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Archive for July 17th, 2009

Why do dogs age so much faster than us?

If, as they so easily and completely do, they wangle and waggle and wiggle into our lives, minds (I think about Buddy a lot and – look! – write about him a lot) and hearts, seems like they ought to stick around, should be life companions.

But they don’t.  Unless we are very old or die prematurely, our dogs live a lot shorter than we do and eventually ditch us for the great doggie beyond.  It doesn’t seem fair.

When i adopted Buddy, about 15 months ago, he was – in dog years – roughly the same age as my 61 years.  (One dog-age chart i saw at the vet’s showed different dog years as correlating with from 6-8 of our years – different by the different years.  What’s that about?  Do the dog experts really know this?  I don’t get it.)  I didn’t know, when i got him, that Buddy was this old.  The woman who gave him to me actually thought he was 4 1/2, even though – when i pushed her to get his old vet records – she discovered that he had actually been with her for eight years.  How she could have lost track of four years i really don’t get.

When i finally, a few weeks after getting him, was informed of Buddy’s true – relatively advanced – age, my first response was panic about him leaving me relatively soon (unless, of course, the grim reaper comes for me before the doggie reaper comes for him – there’s no way of knowing about these things).  But right after that reaction, the poignancy of his aging process came home to me.  He was then, like i already said, roughly my age in doggie years (actually a couple years younger), but was going to age a lot faster than me.  Already has: in a little over a year of my human aging, he has picked up seven (or six or eight) years.  Really doesn’t seem fair – i really don’t get it.

So, if i’m now 62 (which i guess i am), he’s now 66.  And it’s just gonna keep going that way.

What to do about all this?  Not much i can do, I guess.  Except be aware of it all, witness it all.  He will be, for me, a study in aging – a kind of role model.  At this point, he – like me – acts sometimes like a pup and sometimes like an old man.  But it will progressively be less that way: he will spend more days acting like an old man and fewer acting like a pup.  Just like i will do, only slower.  But still doing it – progressively, inexorably.  Even if i start going to the gym a lot, give up smoking, eat right, think good thoughts, etc., the fountain of youth will still evade me.

There are things i can do – even beyond exercise and diet regimens – to help myself myself age more gracefully. Some of them i am doing (like more and more making peace with being older, even practicing using the term older to describe myself.  (“No”, some of my younger friends say, “you’re not old – you’re really young.”  I say, “You don’t know buster” – or hon -“Youthful, sure, but not young.  No matter how young at heart i may stay, this old body keeps aging.”  Or I’ll introduce a sentence by saying, “These old bones…”.  Claiming it, not avoiding it.

I can stop cringing and start enjoying it when i get my senior discount at the movies or the health food store – even when the young cashier gives it to me without asking.  I can get over the sense of loss that i am no longer even on the screen sexually for young women.  I can enjoy being a father-figure for young women – and a mentor, a wise old man for young men.  I can feel happy when a beautiful young woman acquaintance says she likes that we are getting to know each other because she doesn’t have any older men in her life.  I can appreciate the joys of being less testosterone-driven around attractive women and less wanting to compete with younger men. I can relish that i am finding a much wider of women beautiful – of all ages, figures and facial constellations.

I can embrace the phenomenon that i actually am becoming kind of wise, even when the core of that wisdom is to get it how little i actually know – and becoming more comfortable with being confused.

Some of these graceful-age-inducing developments just happen to me.  I was chatting on-line one evening with a young woman with whom i share a lot of mutual chemistry – stuff that had often confused me. (“What, am i supposed to date her or something?  That’s for Woody Allen or somebody.”)  Even this chat medium was from her age cadre, not mine.  She initiated it – she was in a city far from Asheville, our mutual home, with her sick kid who needs a top-notch cancer center – and was spending several weeks in her child’s hospital room, agonizing some of the time and flat-out bored a lot of the time.  So she rang my chat bell on Facebook (not just for young folks anymore) and we chatted.  I love her a lot and was delighted to spend the time with her, even in a medium that still feels strange to me.

About a half-hour into our digital conversation, i got it: “She feels like a daughter to me!”  My daughter in law, with whom i am very close, has taken – since she married my son just a few months ago – to calling me FIL, which is wonderfully silly and fun.  She – an attractive young woman who just a few years ago came into my life, no kin to me – absolutely feels to me like a daughter.  The daughter i always wanted but never had.  Even though i have not had the life experience and have no idea how to relate to one, Alma definitely feels like a daughter.

Alma opened up the space for me to relate to  – and feel towards – a young woman, even a very attractive one, as a daughter.  And here the same thing was happening with this previously-distractingly-attractive non-familial young woman.  Being able to shift from awkward, odd chemistry with an attractive young woman to a very peaceful connection – this is, for me, a form of graceful aging.  i didn’t create it – wouldn’t have known how to.  I didn’t visualize it, didn’t magnetize it into my life.  Life gave it to me, like a juicy fresh peach.  Peachy-keen.

I can also help Buddy age gracefully: i can give him lots of exercise, good nutritious chemical-free food, move next-door to a three year old hound who loves to play with him and gets him charging after squirrels and stuff – and, of course, give him lots of love.

I can help him and me to age gracefully, but i can’t stop either of us from aging – and he’s gonna age faster than me and probably die well before me.  Doesn’t seem fair – it just is.

And i will suck the juice out of every year we have together.

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