Growing Together with Grace and Dignity
By Allen and Linda Anderson
Sunshine is the oldest animal in our home. He is an opinionated bright yellow, and orange-cheeked cockatiel who sits high on his perch and observes everyone’s comings and goings. His screech could curdle milk. Always a bit of a curmudgeon, he has become more vocal with age. Yet, like many seniors these days, Sunshine has learned to use the Internet — at least his version of it. He duplicates the sounds of getting onto AOL with precision. If Sunshine worked at an office, someone in an adjacent cubicle would be convinced that he was busily logging online.
Our cat Speedy is next in age. Again, like most of us who are having the years pile up faster than we would like, Speedy is on a diet. Not enough exercise and too many calories have given him extra pounds that he definitely doesn’t need. We carefully dole out his special food these days. He nudges the hand that feeds him, trying to make it dump more into his bowl than was intended.
Taylor, our yellow Labrador retriever, shows her age physically. Her fur is streaked with white hair, and wrinkles sag around her eyes and jowls. Arthritis makes her limp occasionally. She moves more slowly than she used to but still enjoys a good roll around on the floor. With the help of doggie ibuprofen, she is always up for a long walk around the lake.
Does any of this sound familiar? Do the animals in your home demonstrate how to age gracefully? Some people think so.
Pets Lead the Way
In “Leading the Way,” an essay included in “Angel Dogs, Divine Messengers of Love,” Eleanor Garrell Berger of northern New York state, writes about observing how her two dogs have helped her understand how to grow old with dignity.
Eleanor says her dog Tycho is past ninety in human years. She calls him an “ancient canine” who moves stiffly but without any self-pity even though his amblings might appear to be unfocused dawdling. She says that Tycho, rather than feeling envious of his younger siblings, watches contentedly from bed as the others play games he used to enjoy. She writes, “Despite cloudy vision, conveniently diminished hearing, and degenerative disk disease, Tycho gets around quite well.”
Eleanor finds it amusing to watch Tycho sniffing on their walks around the neighborhood. He gets a confused _expression on his face. Similar to her fading memory, Tycho can’t quite match a face with a smell. The scent is familiar, but who is that guy? I know I’ve smelled him somewhere? She calls this dog a model senior citizen.
Eleanor views Tycho as an example for when she gets to be ninety. But she turns to her dog Gambit, who is fifty-something in human years, for today’s inspiration.
She writes, “My terrier and I have learned to pace ourselves. We no longer rush around all day. We take time out to play. We drink more water and need to ‘go’ more often. We ask for what we want and accept that we won’t always get it. We’re willing to cooperate and compromise but know when to draw the line. Gambit draws his at having his nails cut. I draw mine at eating genetically-modified food.”
Senior Pets Bring Good Health to Senior People
Purina sponsors a program at animal shelters around the country. It is called Pets for Seniors. The basic premise is that having a family pet can help an aging senior maintain better health and live longer. The company pays for elderly pets to be adopted by people who may have more patience with and gratitude for a creature who is going through the aging challenges. The theory is that the animal and the person will understand each other and provide a higher quality by living together.
The health benefits of pets for seniors have been proven repeatedly. There is even an insurance company that offers lower premiums on health insurance for people who have pets. This makes perfectly good sense. Someone with an animal companion tends to have fewer bouts with depression, is more physically active, and has greater emotional satisfaction.
In “My Dog Taught Me How to Age Gracefully,” an essay in “Angel Animals: Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals,” Cheryl L. Yochim of Austin, Texas writes about her dog Claudie. He had been her companion for fifteen years. She and her husband have returned Claudie’s devotion by caring for him in his waning years.
Cheryl writes, “Claudie is blind and partially deaf, an insulin-dependent diabetic with Cushing’s disease. Despite his condition, he continues to be an example of how to live life with enthusiasm. We’ve always thought of Claudie as a child who has immeasurably improved our ability to nurture and love. But during the last few years, our little master teacher has become the aging parent, giving us lessons in how to face the latter part of life with acceptance and grace.”
This is what aging pets do for the fortunate ones among us who share homes with them. They take us through the cycles of life in double-speed time. As babies, they bring out our inner, nurturing and patient parent. In teenage years, they keep us active and amused. In middle age, they show how to slow down and live in the present. And as their sunsets approach, aging pets demonstrate to us how to wind down and leave this world with dignity and grace. What more could you ask of a friend and teacher?
Aging animals can become the beacons who show us how to find our way on life’s journey. As Susan Chernak McElroy says in “Animals as Teachers and Healers,” “Animals offer tremendous help by simply being who and what they are. They are beings who still remember the original instructions given them by an ancient universe.”
Allen and Linda Anderson are founders of the Angel Animals Network and
authors of New World Library books, “Angel Dogs: Divine Messengers of Love,”
“Angel Cats: Divine Messengers of Comfort,” and “Rainbows & Bridges: An Animal
Companion Memorial Kit” to help people heal after pet loss. Subscribe to the
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