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old dog

“How could they?”

Those of you familiar with the story of Ma Kettle were most likely asking that question.

But before we judge too harshly, perhaps we should step back and face reality. True, those gray muzzles are soulful and sweet, but they can be difficult. They may forget things, like where to “go” and who you are. They wake up in the wee hours to bark at who knows what?

That’s why abandoned elderly dogs often face grim prospects.

Still, things turned out all right for Ma Kettle. And many people choose to adopt dogs beyond a certain age. Is it just sympathy, or have they learned the secret about life with an elderly dog? Perhaps they know that, like radioactive spiders, very old dogs endow people who truly love them with real superpowers.

Superpower # 1: Zapping Stains and Odors

Many elderly dogs can’t “hold it” like they did before, so living with one can be messy. In time, you gain an encyclopedic knowledge of the scent, strength, and relative merits of every enzymatic solution on the market. You perform feats of heroism with baking soda. You operate a SpotBot like it’s the Batmobile. As superpowers go, it’s not as glamorous as, say, seeing through walls or shooting spider silk through your fingers, but it’s a heck of a lot more practical.

Superpower # 2: Carrying Great Weights

Old dogs love routine. If part of that routine for the past decade has been sleeping with you in the upstairs bedroom, are you going to tell her that those days are over? It’s far better to cradle your old friend in your arms and carry her. Big-dog owners face truly Herculean tests of strength: Can a mere mortal climb 20 or more steps while carrying an 80-pound weight? When you love an old dog, you’ll discover muscles that you never knew were there.

Superpower # 3: Finding the Perfect Sleep Potion

She wakes up at 2 A.M., looking at a blank wall and barking like dog-eating zombies are breaking in. No matter what the species, seniors may experience changes in sleep/wake cycles. The result: You’re up until dawn. It’s easy to get angry but she’s not trying to be difficult. Pain, the urge to eliminate, anxiety, even a form of age-related dementia called “canine cognitive dysfunction” may be behind her night terrors. Massage or letting her sleep in bed with her people might help, as will anxiety-soothing supplements or products like DAP (dog appeasing pheromone). The problem is, she can’t talk, so she can’t help you sift through the dozens of possible reasons she’s barking at the wall in the middle of the night. You have to figure it out yourself. Loving an old dog forces you to hone powers observation and deduction. You’ll become a regular Sherlock Bones.

Superpower # 4: Traveling Through Time

Remember that summer evening so long ago when she chased dragonflies across the pond? Some experiences are seared into our hearts and minds, but do our dogs recall them? Conventional wisdom says no, but recent research suggests that dogs have both long-term memory and telepathy—they can read our minds. So sit back some evening with your dog and think about every detail of some lovely event of years past. Maybe your dog will be transported back, too. And even if not, dogs can sense when we’re happy, so it’s likely that you’ll have a wagging tail as you remember together.

Superpower # 5—Being Worthy

There’s a saying that goes, “Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.” It’s a sweet idea, but a little silly. Dogs are such loving creatures that they fling affection out liberally. Being worthy of their love is another story. It means making sacrifices, suppressing powerful emotions, and having the strength for the most dreaded and difficult of tasks, comforting your friend on that final journey. Luckily, you don’t have to be perfect. Old dogs, being the marvelous creatures they are, will forgive your weaknesses. In their eyes, just trying makes you Wonder Woman or Captain America, and certainly worthy of their love.
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