I am an independent wolf researcher and have been observing wild wolves in America for over 30 years. Several times a year I flew to Yellowstone National Park to participate in the wolf project. During that time my Labrador Shira remained in the care of my parents. I've missed her painfully every time, writes Elli Radinger.
On her 11th birthday, it suddenly became clear to me that I wouldn't have much time left with her. The thought that she was dying and I was 10,000 km away on the other side of the world was unbearable for me. Our time together was running out. I did not want to be without my dog anymore. My priorities had changed. My dog was more important to me than the wolves, more important than anything.
So I gave up my wolf research to be with Shira. I now feel blessed that the two of us can grow old together. Every day she shows me her love and teaches me new life-lessons.
Lesson #1: Adapt
Living with an old dog can be can be exhausting and expensive. He may need a special diet, medication, special medical care. Shira is now approaching her 15th year. I have adapted my life to Shira. She regularly receives physiotherapy and there are orthopedic dog beds in every room.
I have moved my bedroom from the first floor to the ground floor so that she no longer has to climb stairs and I can let her out more easily at night. She is walking much slower than before, our daily rounds are getting shorter. Sometimes she just wants to lay in the sun for a while instead of going for a walk, or she doesn't want to "play" with other dogs, especially stormy young puppies.
K9 Magazine's older dog, Mia enjoying some sunshine
My Golden Girl is deaf and I communicate with her in sign language – something we can teach even young dogs, and which will make our life easier in old age. We are both more relaxed and don’t take everything so seriously anymore. Recently Shira stole a sausage from the kitchen table for the first time in her long life – and I was delighted.
We adjust to our old companions. To their quirks, infirmities and peculiarities. To their stubbornness and their weaknesses. And we love them just for that.
Lesson #2: Accept the things you cannot change
The way dogs deal with their ailments or changes in their lives is particularly exemplary. Shira accepts the inevitable, such as the occasional joint pain, or limitations to her quality of life. She does not fight against it, but simply enjoys her life in every moment.
Chloe always lived in the moment (usually found with a toy next to her)
Lesson #3: Age is a question of attitude
We humans try to escape age in one way or another. Is there a secret formula, a recipe for a long life? I haven't found one. You can do everything right - healthy food, sport, positive attitude to life - and then you walk out the door and get run over by a truck.
I've learned not to drive myself crazy anymore - or let myself drive others crazy. Why should I? We're all getting old, that's the way it is. Let's make the best of the rest of our lives.
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Lesson #4: You don’t have to be perfect
Dogs couldn’t care less about their appearance. They don’t compare themselves to other animals. Imagine how much time and money we humans spend to look good and how hard we work for self-improvement. And when it doesn’t work, we become frustrated and unhappy.
We even want our dogs to be perfect: beautiful, obeying our every command, the perfect creatures in the world. What heavy burden are we putting on them – and us. Old dogs teach us to accept our own shortcomings. They are not worried about gaining weight or doing more exercise. The world is beautiful as it is, we don’t need to change it.
Jackson, the dog who inspired K9 Magazine
Lesson #5: Life is here and now
If Shira was to design a calendar, on every page she would write “Now”, because that’s all that counts for her. “Later” is a word that doesn’t exist. Dogs live in the here and now. Not in the five minutes just gone, not in the future. In the present. They interact with the world fully and directly. They are happy where they are.
Lesson #6: The greatest gift
Old dogs make us realize how precious the time is that we spend together.
When an animal that has lived with us for many years grows older, we learn to deal with change, to accept the inevitable and to live consciously in every moment. Shira makes me aware of the limited time we have and makes me enjoy every moment of our lives.
What a gift life is. Everything happens exactly as it is meant to happen.
Our old dogs are wise to the secret of happiness: 'give me a bone and I will be happy; give me place in your heart and you will be happy'.