As human beings, we seem to constantly be looking to the future: planning things for later, with an assumption that there will be a “later”. We rarely really live in the moment, appreciating the present and savoring it. We think there will always be time to learn to speak another language, visit a friend, or take the dog for a walk. Plenty of time…until there isn’t.
The truth – and we all know it – is that we don’t know how long we have on this mortal coil. Watching our older dog age has really driven the point home: dogs age differently than we do, so those long days she spent alone at home while we did protracted commutes to our desk jobs probably felt like an eternity to her. She was always happy to see us, regardless of how much time had elapsed; when she was a very small puppy, she’d dance around in her pee and poop (because she was in an exercise pen with potty pads while we were away) in her excitement at our return. Even after a ridiculously long day with an arduous commute, the anticipation of cleaning up the mess, and despite the soul-sapping weariness, her joy would bring a smile to our faces.
Our dog will be 14 this year. She’s had both of her knees done (TPLO surgeries, years ago) and, more recently, had a large, malignant thyroid tumor removed. The veterinary oncologist we saw after we received the cancer diagnosis estimated that we had, on the long end, another year with her. Well, that year has come and gone, and she still spends her days napping in the sun, (slowly) chasing her much-younger sister around in the grass, getting a snack every evening, and growling at any of our cats that tries to snuggle up with her. She takes her thyroid medication daily, eats grain-free kibble with homemade bone broth, and thinks fruits and vegetables are treats. Her quality of life, of paramount importance to us, is still good.
Much like parents of human children, we have regrets about how we raised her, mainly around how we put so much time into work and commutes…which left very little time for anything else. Her precious puppy years flew by. She loved camping and we did some – mostly when she was young – but we haven’t gone camping now in years. As our careers progressed, job demands left little flexibility for activities like camping (heaven forbid that we should be unreachable by phone or email for non-emergent questions). Sadly, now, she wouldn’t be able to do those hikes in the mountains we used to enjoy so much. Even a long walk would probably be too taxing – those knees that underwent surgeries are aren’t as strong as they used to be and are now a touch arthritic, and she doesn’t see as well.
An average human lifespan is roughly five times as long as a dog’s, but at the end, it will still seem like it wasn’t enough time. Just like when our dogs’ lives draw to a close, we’ll wish we had had more time with them. Maybe we can make time seem to slow down a bit by really trying to appreciate each moment, living as if there really may not be decades more in the future…focusing on the things that really matter, right now. In retrospect, I would, in an instant, trade the job that required such a long commute for one where I made less money and was closer to home, just to be able to spend the extra 3-4 hours a day with our puppy. I’ll never have those puppy years back, regardless of how much I wish I did.
I didn’t have the perspective back then that I do now; I see the world differently and if that makes me an anomaly, I can live with it. My time is what matters now – not presenting the right image with an expensive car or home, or having an impressive job title. And I’ll be spending as much time as possible with my old dog, without regrets later about how I missed her “golden years”.
Note: this post was originally drafted in April 2017, but it sat, patiently waiting, for the “right” time to post it: now. It’s been six months since Xena left this mortal plane and we miss her every day…but we cherish the time we were able to spend with her at the close of her life. It was truly priceless.