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Be Gentle: I know my dog is old
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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 63: Feb/March 2011
Susan Seligson's essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Salon.com, The London Times, and many other publications. She is the author of Going with the Grain (Simon & Schuster) and Stacked (Bloomsbury), as well as the co-author, with her late husband Howie Schneider, of several children's books, including the award-winning "Amos: The Story of an Old Dog and His Couch."

Image by Stephanie Checton.

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Submitted by sharon | November 12 2012 |

Oh Allie, sharing the same feelings exactly. I just lost my beautiful boy Bichon, Bossman last week, He was 18 and a half. People can be insensitive. I met a vet recently who was great and said "Age is not a disease".. bless her heart. If you would like to talk, pls leave me your email, I know it is a year for you and hope you are doing better.. I am miserable.. take care. Sharon

Submitted by SANDRA | December 8 2012 |

SO SO TRUE , , , THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR STORY.

Submitted by Donna | March 25 2013 |

Allie, you are so right! AND those people who buy a cute, fluffy puppy also don't realize that it probably came from a puppy mill, and that the mom and dad dogs are still imprisoned in a wire hell, cranking out puppies for some greedy mill operator! Those of us who rescue know REAL love!

Submitted by Carole Raschella | January 27 2012 |

Your article made me cry. Every word of it is so true. I have an eleven year old Irish Setter who is the love of my life...need I say more?

Maybe we should just ask these people if they would ask the same question of someone's 90 year old mother. Although "Do you know you have a wart on your chin?" I love it!!

I saw that you had an Irish Setter named Amos and smiled, because one of my very favorite Irish Setters is named Amos. Then I saw your byline and realized - such a small world - they are the same dog! I absolutely love "The Story of an Old Dog and His Couch"!! Not to mention the sequel, "The Amazing Amos." Oh...I have to go read them again...wonderful books...thank you.

Submitted by LadyPrimrose | March 20 2012 |

Thanks for this article. It made me cry for Pam and for myself as I have an old dog with an inoperable tumor. She is happy and in no pain so why do people have to be so ugly about it? I shouldn't have to wait until dark to play with my sweet dear old dog. Thanks for sharing.

Submitted by Carlos R. | May 28 2012 |

Thank you for writing this. I have five dogs, and two of them are in their golden years. One of them was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and is now a tripawd because of it. I have yet to experience any strangers making rude, tacky, or classless remarks like you talk about. I cannot imagine anyone being so thoughtless or insensitive when it comes to my dogs, who I love so much.

I know they are getting old. I see it everyday, and it makes me sad. I cannot bare the thought of not having them by my side one day. I don't know how I'll deal with it. I do everything I can to keep them as healthy as they can be. They get plenty of exercise, the best food I can afford, and lots of love. I've been researching supplements for dogs, and now all of my pack get fish oil, and the older ones also get glucosamine and chondroitin. I even started a website to help other people learn about the benefits of fish oil for dogs, and soon will do the same for glucosamine and chondroitin. I do not sell anything on my site, so if anyone is interested in checking it out, please feel free to drop by: http://efishoilfordogs.com I know it isn't pretty, but I'm learning as I go.

Thanks again for for this post.

Submitted by Catherine | June 14 2012 |

I laughed, I cried, and I took this advice. What a beautiful piece.

Submitted by John V. Brennan | June 20 2012 |

i'm a big fan of senior dogs and always try to promote them to those considering adoption... i have two seniors myself... and it's true.. senior dogs don't often get the same respect as their human counterparts... i'm glad somebody put it up for attention... thanks...

Submitted by Anonymous | November 21 2012 |

My sister had a dog that lived to be nearly 17 years old. During the last days of his life he became very thin and bony. (He was still eating at this point, but just couldn't keep weight on). People would question why he looked so "awful". He was obviously a senior. But he was happy and lively. I didn't like people assuming we didn't take care of him; on the contrary he lived a very long time!

Submitted by Anonymous | November 21 2012 |

What a beautiful story! I just lost my cocker spaniel at the age of 17 and it was so heart wrenching to have to make the decision to put her to rest. She had terrible skin problems in her later life, and yes, friends and family would say "what's wrong with her"? and make faces! Really? She was still the most beautiful sweet dog to me - and I made sure she knew it every day.

Submitted by Gretchen | December 8 2012 |

thank you for such a wonderful article. Full of humor and truth. I so appreciate this information getting out there.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 9 2012 |

I just had to out my dog down a few weeks ago. It was the hardest thing, I ever had to do in my life so far. I know exactly what your saying but it seems to me that people have become much more rude in general feeling as though they have every right to judge you and your life. Well, I just adopted two dogs yesterday from the SPCA, I needed to fill that empty space. Its crazy how much you can fall in love with animals.

Submitted by Louise | January 29 2013 |

I have just read your article - 2 years later but feel that I have to make a comment. My Irish Setter bitch Cleo is now 11 1/2 years old. She was recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure and she has very bad arthritis. BUT, and it is a huge but, she is being medicated for her heart condition and, along her pain medication for the arthritis, she is acting more like a teenager than when she was younger. It is as though she has a completely new lease on life.
Because of our particularly hot summer (in South Africa) I have had her shaved and she is all legs and feathery tail which look totally incongruous with her gentle grey face.
I have been told that she is really an ugly dog (I disagree because to me Irish Setters have to be the most beautiful dogs in the world)and I just don't care what people think. When she looks at me with those soulful deep brown eyes I am lost in the love that I feel for her.
As long as she is as frisky and chirpy as she is I will do everything in my power to keep her with us and to share the best years of her life with her - no matter what other people might say.
There is one problem however - along with this new lease on life she has also developed the most incredible appetite and nothing is safe from her greedy paws. Still it a small price to pay for the love she shows every minute of every day.

Submitted by Frekledmutt | March 1 2013 |

I love point of view!i had a dog who was 16 when she died.she was my family's guard dog.was killed in a fight.people commented on her age to.

Submitted by Lily | March 2 2013 |

My dog was adopted from the shelter, she was very overweight, people made unkind comments as we walked to get her fit. She lost weight, and we continued to walk until she could no longer. As she aged she required medication for her pretty severe arthritic condition. People comment your dog is limping etc. She loved going out even if it was just to the corner. She became such a sweet dog and towards the end of her life she continued to go out. I loved her very much and she will be forever missed. And yes having dogs is like breathing, you love them and they are never out of your mind.

Submitted by Puzzel | March 11 2013 |

This article left a lump in my throat.. I had a 'friend' that once said: " Your Maltese dog is so old (14yrs old).. can't i leave him behind someone's car for you just before they reverse"... needless to say that someone so insensitive is not my 'friend' anymore, i prefer the furry 'friends' .. unconditional love and acceptance that we could all practice in human life... my darling 'son' died a year ago of cancer complications RIP my Floyd, mommy loves you forever xxx

Submitted by Donna | March 25 2013 |

Well, I do think that people can be too sensitive. I assume that when someone comments on my dogs, they are being kind and sympathetic, and maybe just want to talk. BUT, several years ago I adopted a Pekingese (possibly a mix). She was the cutest little thing! However, the first time I took her out with me, some woman (about 30-40 years old) started laughing and pointing, and cackled, "That's the ugliest dog I've ever seen!" Too late I thought, I should have said, "Have you looked in the mirror lately?"

Submitted by boothy | March 26 2013 |

Im sat here, smelly dog at my feel, tears streaming down my face, after reading this letter.

My dog is 17, blind, smells like musty old socks, shakes, collapses, twitches due to a heart murmer, has recenty suffered a "stroke" and cant manage a proper walk ( this is recent problem) until last week when he was bitten by another dog. he would pld along as if walking on hot coals, then getting a whiff of a squirell race of in to the woods. Now he just aches, and shivers.

decline can be so rapid, alarming, isolating for both owner and pet. Yet my dog dexter, eats, sleeps, wees ( all over the place) licks my hand when approached, tried to sneak food off my plate or eat my crips. Waggs his tail when I get home from work, if fighting every inch of every day to stay alive. he is strong, I on the other hand cry with the humanity of his situation. But I will fight with him, for aslong as he wants me too.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 6 2013 |

I love dogs. plain and simple. And senior dogs are my favorite. I mostly feel sorry for the people out there who don't see the immeasurable value of a pet, even at an advanced age. This is when they need us the most. This is the time, after devoting their entire life to us, that we should give them our very best. I lost two senior dogs in 2011 and it was the worst year of my life. You think you won't make it, but you do. And now I have another. And I don't adopt puppies, I adopt older dogs. And I know I will go through that again. But every moment I have them in my life makes it worth it. We don't dispose of humans when they grow old, though I am also appalled at how little senior adults are valued as well. I love them too. A slow walk, a loving massage, a nap in the sun...we can embrace these moments with our pets and although it can be bittersweet, there is joy in seeing how we bring them comfort, let them know how important and loved they are, thank them for everything they've given. The same goes for people. So do what you want with your dogs - take them out in public, educate people on the value of their lives no matter what their age, tell them when they're hurtful or inappropriate. Or just feel sorry for them. Because karma is a bitch and one day they will grow old and fear their diminished bodies but know they still have much to give and teach and say that nobody seems to want to hear. And they may remember their lack of compassion when they were younger. Some people just don't know better. How sad for them to have lived and never have known the unexplainable love and bond a human can have with an animal. And be happy you are the loving person that you are. Because your dog knows, and in my opinion their is the only opinion that truly matters.

Submitted by Suzy Allman | April 13 2013 |

I really liked your comment -- I'm a "serial" elderly adopter, too. There's nothing like bringing an old dog home from the shelter or pound, and having him live out his days with your, hiking and then lazing around afterwards. Soooo much easier than life with a puppy or young dog, and it feels, to my mind, much more rewarding. Sure, you miss them when they're gone, and you have a bad day at the end, but then you have the opportunity to do it all over again. I'm with you -- YOUR DOG'S OPINION IS THE ONLY ONE THAT TRULY MATTERS! :0)

Suzy
www.charliedogandfriends.com

Submitted by Carol Menke-Clark | April 14 2013 |

Thanks for saying exactly what I feel. I too adopt elder dogs and lost so many in an 18 month period my neighbors were concerned for my sanity. BUT, Pheona and Noel who were "sisters" all their lives needed a home at 10 years old. They are now 14 and I know I won't have them with me much longer. Dodger was 8 when he came to live with us and is now about 11 and a real mommas boy!! They bring a lot of love and peace to my life and I know another special elder will need a happy place after these babies leave me.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 11 2013 |

I recently lost my Black Lab on November 21, 2012 to malignant melanoma and my Golden Retriever on March 19, 2013 to a pulmonary embolism. My heart has been breaking every day since. I most especially despise the people who have informed me that after all, "it is only a dog." My dogs are members of my family and as such deserving of my full respect, love and support. Anyone who thinks my beautiful companions are worth anything less than that are not worth my time, except to assure them that if they pass I will not mourn.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 20 2013 |

Children are a blessing and your pets are so a blessing. children grow up too fast and your dog, cat, or what ever will grow old to fast... My baby girl is a 12 year old perfect chocolate Labrador and all i want for her is comfort for the next year or so she will have with us. What wonderful gift she has been wish I had realized how fast time was going bye for her to be with us. Yep she is just a dog and a very good dog most everyone has told us for year's ...So if anyone tells me things that seem cold or cruel I just say to them she is worth every minute she has lived to make me happy every day the least I can do is show her kindly that she did a good job of it! Tell them with a smile! some people don't have the luck of the love of a good animal.

Submitted by Bill Beavers Do... | June 20 2013 |

Oh how sad. Yes so many of us have been through similar things. I can only assume that such comments come from folks who haven't been through what senior dogs and their owners go through. I've not had it happen to me personally but when it does I think I shall explode all over them. Great post. God Bless Old Dogs

Submitted by Maria | September 10 2013 |

This last paragraph just made me tear up. A year ago my 15 years old cocker spaniel passes away which left me and my now 12 yrs. old Wheaten. Last month I adopted a 10 yrs. old Wheaten and people always ask me why I adopted him. Well your last paragraph sums it up. Senior dogs rock!

P.S. When my Cocker was 11 I was asked "are you going to put him down since he is so old?" And my answer to them was "are you going to put your kid down for being disrespectful and annoying?" I couldn't help myself.

Submitted by Elizabeth | September 11 2013 |

When people say idiotic things like that to me they get the ENTIRE story. If my dog is old and sick I tell them all the details and explain how upset I am that my beloved dog may die very soon. That shuts them up quickly. And they feel like the jerks they are.

Submitted by Denise Bradley | September 11 2013 |

A beautiful article Nicole. It warmed my heart. We have a senior dog in our neighborhood named Mocha.....she always had a greeting for every human in the neighborhood and always had to say hello. I watch her now tired and frail walking with her owner who dotes on her...........that is love.....we now go to her to say hello as she is now not able to come to us...........we will miss her when she is gone.

Submitted by Tracy | September 11 2013 |

Well this made me shed a few tears.My dog passed away a few months ago after spending approx 15 years together but while my heart is breaking....i know that without him being in my life alot of things would of been harder to deal with. Tigger was his name and he never judged............he just loved no matter what. I miss him soooo much :(

Submitted by Krista | September 11 2013 |

My sister-in-law used to complain about how my aging Keeshond started to stink as she approached the end of her life. Old people stink, too, but usually people have enough manners and decency to not announce it.

Submitted by Caitlin Carpenter | September 12 2013 |

I loved this article. I'm going through this with my 10 year old ACD/Beagle mix. A very good friend was at my house the other day and commented, "Wow, Gus is getting thin. Is he getting enough to eat? Does he have worms?" No! I'm most definitely starving him, obviously!

I'm glad I'm not the only one hearing things like this.

Submitted by Sheila Jackson | September 12 2013 |

My little dog needs assistance to walk, so I already get "poor thing" so when they ask how old she is I've kept her at 7! At least I don't get the "oh, she's getting on isn't she" anymore!

Submitted by Sere | September 12 2013 |

Wonderful article. As the owner of a now deceased golden retriever bitch I understand this. I was lucky that my dog didn't show clear aging signs (she actually died of cancer at the young age of 10). I wanted to share a "happy" thought. She had been my companion for 10 years, from 17 to 27, for the last two years she had been sleeping at the feet of my bed, and had been with me constantly. It's complicate to say what I went through when she died, but I will tell you that all of my friends and family, even those who are not dog-people, were there for me. I was deeply moved by this. I wish for everyone to have family and friends so caring in time of need. I just wanted to say this, to share that not all is lost, there are still people in this world who are sensitive enough to care.
An insentive note from me, before my dog died strangers asked if she was a puppy, or said she couldn't be older than 2. She didn't look like an aging dog. I knew friends' dogs who were older than mine, looked frailer and of whom I had thought they would die soon who have outlived her. This makes me feel slightly angry at times. So a dog's look has nothing to do with how long they will live.

Submitted by sherie pollack | September 12 2013 |

I have quite a mouth on me. I've been confronted with this issue countless times; my 14 yr. old Bernese looks 108 - his approx. age, right? He walks slow and sometimes stops and thinks about something. Yes, don't we all. A neighbor (who has beloved dogs of her own) asked me, "How long do you think he has left?" My inner voice asked her "How long do you have left?" My outer voice said aloud;" As long as he wants." Another person became sad and said, " Poor dog". I said he's doing great actually, his arthritis is manageable and he's handling growing older just as we do - please don't be sad - he'll pick up on that - pet him, love him, that's what he's waiting for." She thanked me for teaching her how to 'act' - she didn't know. And thank you for this article.

Submitted by Ann M | September 12 2013 |

this is most timely...although I could have missed the tears I shed. My wonderful dog had his 4th birthday yesterday...It was completely bittersweet to me... I know I will grieve unbelievably for him when his time comes...and I must say I am more afraid of missing him, than my own old age which is coming upon me. He has and does mean the world to me, and I am so grateful for him. I was explaining this to my Dr. recently, (who helped me get him, and knows him well) and his response was the simple "It is better to have loved and lost" My dog has changed my life.

Submitted by Stacie Shirko | September 12 2013 |

I lost my 15 year old Border Collie two months ago. Both my mother (who is 93!) and sister told me I should have put her down (their words)long ago. At some point, when I can say it without bursting into tears, O plan to tell my sister never to say that to any friend of hers in a similar situation. Unlike me, her sister, they will never speak to her again.

Submitted by sue | September 12 2013 |

This article could not have come at a better time for me.My Bull Mastiff was diagnosed with Lymphatic cancer at the age of 12,last month.Chemo was tried,but unsuccessful.I heard no words of sympathy,what I did hear was how "cruel I was","she's old" and the best"why did you make her suffer?"My older dog is 14,has Cushings Disease and the hair loss and hind end weakness associated with this disease.He is very slow most of the time,but he is an old guy who deserves to do respected and taken care of as any elder.Say what they will I would not do anything different.

Submitted by Sarah | September 12 2013 |

I am currently living with 4 senior dogs - an 18 yr old dachshund, a 14 yr old bichon, an 8 yr old St. Bernard, and an 11 yr old mastiff. We always adopt seniors. I don't care how long we have with them or what we have to do to take care of their needs as they age. I only care that they have a loving home in which to live out their last years in peace and that they cross the bridge knowing they are loved as much as a human is capable of loving anything. It is heart-wrenching to have to say goodbye, but so worth it to have had that time with them.
This was a wonderful article that I will share as much as possible!

Submitted by Kevin | September 13 2013 |

I can't help but wonder if this is a regional concern. In the Midwest I would not expect someone to say such rude things. Thank you for bringing awareness to this concern.

Submitted by China | October 13 2013 |

What an awesome article. Grandma and caretaker of an almost 16 year old bichon, Daisy, I am writing through tears...these are the sweetest days. I live in a Sun City community designated for people 55 and older who understand the vulnerability of aging so it has been much easier as days go on. Walks around our house are major forays for Daisy Doodle as walking has become a bit difficult beyond that. People do comment on her age but in an admiring and compassionate way and for that I am grateful. Thanks again. We r preparing and your article helped.

Submitted by katy | November 11 2013 |

I actually see it in another way. I am a super dedicated animal lover and animal advocate. You sound like a good owner. Not everyone is. Sometimes they are ignoring a dogs hair loss, leaving a dog in too hot of a car, dragging an older obviously tired and overheated animal on a walk that needs to be stopped. In 110 degree weather I paged a man in the grocery store who left his lab in the car. He told me it was 'None of my business" I felt it was my business. So lighten up. Some of the comments are well meaning AND I'm never offended when someone points something out to me about my animal. I'm all over everything about him, but another animal lover cannot automically assume that. He's 12 and in good health..and yes..I will be lucky if I have him for another few years. Everyone knows that. If someone brings it up, I smile and say true, we are enjoying every minute. If he looks like he is not enjoying, then the person needs to be told. None of it is about us sister, it is all about them. It's not when YOU are ready to let go. It is the owners responsibility to take themselves out of the equation and let the animal go when they are ready. Some owners need to be monitored and I applaud those people willing to get involved and analyze the situation thus, putting the owner on notice. It's an animal who can't speak for itself, it is always my business.

Submitted by Pam S | April 1 2014 |

I lost my first show champion, and best and all-my-heart dog, a lovely Irish Setter with the ordinary name of Casey, at the age of 13. That dog has been gone five years now, but I still grieve like it was just yesterday. Casey of the ordinary name, but not-so-ordinary life was the dog of a lifetime for me. I have five dogs now - and three are Irish Setters - one is Casey's great-grandson. Each is precious and special in his own way. My oldest now, is Ch Merlin - a Rusticwood dog, who is now 7.5 years old - he is unique among any I have ever had. Anxious, doesn't like being touched except by family, bread-stealer, chicken-herder, storm-whiner, belly-acher-when-he's-outside-aloner. There is wild and crazy Stone - now nearly four - who gives crazy a bad name - sweet, loving, wild, crazy, escape-artist, Houdini, runner-amoker, be-gone-five-miles-away-hunting-not-even-knowing-it's-10-degrees-outsider-don't-make-me-com-inner dog, and sweet adorable peanut-dog, Jimmy the Peanut - I-have-to-be-higher-than-everybody-elser dog, what-can-I-climb-up-on-to-be-king-of-the-mountain-er dog, snuggler-panter-in-your-facer dog.

I hate to see them get old.

Submitted by Steven Zeluck | April 3 2014 |

Susan, a comforting and supportive article, thank you. I just lost my dearest friend after 14 1/2 years and had endured some of the attitudes you describe. The last paragraph really reached into my heart about the "absolute critical sweetness." Your thoughtful and true comments hold much meaning and personal significance for me at this difficult time in my life. Very best wishes.

Submitted by Steven Zeluck | April 20 2014 |

Susan, I thoroughly enjoyed your article. I can completely relate. I made a decision to put my dog down about six weeks ago. He was 15 years and eight months and had a great life (except for year prior to me adopting him). But when he was 13 and 14 we had skin issues until we got the right meds. He also had a dysfunction of one of his legs due to damaged nerves and limped along (more often than not as time went on). I also received a lot of unsolicited, unwanted comments. On the other hand I received compliments on how great he looked for his age, which more than made up for the negative commentary. Your article, particularly during a time of grief, shed a little warmth and gentle humor into what was and is a devastating personal loss, and I'm sure your other readers feel similarly if they own an aging or recently departed best friend. Thank you!

Submitted by sara | June 10 2014 |

HELP- I have a 15 year old senior dog, a ShiuTzu- we rescued him from our next door neighbors when he was 13- they were taking him to the pound-I said no, we will take him- which we did and could not love him more if we had had him since a pup- he is now, blind, can't hear and has seizures on occasion- the issue is grooming-- my groomer lets me stay with and hold him while she grooms him- I bathe him at home before we go-- it is getting tougher and tougher to do-he fights like a little tiger and he gets so upset he had a seizure today-- he can't not have a bath - so what is the best way to bathe him without getting him so upset-I have never had a furry who lived to be this old. All of my dogs have been rescues and have not lived beyond 14 yrs.. I can't put him through that ever again. I could ask my vet for a small sedative I guess, but Oscar has a bad heart so not sure that would be good for him, but then getting so upset is not either.. any ideas on how to handle this-thanks....

Submitted by jacob natoli-henry | June 28 2014 |

i am sad about my dog right now. one of my earliest memories is being 7 years old and picking him out from the breeder. it was not hard he was running around with 2 of his brothers playing tag(maybe a a couple months old or less im not sure) and we walked through the gate Hero came right up to us(my mom and i) to check us out. and has beeen my best friend ever since. now im 22 and hes turning 16 this year. a couple months last year and all of this year i have not been living at home. Noe one will walk him and my parents refuse to let me pay someone to do it. last time i walked him the neighbor were saying what a cute puppy he is... ''tear''. i have just gotten a car so i'm going be able to drive home to see him when i get off work real soon.

Submitted by abc | July 6 2014 |

if someone said something about my old fart a bordercollie cross muriba I would probably say something back that would be quiet rude just to basically say I don't give a flying duck about how old he is he is still my presious I have had hime since I was five and he is now nine

Submitted by Linda | July 18 2014 |

I've adopted two female senior greyhounds in the past 10 years. It's hard to have a thing for seniors because they break your heart fast. I consider myself lucky, because my first made it to almost 14 years and my current hound is 13. If we're out walking, people will comment on how skinny my hound is. Greyhounds are skinny anyway, but unlike most dogs they lose weight as they age, instead of gaining it. I've practically been accused of not feeding my first hound, Gracie, when it turned out she had undiagnosed gastric cancer. I wish people would realize that this is a breed that just gets thinner with age. Maybe that would help.

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