I spun around in my kitchen to see Sassy, my soon to be 15 year old mix breed dog, flat out on the floor. I ran over to pick her up but she gathered herself fairly quick (ok, quick-ish. She’s old, after all) and continued waddling through the house.
Supposedly a dog’s first year of life is equal is to 12 human years, then every year after is equivalent to 7 years. If my math is correct, that makes Sassy around 110 years old. It’s a sobering thought.
Most days, no one in my house even realizes how old she is. Chris will sit on the deck and throw a ball for her endlessly. She’ll out last my Springer who is a third of her age. Pauly will put his clothes on her, complete with sunglasses just as he’s been doing for the better part of a decade. Ringo and Magoo jump on her, swat her on the chops and generally annoy her like she’s a spring chicken.
I, however, am keenly aware of her age. I adopted Sassy when she was about a year old and I was living in Manhattan. She was the littermate of my first dog Nellie and had ended up with a guy who tried to use her for dog fighting. Sassy was very frisky as a young dog but she’s no fighter. Through a variety of different channels, North Shore Animal League located me as the owner of Nellie and called and asked if I would like to take her sister. Nellie at this point was very big for my 250 square foot apartment but I said I’d meet her and see how it went. Well, I took one look at her - and her ripped up belly and her neck that had a choker chain IMBEDDED into her skin (it was so tight it caused her left eye to bulge out) - and said, “Give me the dog.”
That was in 1996. Since then, Sassy has been with me through moving out of the city, buying a house, getting married, having a baby, getting divorced, selling a house, buying another house, acquiring Ringo and Magoo and welcoming Chris to the chaos that is my household. She’s been through every mayor life event I have had in 15 years. There are people who haven’t stood by me through all of that. Sassy, however, she’s always there. She’s on the couch, she’s barking in my ear, she’s just there.
I’m not saying she is exactly the same as when she 3. However, she’s in amazing health. And other than having staring contests with the chair “If I look at you hard enough, you will lower so I don’t have to jump”, getting lost behind the deck “Ringo! Get me out of here, I have no idea where I am!”, walking into a room and seemingly forgetting why she went in there (I’m 39 and do that so I feel for her on that score) behaviorally Sassy is a rock star. Admittedly, she’s bossier in her later years than when she was middle aged: If she doesn’t want Ringo on the couch, she bats him on the snoot and growls. She’ll chase Magoo away, apparently for no other reason than she knows she can. But hey, there have to some benefits to being the matriarch of the pack. For the most part she’s a benevolent ruler. They respect her and take the hint. Then an hour goes by and they are right back to annoying the ever lovin heck out of her.
Regardless of how spry she is, we make concessions for her. Chris brought her a bunch of sweaters for the Winter because she clearly feels the cold more than our other 2 dogs and he covers her each night before we go to bed (we get up in the morning and she‘s still under the afghan, right as we left her). I keep the AC away from where she usually sleeps so she doesn’t get a chill. She can’t jump on Pauly’s bed anymore so I have a pillow in his room for her to sleep on. We give her chewies for her hips since they seem a little sore every now and again.
I’m not writing this because Sassy died. In fact, she appears to be quite far from death and will huff at me if she overhears me telling someone how I can’t believe she’s still kicking around. I really do think all her innards were replaced with bionic parts.
No I’m writing this now as a plea to my fellow dog lovers to consider adopting an older dog the next time they are in the market for a pet. I know puppies are cute - believe me, I know, I hog them all at work. I also know there is the idea that getting a young dog means they are more trainable. I know all of this.
But what I also know is older dogs have less of an agenda than puppies. They just want to hang out. Go for walks. Take in whatever Life has for them. Their eyes are more soulful; they understand you and know just how you feel and how to make it all better. Older dogs know how to celebrate little things like car rides and backyard BBQs without turning it in a sitcom-esque disaster. They aren’t hell bent on running and chewing and pooping on the new carpet. Most of the time they come already house trained and if they have a behavioral issue, it’s usually something quite fixable with a training lesson or two. All things considered, the investment you make in a older dog is peanuts compared to what it takes properly raise and train a puppy or adolescent dog.
When I look at Sassy snoozing in the sun on the deck, I think about - GOD FORBID - what she would’ve been like if I’d had to give her up during one of the many upheavals I’ve experienced in her lifetime. How much trouble would she have been? I tell you how much. None. She enjoys an occasional game of fetch, eating dinner, maybe a bone and a nice place to sleep. That’s it. No intense training or exercise or special food. She’s just a little Granny who wants to be with her family. And because of her, I think every family should have a little Granny that hobbles around, keeps everyone in line and watches the snow fall on the couch while wearing a sparkly pink sweater.