Our Cocker Spaniel, Madison, turns 16 this year. Even though she has no major health issues, she’s at the upper end of life expectancy, and our vet has started to prepare us for the inevitable. She has lost a few pounds since her last check-up, her fur is slowly falling out, her eyes have cataracts, she can’t hear, her nose is scaly, and her teeth are falling out. She sleeps almost all day.
Despite these signs of age, Maddie still loves her life. I’m sure of this because she and I know each other so well. We have spent almost all our days together for the past 16 years. While I have nursed babies, prepared meals, cleaned rooms, and typed, and typed, and typed, Maddie has slept at my feet.
This is the wisdom in the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Thank goodness you can’t. I don’t want a dog with tricks because there is so much comfort in a dog you’ve known its whole life. No surprises. Tackling hug from a child? She will squirm but never bite. Food left on the table? She will crawl up and feast like a raccoon in a Dumpster. Accidentally shut in the bedroom? Intense scratching and howling. She will sit for a treat and never, ever do anything fancier than that.
Puppies get so much attention for their enormous eyes, their curiosity, their silliness, and their constant need for interaction. Puppies are the pop stars of the pet world, needy for attention and so fun to watch.
But it’s the old dogs who have the real fans. They are the Sinatras and the Dylans. Day after day, through quiet days and hard seasons, the old dogs play the tunes our souls need to hear.
The old dogs know the best spots for maximum sunshine, when you need your hand licked, and when it’s time to go to bed. Old dogs are mirrors of who we are. Through them we see our habits, our moods, and our needs.
And through them, we see true time-honored, worn-in joy.