This may come as a shock to some, but the non-anthropomorphic truth is that dogs are not people. Some folks treat them like people, expect them to act and react like people, and expect them to age like people. Such folks are inevitably disappointed, even devastated when reality comes knocking. I know. My dad is the personification of devastation because he has chosen to view me as his furry human buddy instead of his canine superior companion. When my twelfth birthday rolled around recently, and I began to slow down and show various other signs of age, Dad apparently refused to face the reality that I was in my golden years. So, I sat him down and we had a little chat. It went something like this:
Flap: Let’s talk about aging.
Dad: OK. I’m somewhat familiar with the Aegean area of the Mediterranean. What do you want to know?
F: You really are a moron.
D: And you’re an idiot.
F: Why don’t you try listening closely for a change. I’m getting older, and I can sense that you have stuck your head firmly in the sand, refusing to acknowledge what is in front of your eyes. I’m twelve now, and that’s not too far away from the finish line for my breed. Aside from the simple chronology, have you not noticed the signs?
D: You mean the ones you slapped all over your kennel which say, “Senior Aussie. Handle With Care?”
F: Well, yeah. But I’m also talking about how I don’t run like I used to, how I sleep a lot more, how I don’t hear very well, how I have trouble getting into the car, and how I don’t play as enthusiastically as I once did.
D: Well, you could just as easily apply those conditions to Mom and me. It might surprise you to know that we have indeed noticed your signs of aging. And, yes, we act like we’re ignoring them because we worry for you and because it’s difficult to face where it’s all leading.
F: Hmm. Let me clue you into something. I’m a dog. As such, I don’t dwell on the past and I don’t worry about the future. I live in the moment. And while I’m in the moment, though I may be feeling aches and pains, and though I cannot do things I once was able to do, I do not fear that one day I will pass away. I wish you didn’t either, but I understand that you and I are hardwired differently, and you can’t help stressing about things over which you have no control.
D: Fair enough. But this isn’t just a “thing” like the house needing painting or the car needing repairs. This issue has emotion attached to it. And so we worry about your diminishing capacities and about one day losing you. You’re part of the family, and it’s only natural that we feel this way. So, while you’re in the moment, give that a bit of thought.
F: To what end? I can empathize with your worrisome nature and your fears, but I can never truly understand them, just as you can never really know what it’s like to evolve to my higher form of thinking.
D: Higher form? You’re an idiot.
F: And you’re a moron, but let’s see if we can rise above it all.
D: OK, what do you suggest that Mom and I do as you continue showing significant signs of aging?
F: Why not just try to enjoy each others’ company while we still can, and let the chips fall where they will? You’re fond of that quote: “Worry is the dividend paid to disaster before it is due”, so why not adhere to it? Look, let’s make a deal. If you stop feeling sad and morose over my old age, I’ll stop feeling sorry for your unbridled stupidity.
And that conversation, which will undoubtedly be immortalized as one of the great inter-species philosophical dialogues of all time, brought each of us to a new and happier existential state. No, not the state of Nevada, but rather a state of acceptance and peace. And to a realization that aging, whether it occurs in the Mediterranean or closer to home, is not something to fear, but a period to embrace. Together.