We were out walking yesterday when Chips met a little Yorkie who’s guardian said “he’s an old man” about Mr Chips. People have been saying that about him for a long time, for his hair makes him look grizzled and wizardy anyway – but now he really is getting old.
He’s been with us 10 years and has changed so much over those years. His eyes seem to have become deeper brown and more soulful. Always being a strange dog, packed with anxiety and sound sensitivity, his strangeness has changed form. His body has subtly changed form and so has his personality. Chips fits, like comfy shoes or an old sweater.
There’s a sweetness in living with a dog who is ageing, a heart-breaking sweetness. You know going into the relationship with them that it’s highly likely you’re going to watch them get old. Bringing a dog home is like self-care and self-abuse all at once. We have so many hundreds of walks with them if we are lucky enough. If we choose a terrier, there are so many apologies we make to passers-by for one thing or another.
We teach them things to help them grow and we teach them things to stop them getting too old too quickly. We spend hours poring over the best diet, the best supplements, the best bed as they get stiffer in the mornings. We realise that every hour, every day, month and year they have added another cell to our heart, another heart cell with their name on. All the years of love, laughter, snuggles, friendship and yes, frustrations become part of us. A part that never really ever goes away long after the dog is gone.
Living with a dog who has got old is a special kind of life. The walking we once did, for hours and hours has now become a thing of the past. No-one wants to make them too sore. An afternoon exploring becomes an hour ambling, then half an hour sniffing every blade of grass. A determination not to let an old injury back in and to give them the optimal exercise, the exercise that benefits them but doesn’t harm them.
Living with an old dog teaches us gratitude. We are grateful for them, for the years we had with them, for their strength and the strength they give us. That’s the thing about gratitude, we forget how grateful we are when our blessings are unlimited, yet when we look at that grey nose and those stiff little legs , we realise that particular blessing is limited and we are grateful, so very grateful.
The warmth of their body and their smell becomes ingrained into us. So much so that every chance we get we take a big deep sniff of their warm belly because all dogs smell different and one day that smell might be gone, will be gone. Yes, we know going in that this dog will break our heart one day. We do it anyway because in all honestly every tear – every aching heart cell and every bit of love they give us is worth it.
When we bring a dog home we know going in that they don’t live long enough. We know that one day they will get old in front of us. We know that bits of our heart will grow over the years into the shape of that dog, until one day they burst.
But we do it anyway, because dogs are so very special that they are worth it.