Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why old dogs are the best dogs.

I was tipped off to this article on Andrew Sullivan's blog the other day and have been meaning to post about it.  It was written by The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten, and is, in essence, a defense of old dogs.

And I barely made it through the thing without crying.

It starts off with a doozy of an opening paragraph:

Not long before his death, Harry and I headed out for a walk that proved eventful. He was nearly 13, old for a big dog. Walks were no longer the slap-happy Iditarods of his youth, frenzies of purposeless pulling in which we would cast madly off in all directions, fighting for command. Nor were they the exuberant archaeological expeditions of his middle years, when every other tree or hydrant or blade of grass held tantalizing secrets about his neighbors. In his old age, Harry had transformed his walk into a simple process of elimination—a dutiful, utilitarian, head-down trudge. When finished, he would shuffle home to his ratty old bed, which graced our living room because Harry could no longer ascend the stairs. On these walks, Harry seemed oblivious to his surroundings, absorbed in the arduous responsibility of placing foot before foot before foot before foot. But this time, on the edge of a small urban park, he stopped to watch something. A man was throwing a Frisbee to his dog. The dog, about Harry’s size, was tracking the flight expertly, as Harry had once done, anticipating hooks and slices by watching the pitch and roll and yaw of the disc, as Harry had done, then catching it with a joyful, punctuating leap, as Harry had once done, too.

Harry sat. For 10 minutes, he watched the fling and catch, fling and catch, his face contented, his eyes alight, his tail a-twitch. Our walk home was almost … jaunty.

Rereading it, I still get choked up thinking about how our lives will change once Brodie gets out of his middle years and heads down the home stretch.  He's already lost a bit of his youthful energy, and his muzzle is starting to gray.  His pace going up the stairs in the house is not what it once was.  And his gas is much, much more toxic than when he was a younger lad.  It is hard to imagine not being able to take him to the lake, or to the park to repeatedly retrieve his Kong toy, or how we'd ever get his 90 lb. body into the car should his hips give out.

But reading such skillfully worded stories of people who have lived with dogs for years and years (which I have not), and the wisdom they've gained from being around these K-9s helps me to remember to cherish the time we do have with Brodie.

As Mr. Weingarten points out,

What dogs do not have is an abstract sense of fear, or a feeling of injustice or entitlement. They do not see themselves, as we do, as tragic heroes, battling ceaselessly against the merciless onslaught of time. Unlike us, old dogs lack the audacity to mythologize their lives. You’ve got to love them for that.


In our dogs, we see ourselves. Dogs exhibit almost all of our emotions; if you think a dog cannot register envy or pity or pride or melancholia, you have never lived with one for any length of time. What dogs lack is our ability to dissimulate. They wear their emotions nakedly, and so, in watching them, we see ourselves as we would be if we were stripped of posture and pretense. Their innocence is enormously appealing. When we watch a dog progress from puppy­hood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety, and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves.

So I will work harder not to look to the future fearfully or timidly, whether it is about the day we no longer have Brodie, or what we will do once the wife is done with law school, or any other worry that I have.  But instead, I shall strive to live each day as Brodie does, happy to see the ones I love, excited for each meal that is in front of me, glad to get some fresh air and stretch my legs outside, and spending each night hogging as much of the bed from my wife as I can.

Mr. Weingarten's stories about his much loved dog Harry S Truman are stories that most dog owners experience once or twice throughout the years.  I highly encourage you to read the entire story, as it is very well written.

And do yourself a favor, and hug your dog tonight.


  1. Your blog is getting better as you go. It is more and more an expression of your heart and who you are. I am enjoying it more and more.

  2. I love that you love your pooch so much. Plus, it keeps your mind off kids! -Rach