Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why old dogs NEED new tricks

"Retirement should involve re-tiring, or putting on new tires and doing even more than before."
--Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who gives credit for this thought to Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
A friend posted this on Facebook recently. He, like my husband and me, is rushing headlong toward what Social Security calls  "full (normal) retirement age." No doubt his mailbox, like ours, is regularly replenished with offers for hearing aids, Medigap insurance, and free lunches sponsored by financial planners. No doubt he too has seen those chirpy birthday cards asking "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" or assuring us that "Age is just a number" or, heaven help us, promising us that "The best is yet to be."

I suppose that depends on how you define "best."

Muffin and Tiggy contemplate retirement
In any case, let me tell you about my two little dogs, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Muffin. They do not know how old they are. For that matter, I don't know how old they are: both were young adults when they came to live with us 9 or 10 years ago. Both dogs need new tires, but since they don't know where to find them, the best is probably not yet to be.

Yesterday the three of us took a two-mile walk down the Prairie Path to Lincoln Marsh and back. We've been taking this walk for years, and we all love it. Sometimes we turn it into a three-mile walk by continuing to Jewell Road before turning around. Once this spring we turned right when we reached Jewell and walked four miles.

Except that yesterday afternoon, which was cool and pleasant, Muffin couldn't keep up. She didn't complain, but she started dragging behind Tiggy and me. She looked like she was working hard. Eventually I picked her up and carried her. Her heart was beating very fast.

Muffin looks great. Her health is good. She still enjoys a game of tug-a-toy with Tiggy, and she still wants to take walks. She's not an ancient dog, but she's nearing full retirement age. According to this chart that correlates a dog's age in human years with her size, she's probably between 60 and 68. In other words, she's my age.

I would like to point out that Rabbi Boteach, who believes in "doing more than before" in retirement, is 45 years old. When Robert Browning wrote "Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be," he was, at most, 52. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of youngsters - or even rare oldsters, like my 91-year-old friend who cross-country skis around her 15-acre farm - setting the bar for the rest of us.

Fact: Muffin can't do today what she could do last year, and this is not because she's depressed or lazy or conforming to society's low expectations for aging dogs. It's because most dogs, like most people, quite naturally slow down as the years go by, and no matter how strenuous our denial, we will not be puppies again.

A lot of us silly boomers think we're going to reinvent old age (and why not? didn't we invent sex back in the 1960s?), when all we're really doing is lapsing into nostalgia. Afraid to enter a new phase of life, we double down on what we already know: overwork, multitasking, constant activity. Those were the days, my friend, / We thought they'd never end.

But maybe we should be thinking forward, not backward. Maybe we should be looking at new ways of living, ways we haven't yet had time to try, ways uniquely suited to people with more life experience than health and vigor.

For Muffin, whose life purpose is to sit on laps and hang around her peeps, the future looks bright. Especially if she can persuade me to buy her a doggy jogger...