I've been cruising through the dog rescue sites lately, looking at photos of old Labs, Collies, and Dachshunds, all available for adoption. I have two 10 year old shelties, so it's not like I need another old dog, but they just tug at my heart. The article from The Week, linked from the title above, puts it beautifully. It is an excerpt form the book, Old Dogs, by Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson. I quote:
Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless grieve inconsolably over the loss of the family dog. People who find this behavior distasteful are often the ones without pets. It is hard to understand, in the abstract, the degree to which a companion animal, particularly after a long life, becomes a part of you. I believe I’ve figured out what this is all about. It is not as noble as I’d like it to be, but it is not anything of which to be ashamed, either.
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 puppy hood 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.
I continually marvel that every writer is compelled to write about their beloved dog when it dies. I did it too, when Tank died. He was that once in a lifetime dog, and I will never forget him. We had a blast throughout his youth, and in his old age, I clung to him, afraid he would go away before I was ready. I was never ready.
October has been a hard month for me. It is the 26th anniversary of my mother's death. A friend died October 3, 2007. I had my last visit with my father in October last year, and he died Nov. 2. Horrible fires raced through San Diego at this time last year, and two of my friends' homes burned down, and one friend (and client) lost her elderly cat.
When you lose someone or something that matters to you, you can't help but remember other losses. I guess that's why I'm thinking about Tank, and the love of an old dog. There is just nothing like it. For all the old dogs I have owned, some for a very short time, I wouldn't trade them for anything. The sorrow of losing them is nothing compared to what they give back. Unconditional love, friendship, and an appreciation for the time we have on this earth and the time we have together, however short or long it may be.
Read Tank's story here.