent expression is a happy smile. Her good attitude undoubtedly has many beneficial consequences, physical and psychological.
(2) Exercise. Sophie’s healthiness for her age is due at least in part to Donna’s always making sure that she’s gotten plenty of walks. Because of creaky joints, it takes Sophie longer to get warmed up now, but then she’s good for a mile or two (or actually as long as the humans want to go). Frequent hikes are the best thing that Sophie does to ward off the ravages of Father Time.
(3) Rest up. On the other hand, when nothing much is going on, Sophie lies down and nods off in a minute or two. She is such a good sleeper, and naps are the best for healing aches and pains.
(4) Drink plenty of water. Dogs and people get dehydrated when they don’t drink enough, especially in the summertime. Fortunately, water is Sophie’s forte. She not only drains much of the bowl but splashes the leftovers onto the kitchen floor.
(5) Persist in the face of obstacles. Arthritis makes climbing the stairway a laborious process. Nonetheless, Sophie is always determined to complete the task, systematically putting her front paws up on each successive step, then jumping up with her back paws.
(6) Take care, watch out. Going back down the staircase is even more nerve-wracking than climbing up. Perhaps as a result of previous falls, Sophie is slow and cautious. It’s a good reminder for the rest of us.
(7) Make some adjustments. Our own sheepdogs were always terrified of our mysterious, noisy elevator. One day, however, Sophie rode with Katja to the second floor. Now she routinely leads Katja to the elevator when she wants to go upstairs.
(8) Be playful. Sophie has kept her puppy spirit alive over the years. One of her favorite activities is to walk around the house carrying her beloved stuffed dog. Then she’ll bring it over for a spirited game of tug-of-war.
(9) Keep track of things. While we humans go batty from misplacing things, Sophie likes to store her possessions in secret places. The dining room table offers a perfect hiding spot for her stuffed dog.
(10) Seek out favorite spots. Dogs seem to sense that security and feelings of well-being result from being in favorite locations that are familiar and comfortable. Sophie’s long-time sheepdog bed is her number one place.
(11) Relish life’s treats. Mike and Duffy always responded to their routine daily walk around the block as if it were a brand new, exciting adventure. And food, of course, resulted in pure ecstasy. Though Sophie’s appetite has declined some, she still gobbles up her meals in a matter of minutes when she’s hungry.
(12) Stick close to loved ones. Like her brothers, Sophie is very people-oriented. She usually hangs out near wherever we’re sitting. As bedtime draws near, Sophie is the first one into the bedroom, and I help lift her into the bed so she can stake out her position right next to the humans.
(13) Have a good bark every now and then. Sheepdogs aren’t big barkers. As she’s gotten older, though, Sophie seems to enjoy barking loudly when I lean over and wave my hands. It’s a friendly, enthusiastic bark and seems to be giving voice to all her inner exuberance. Barking is good for the soul — we all need to bark a little more.
I don’t know if we’ll ever be ninety-five, but, if we are, I hope we’re able to do as well as Sophie. There’s a lot to be learned from the mysterious sheepdog world.