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August 4, 2014

I found this old piece I wrote about aging and my dogs on the King 5 News website and I still think all the sentiments apply.  The only difference is that now, Henry is the senior dog and Louie is the silly pup.

by By Jeanne Faulkner /

Posted on October 10, 2009 at 7:08 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 22 at 4:28 PM

About the Author

Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Ore. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other publications.

Some animal experts warn us not to humanize pets. They say that projecting human psychology onto animals misinterprets their behavior and intentions. I disagree. I think animals are great teachers. Humans can learn a lot by following their lead. Take, for example, the issues of aging, compassion and purpose. In a dog’s life, they’re all part of the package.

My dog Max is old. He has achy bones, smells funny and can’t see well enough to jump into our laps anymore. Sometimes he gets lost in our yard. Sometimes he has “accidents.” His hearing is going and he no longer comes when he’s called. He’s not bothered. It’s no big deal. He’s still got his nose. He knows he’s loved. And we’ll come get him if we need him.

Life Lesson: Peaceful aging means accepting what is. It’s not karma or dogma. It just is.

It doesn’t take much to make Max happy. He’s content with the basics: affection, respect and routine. He wants a walk in the morning, our toast crusts, to sleep on my feet while I work, and to ride shotgun in the car. He wants to watch the world from our porch. If he sees someone walk by (less often now that his vision is poor), he barks in greeting or warning, then looks for approval, as if to say, “That’s a neighbor, right? Or, “That’s a perpetrator, right?” He’s always right, of course.

Life Lesson: Happiness is simple.

He wants only my son, who’s the same age as Max, 13, to pick him up and place him gently on the couch when the family’s sitting together. Max can’t manage the jump anymore and knows my son will be careful. They were puppies together. It’s what littermates do for each other. In return and gratitude, he licks my son’s hands.

Life Lessons: Trust your pack. Show your gratitude.

Max wants someone to throw meat on the floor. He remembers when my father lived with us and tossed him the occasional pork chop. It drove me nuts. My dog loved him. Though Dad’s been gone five years, Max still hangs out by his chair, hoping.

Life Lesson: Remember the old dogs.

My other dog, Henry, is a baby. He’s afraid to go off the porch in the morning, afraid of the vacuum and convinced the garbage can is a threat. When a pan fell off the counter, he flattened like a grenade had exploded, and piddled. He demands to be first on a walk, first on a lap and first to the car, even though he’s second off the porch, second to eat and second in the chair the old dog loves. He knows he’s not expected to guard anything or keep the mail carrier off the porch. Those are Max’s jobs. Max is the sentinel. Henry is the jester.

Life Lesson: Know your place in the pack–every dog has a purpose.

Henry’s job is to help Max. When Max whimpers and hesitates in front of his favorite chair, unable to see the surface well enough to jump confidently, the puppy nudges him, jumps onto the chair and then quickly down so Max can gauge the distance.  When Max can’t find his way back to the house after a nighttime (human supervised) trip to the yard, Henry walks nearby and guides him in. When Max is having a senior moment, pacing in a circle, Henry paces with him. If Henry’s asleep near the heater and Max wanders nearby, Henry nudges the old dog to the warm spot.

Max looks after Henry, too. He keeps him company when the vacuum’s on. He takes him off the porch for the day’s first sniff and pee. New rawhide bones intimidate Henry, so Max chews them enough to make a soft spot, and then gives them to Henry before starting on his own bone. Whatever Henry’s scared of is no longer frightening once Max checks things out.

Life Lesson: We get by with a little help from our friends.

Regardless of species, youth and age rely on each other. Youth has the strength, vision and hearing age lets go of. Age has the bravery, experience and wisdom youth depends on. It’s symbiosis. They don’t have to discuss it, negotiate it or make a big deal about it. They’re just doing what needs to be done to keep the pack running.

If we’re lucky, we’ll all wind up being “old dogs.” I hope I’ll accept the inevitable decline as gracefully as Max. I know my pack will be there for me. If I get lost in my yard, I hope the youngsters won’t make a big fuss and fret too much. Just walk nearby and guide me in. If I can’t see the edge of my chair, just give it a pat and help me down. Leave me with some work to do too. I can only hope, when I’m old, that I’ll be able to watch over my family with the love and dedication of my old dog.

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