Sunday, May 4, 2014

What I have learned from old dogs and old ladies

I saw a posting on Facebook today from a friend who mentioned a shelter that was full of old dogs that had been “turned over” by their owners.  I'm not sure of all the various reasons why these old dogs are turned over, but I have a feeling that the common denominator was most likely due to the hassle factor that can come with managing an older dog. 

We have a 10-year-old Great Pyrenees mix (one of our five dogs) that we rescued last year from a family that didn’t want her anymore.  All I can say is that she has been nothing but joy and we are more than happy to have her living out her twilight years here at Hummingbird Farms. 

Although she can sometimes be a bit cranky, it is almost always associated with any type of a change in her daily routine.  But often times, on her terms and while in her daily routine, she will become somewhat puppy-like where she wants to play with the other dogs.  Just yesterday I watched as she pranced and lunged on her front legs in front of our other dog doing her best to engage him in some sort of puppy-dog game. 

As I watched her it made me think of some cultures that celebrate old age and revere their oldest members.  There is a Japanese culture that celebrates eight special birthdays between the ages of 60 and 100 as a return to the beginning of the cycle, and then at the 100th year, a celebration every year. 

I find it interesting that these celebrations are for a “return of the beginning.” It is this return to the beginning that I see in our elderly dog when she periodically becomes puppy-like, just as I saw in my own grandmother when she would sometimes “return” as childlike.   

Just as I have learned from our aging dog that thrives in her regimented life, I saw the same with my grandmother.  It was only in her regular routine that she would have bouts of jovial fun and laughter, but taken out of her routine she became obstinate and stubborn.  In hindsight I wish that we had just let her be.  She liked her routine in her small house with her little dog.  But with each holiday or family event we would upset her routine by filling up her day with things outside of her routine and telling her things like, “it will be good for you to go, you need to get out of the house.”  The truth was, it wasn’t good for her.  She didn’t want to leave her routine, and when she did the price to pay was really on us.  She was miserable, which we couldn't understand, and in turn we found ourselves irritable.   
Our old dog Duchess in her happy spot, just being.  
Conversely, with our old dog we just let her be.  Because we don’t know what all had occurred in her nine years of life before coming to be with us, we are much more patient with her.  What we do know is that she has a terrible fear of hairbrushes, baths, and collars around her neck.  And with that, we just deal with other ways to keep her groomed or – as truth be known, we just deal with her not being perfectly groomed and her nails needing to be clipped and her teeth needing to be cleaned.  It doesn’t bother her, so it doesn’t bother us.  It is not worth the disruption in her now very regimented life. 

How I wish that with my grandmother we had focused more on inserting ourselves into her routine versus disrupting her life by insisting that she insert her life into our routine.  She just wanted to be….  And when we would go visit her, thus inserting ourselves into her life and routine, she laughed and told stories and would  “return” to the fun-loving grandmother I had always known. 

So with that, I have learned that the wisdom of old age is far beyond my assumption of what is best for them.  

What I do know is that patience and kindness is good for the soul.  

All souls.