On Aging

Time has crept up on Nike and I. He has transitioned both suddenly and gradually into seniority– a conflicting feeling I haven’t yet reconciled. It’s almost as if we were still playing agility and running uphill together during hikes just last year, and yet at the same time it’s another lifetime away.

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There was a time I when I remember thinking: he’s only three, we have so much time– to realizing quite suddenly that in fact he was four, that I had lost count. My chest ached, the fleeting feeling of a year slipping away in a moment being quite overwhelming to my high school-aged self. After that I pushed all thoughts related to mortality as far back in my mind as I could. I didn’t want to dwell on the inevitable, I wanted to seize what time we had the best way possible. Life got in the way of that ideal, though. I left for college and lived in the dorms. I came home multiple times a week to visit– I was home almost every weekend to train, to compete, and to just be with him. But yet, there went four more years. The end of which left me craving a puppy and thinking what possibilities existed outside of my blue merle boy.

I cried when we brought Bolt home because I felt this immense sense of guilt. I had replaced Nike (so I lamented). I had split my attention for him, I had somehow ruined a part of our ability to communicate– I hadn’t done those things entirely, but it was impossible to convince me otherwise at the time. The thing is, when we take on the role of a multiple-dog household we do split our attention, it’s inevitable. Puppies take up an incredible amount of time in the beginning, especially when we’re trying to lay down the right foundation for a puppy with all the potential in the world. Two more years slipped past, our time in the ring slowed, and culminated with what would unknowingly be our last weekend of agility, followed by surgery.

Impossibly, he was eight.

Years of competing with Bolt have since come, life has continued to propel us forward, and this summer Nike grayed in the face a little more, his joints began to betray him, he slept more. He turned eleven.

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This past weekend I went to my Dad’s house to train. Nike came with me to run around and “help” with the set up. He enjoyed his time rolling in the grass and getting cookies for doing nothing aside from being full of love, happiness, and barks. I walked up the flight of stairs to the deck and called for him to follow me. He stopped rolling, looked up; confused he began to wander. I called and waved again and we all sort of giggled before he started walking quickly towards the driveway, my car (and the street) in the opposite direction from us. I scrambled down the steps and when he saw me it was with obvious relief. Suddenly I realized he couldn’t see me from where I had stood. That my voice hadn’t been enough for him to follow. His eyes and ears are beginning to fail him.

He’s still quite active, even if not the same as before. He falls behind on hikes after a little time. We don’t take him on hill climbs, or anything too strenuous or too long. He doesn’t keep up when we play fetch in the back yard and so he gets his own personal (shorter) throws instead. He doesn’t do agility– though the occasional run through the tunnel, or between bars on the ground makes him incredibly happy. We’ll keep accommodating the best we can to make sure he’s still included. He still hates having his picture taken, so I don’t force him to stand for them as much as before (sometimes, though, I sneak them in quickly).

(Lack of photo enthusiasm present)
(Lack of photo enthusiasm apparent)

Losing some of what we had before is hard, but there’s so much joy in a senior dog. There is a sort of softness that replaces their once hardened edges. There is a sweetness that comes with the gray hairs, the dulling eyesight and hearing. Nike was once known for his inability to ever settle down (I had to put a command to it). He incessantly paced. He was always busy, he had a nervous energy that occupied his mind and his feet at all times. That, thankfully, has ebbed.

Age brings comfort. Maybe not in all aspects– Nike certainly has been dealing with the rigidity of aging bones and joints. But the comfort comes in knowing each other deeply. I can predict him in ways that I can’t always predict Bolt. He has his routine, his schedule, and his quirks like any other older gentleman might. Likewise, he knows me fully. He may not be as sensitive to emotions as his younger brother, but he can still predict me. He has been my constant for eleven years. Through high school, college, and graduate school. Through four jobs, a first apartment, and a future husband. We are a well-worn pair together now.

Age brings calm. He settles into any situation now. He greets strange people and dogs with a wagging tail– something that would have been impossible when he was younger. He accepts change easily. He doesn’t stress. There is more rolling in the grass and sleeping on the couch. He doesn’t seem to mind being left out of some adventures, preferring a long nap instead (even if it still makes me sad). He follows along diligently on walks, just not as fast as he was before. He approaches life unhurried. I know when his hearing is fully gone this may change– but if my first sheltie, Flame, was any indication his sleep will become deeper, his calmness more pronounced. He will resonate tranquility.

Age puts things in perspective. When our dogs become seniors what was important before seems to matter less. Nike’s agility accomplishments are a nice reminder of what we did together when we played– but they don’t define him. The things we didn’t accomplish don’t matter at all any longer. When I was younger, I thought they would. A part of me thought I would feel like we failed as an agility team if we didn’t achieve certain goals. But everything we strived for together helped shape the trainer and handler I am now.

Age make us thankful. I’m so grateful for our journey. For our mistakes and our lessons. For everything he taught me about agility, perseverance, and love. I know eleven isn’t all that old, but I’m thankful for making it to this point with him as healthy as we have. I’ll continue to be grateful for what we are able to do together in the coming years, even though I know it’ll slow down more as time goes on. It’s okay, time on the couch is nice too.

Age teaches. I hope to approach the coming senior years with Nike the way he has– with grace, humility, full acceptance, and, more importantly, with peace. There’s so much to learn from old dogs (arguably the best kind of dogs) about life, and aging, and happiness. They show us patience. They don’t fear the future, much less the past. They don’t despair over what’s been lost, but rather they embrace what’s still there.

And there’s much left to love.

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