Common wisdom has always taught that a year in a dog’s life is worth about seven years in the life of a human being. A five year old dog is well into adulthood, 35 or so in ‘human’ years, a dog of 10 twice that age and 70. A bit of research shows (one day we won’t use the term ‘research’ anymore, we’ll just say ‘google’) that this calculation is not exactly accurate, although it holds fairly true. Instead, dogs age more rapidly when they are young, and the process slows as they get older. The first year or two of a dog’s life approximates the first 15 years a human is alive, while a dog who is 10 is considered to be in his or her mid-60s, just easing into retirement, so to speak.
That is just about where our venerable pooch is, turning 11 this September, in fact celebrating that milestone on the first day of Rosh Hashanah this year. I was in my early forties when we got him, and at first his boundless energy practically overwhelmed us. We were just emerging from a ‘child chasing’ phase, and here was this creature that did not stop moving, that tugged us through the neighborhood to the point where we could barely keep up. His exuberance was exhausting!
But of course in a decade he has aged past us, as dogs must. Lately I have felt like he is showing me the way, and I only hope I can remember the lessons. With greying whiskers he sleeps a little later, and more often. It used to be that he was waking us up in the morning, and now he often stays comfortably in bed when I come down to make the coffee, eying me warily while he contemplates his first walk of the day. He gets up more slowly now, and it requires more effort. He likes to look out the window before he goes out the door, as if to make sure there are no surprises waiting out there, something he never would have considered even five years ago. He has taken to groaning as he settles into a resting position, almost saying under his breath ‘a kvetch here, a kvetch there, you know how it goes.’
Walks are often slow affairs now. There are many pauses, breaks are taken, there is much lying down and rolling in the cool grass, one of his favorite pastimes on warm summer days. There are occasional bursts of energy. Garbage collection days (Tuesdays in our neighborhood) are exciting, because you just never know what you might find lying around on the curb! He enjoys his friends, and his nub will wag vigorously when a playmate approaches. He might dart and yelp excitedly, even briefly wrestle with a younger dog. But the sprints are shorter, the wrestling bouts less intense, and he is often just as content to lie down and watch the goings on, just happy to be in the company of an old companion. I often wonder if they somehow telepathically share old memories, hashing over the good times in the past – “How are you getting along old chap? Do you remember that day we wrestled in the mud?! What fun that was, what a beautiful spring that year!”
There is a wonderful word, one of my favorites, and rarely used these days – gloaming. It means twilight, that indistinguishable moment when dusk settles in, and suddenly you are sure that day is about to end and night will surely follow. It comes from the Old English and is of Germanic origin, originally with a connotation of ‘glow.’ There is after all that certain glow that lights the sky just before darkness, that lingers for just a moment or two on the rooftops and the tree leaves – it has a golden sheen, almost magical, soft and hazy and virtually imperceptible, yet unquestionably there, perhaps more sensed than seen – the gloaming.
That is where our dog now resides. Not a bad place by any means, with long and languorous walks, frequent opportunities to explore the world around him, many chances to nestle next to one of his humans while a TV plays in the background or a guitar is gently strummed. His stresses are few, his pleasures many, his accumulated wisdom always on display. And the golden sheen softly but surely glows.