He sleeps on the multitude of dog blankets which we’ve bought for him and spread throughout the house. He stands and his back legs wobble, oftentimes collapse, and he falls and struggles to regain his footing. In dim light, he walks into corners and simply stands and stares, as if confused. His appetite has decreased so we often coax him to eat using hamburger and chicken. Despite the struggles of aging, he looks at me with adoring, trusting eyes and cuddles next to me on the couch as I watch TV.
Cody, our 16 ½ year old cocker spaniel, came into our lives when he was nearly 10. Used as a stud dog all of his life, his previous owners declared his services no longer needed and left him at the local Humane Society. I noticed him immediately as I leafed through the “Dogs Available for Adoption” book at the shelter’s front desk, four days before my birthday in 2008. By week’s end, Cody was still in a cage, and the shelter manager, a friend of mine, said, “You know, his chances of adoption are slim. Even though he’s a small dog, his age is against him.” That statement sunk in, and it was “happy birthday to me!” Neither Cody nor I have looked back.
“His age is against him ….” A sad testimony to how we view and value (or de-value) the elderly. Both humans and animals are seen as “less than” after a certain age. True, as we age, we begin to lose functions – in fact, sometimes I’m like Cody: I walk into a room and forget why I’m there (stand in the corner and stare); I’d rather sleep than go out, especially on cold, snowy days; and, my legs aren’t as steady and sturdy as they once were (the knees creak when I go up or down stairs unless I’ve taken my glucosamine). I sometimes forget the word I’m looking for when I’m talking or writing (more gingko, please!). But, with age comes wisdom and opportunity – to learn, to share, to grow and to give.
Despite getting older, I’m still learning as a person and a writer. My Cody dog – well, not so much! He still doesn’t come when called – but he’s deaf, so that’s a good reason! – and he still raids the cat food dishes if I’m not vigilant (but then, at least he’s eating!). However, he does remind me to take more resting opportunities and that I don’t have to race around like a stock car on the NASCAR track nor do I have to try to do everything myself. Cody looks to me for more help now than he did even three years ago, and I, too, need to recognize my limitations. Yet, my limitations don’t have to include no longer learning. For example, I’m starting a fiction writing class at the community college this week from which I hope to produce that romance story I mentioned in another post. Also, I’m doing more speaking engagements this year, including speaking to a group of seniors today and another group of senior citizens in a few weeks. I have vast experience talking with students in a classroom, but during the past year I branched out and began conducting more speaking engagements with adult groups. I also began teaching a community education class at our local college last year and hope to again next spring, a course on writing and publishing for people 50+ years of age.
Just because we age and things begin sliding south doesn’t mean we can’t do some fun things or learn new things: old dogs can be taught new tricks! So, whether you challenge yourself as a writer, a worker, in a hobby or personally, take those steps to learning something new. You will grow in many ways.
And you and I can give back. November (which is just around the corner) is National Adopt-a-Senior-Pet Month – maybe an older furry friend can help you along that pathway of learning something or doing something new. After all, studies show people with pets are healthier mentally and physically, so consider adopting a senior pet to help you age more gracefully … and maybe you will help it do the same. With age comes wisdom … and opportunity – make the most of all three while helping a senior pet who just wants a home and love – and gives so much in return.
What new things are you learning and/or doing as you get older?
Gayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and writes for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric Network), Crossroads, Creation Illustrated, and Our Town Casper magazines, as well as for the Casper Journal, River Press, and Douglas Budget newspapers. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.