Puppies are too much fun, aren’t they? They’re so soft and warm, cuddly and cute. And that smell, who doesn’t love puppy smell. Puppies are perpetual motion, excited balls of energy, so eager to play, learn and obey. Because they are puppies, we tend to forgive the occasional act of indiscretion or “accident”. Puppies think they can fly; that’s why they jump and hop around more than they walk. They seem to be smiling continuously if not chewing on anything they can fit into their mouth. Just about the time their puppy cuteness starts to wear thin, you realize you no longer have a puppy; you have a middle aged dog.
Middle aged dogs are truly man’s best friend. They have settled into a rhythm of life so in sync with their families. Their energy is a little more contained, everything comes easy. Taking a middle aged dog on a walk is an adventure all on its own. They’re all over the map, seeking out discoveries in tall grass; a scent of another’s passing on the path in the woods; pulling on the leach in every direction with incredible speed and strength. All of this energy is great with kids as they each have no trouble keeping up with the other. As Henry Ward Beecher wrote; “The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic.” Middle aged dogs are ready for anything, just open the door and get moving or…not, because they are just as happy curled up quietly next to you on the couch. Then one day, an act of desperation, fear or momentary thoughtless neglect, you come to the realization your middle aged dog is an old dog.
When a dog becomes old he is fully matured in the truest sense of the word. To quote Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post:
“They can be eccentric, slow afoot, even grouchy. But dogs live out their final days with a humility and grace we all could learn from.”
Old dogs can have a grey muzzle and cloudy eyes, be grouchy and deaf, lumpy and pimply but they also have vulnerabilities, limitless trust and gratitude. They are funny in unique ways, unpretentious open and completely at peace with themselves.
It is said that only humans comprehend the passing of time and the concept of death but many who have spent a lifetime with a pet, who have witnessed the journey of puppy to old dog to death, may beg to differ. They believe dogs do understand the passage of time and, if not the certainty of death, surely the onset of frailty. They know that what once was is no more.
Dogs do not have a sole sense of fear. They don’t feel entitled nor do they feel the injustices in life. Dogs are pure innocence, trust and unconditional love. There are some people who are unmoved by death but will grieve inconsolably over the death of their beloved dog. At some time, in the life-long relationship with a dog, they become a part of who we are.
Dogs show almost all of our emotions but without the ability to differentiate therefore, they exhibit these emotions openly and innocently, much as we would if we were stripped of our pretenses. This may evoke strong feelings of protection for the innocence. We watch our dogs become old; we hear them moan; we watch their stiff and painful movement knowing we are watching ourselves someday. Our dogs become old; they become crotchety and gassy and vulnerable and frail, just as we will be someday. When they pass, we will grieve for them; we will grieve for ourselves.