Is it in the U.S. Constitution that “old dogs can’t learn new tricks?” Such platitudes were part of our upbringing, but this is one is particularly misleading. My experience with an old dog is teaching me.
Cassie, our healthy 15-year-old Pug, is a supportive companion and she is challenging this ancient and trite platitude. Cassie, even though she has exceeded the age expectancy for her breed, is either an exception or the disproving of the trite saying.
Cassie, in the human equivalent of 105 years of age, is more mentally active than ever. Even in her senior years she is demonstrating an alertness, a “brain receptiveness” to new tricks, many of which are beneficial to the household. She is more effective than ever in communicating her needs to us with a bark, or by sitting in front of us and staring us in the eyes. For 14 years, she never barked except when visitors arrived at our door. Now she barks like clockwork at 10 p.m. or 2 a.m., whenever she need to go out and relieve herself. At this stage, she may have a gland problem that pushes her to more frequent needs to relieve her kidneys. Just like many of us senior citizens.
Only in the past year has she assumed the sentry mode in staring at us or following us throughout the house. She is completely in control of when she needs to be let outside and we are appreciative that her “accidents” are as rare as hen’s teeth — another axiom. She is learning to control us and get our attention with enough confidence to have us jump out of bed to assist her. She’s also learned to communicate with the neighbor’s Shih-tzu, Campbell, with a series of barks.
What can I learn from this adorable pet that speaks to me of my own aging process?
First, make the most of what I can. Maintain a measure of intellectual curiosity. In high school, I studied Julius Caesar but didn’t understand it. Reading this icon of literature was an insurmountable obstacle. I hated the class; it was too much of a challenge for this country boy. Now, 50 years later, I saw Julius Caesar at the Roxy Regional Theatre. In preparation for this adventure, I read a critique of this Shakesperean drama and carefully studied the plot. Though aging and so much older, I still have a passion to learn, cultivated over years of maturation, and know it wasn’t my fault for not understanding this play when I was in school.
Secondly, I am learning from Cassie that with aging there are inevitable physical changes in us. her gait is slower and her steps shorter now; she sleeps 20 hours a day and prefers staying at home to visiting grandchildren in Indiana. It takes her longer to find her food and water dishes.
Thirdly, Cassie’s physical prowess is restricted. She will not climb stairs to the bonus room where I have an office. Perhaps she’s experiencing discomfort from arthritis, or a newly developed fear of heights. She is demonstrating some of my bodily symptoms — slowing down. In the last local road race I finished near the end; I’ve never done that before. My defense mechanisms automatically blink and flashes “you’re losing your endurance.” I resist admitting that my prowess in racing is declining.
Our pets have much to teach us about living and aging gracefully and learning even as we move through our remaining years. I hope Cassie remains healthy. As long as she is she will bring a sense of encouragement, and will l serve as my teacher.