Friday, July 1, 2016

How to Grow Old Gracefully, Like a Dog

As I may have mentioned, I recently turned fifty years old. When time throws down its gauntlet, all we can do is accept the quest (the holy grail, you'll never find it) with grace and if we were glad.

Easier said than done, especially, within a culture that answers the question (how to age gracefully?) with, DON'T.

JUST SAY NO to fine lines and wrinkles.

JUST SAY NO to "liver spots" (who came up with that charming phrase?) and sagging boobs, bellies, and butts.

The older you are, the more expensive your moisturizer--because it has to work that much harder.

Wear more make-up and "spanx" and girdles--and yes, even corsets are making a comeback--we are that evolved.

So, once again, I have to look to my dogs for guidance. I'm telling you, they know how to age gracefully.

Take Sam, for example, a Labrador Retriever. As a youth, she was tireless. She loved to run fast and swim for hours. She loved to dive into the lake with her little legs curled up (so cute) to fetch a stick over and over and over.  She was dazzling, a regular Zelda Fitzgerald in the fountains.

But, as Sam got older and slowed down, her interests  shifted gradually from running and swimming to sniffing and rolling.  She developed a keen interest in smelling everything and rolling onto her back and kicking up her feet, joyfully. These became her primary activities on our walks.

Toward the end, she still sniffed everything, but now when she rolled, she took longer to get up. We would stop for a spell on our walks, and she would rest on the grass in the sun or shade. Sometimes, passers-by would express their concern.  Yes, she probably did have some discomfort. She was very old, at 13.  Eventually, she would get up, shake it off, and be ready to go, The sniffing, the rolling, and the resting--these were her pleasures, now.

Her counterpart, Bart, was an intimidating mix of Rottweiler, Doberman, German Shepherd, and Lab. He lived one year longer than Sam.  He disproved the adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

When Bart was young and kids came to the front door he went out the back. It was as if he didn't trust himself not to eat them.  But toward the end of his life, Bart decided that kids were alright. His feelings for them softened dramatically and bloomed into love. He already adored our Joshua, but he also fell hard for the kid next door.

Now, I have three different dogs, and they're all getting old.

Hank, a standard poodle, is twelve, approximately. (No one's really sure; he's got a shady past.)

I'm not saying that all poodles are sociopaths, but Hank was.  He had no conscience. He knew right from wrong, and neither weighed more or less than the other on the scales in his mind.

But, being a smart and elderly poodle, Hank apparently has given some thought to his mortal soul, and he has concluded that he was certainly going to go to Hell.  As a result, Hank has by and large reformed.

Hank no longer steps foot in the kitchen. If he did, he would certainly raid the garbage and devour any food left out on the table or counter tops.

He used to wear an electric collar that sounded off every time he came near the kitchen, but he hasn't worn it for a year. Don't think for a minute that he doesn't realize that he could go into the kitchen if he allowed himself. Hank always tested the electric collars to see if the batteries were working. I had to keep back-up batteries and order them way in advance.  If they expired for even a day or two, Hank raided the garbage. Poodles are many things, but they are not stupid.

Hank doesn't go in the kitchen of his own accord. He's trying to be a good dog. He doesn't want to go to Hell.

Personally, I don't believe in Hell, (although I do believe in the gnashing of teeth and the wringing of hands), but I think it's interesting that Hank does.

My three aging dogs have good days and bad days. Sometimes, they seem younger; sometimes, older--just like me. The right supplements (fish oil, glucosamine chondroitin, and Milk Thistle) and a bit of love seem to make a big difference.  If I forget either one, they slow way down.

Today, Hank didn't want to go on his second walk; he was very comfortable on the couch. I cuddled up to him and told him he didn't have to go with us if he didn't want to, but we'd love his company. And then he bounded up off the couch, energized and dog-smiling, as though it had all been a practical joke. Of course he would go for a walk!

Hank and Gretchen are slowing down and hanging back. Betsy has more energy, though she and Gretchen are both nine. Betsy is not my favorite dog, but I think some day she will be.

Betsy is getting more gray and grizzled than Hank or Gretchen.  She is a black Border Collie/Lab, now with a mostly white chin and muzzle. The gray hairs don't bother her in the least. She's not vain.

My three dogs started out terrible. They were the worst dogs I've ever had. (I say this with love.) But every year, they get better. By the time they're ready to die, no kidding, I think they'll be perfect. Figures.

Physically, dogs have a high threshold for pain. Rarely does it hold them back, or obscure their view of what is good and pleasurable in life.

I could make this really sad. Yes, dogs die with grace. Let's leave it at that.

We humans, we're all in knots about these things.

I was born without any powers of denial. That's why I write. That's why I'm a freak of nature. So, I confront this aging business head-on, every day.  And, right behind that, my mortality.

For inspiration and guidance, there's nothing good out there.  It's all twisted, fear-driven, youth-obsessed, vanity-mongering, horribly depressing crap. In French, "c'est nul."

If you want to know how to age gracefully, ask a dog.

Or ask a horse. My friend Fire, a 20-year-old Polish Arabian, has taught me a thing or two about getting old...

First off, pageantry is everything. For short stints, be fabulous. Make a big impression. Keep the young in line. But if you're asked to  do something difficult or dreary, get a very tired look on your face and say, oh! I am so weary! My arthritis is acting up!  (It works every time.)

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