Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 817 Dogs

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

I’ve titled this podcast “Dogs”.

When our daughter left home to go to college, she gave us a “replacement” to keep us company; Zack, a black German Shepherd puppy. She picked him out of a litter of nine pups. He was the runt of the litter; lingered at the back of the group, wobbly, skinny, looking sick. She always liked to help out the less fortunate. We took him straight from the breeder to the vet. He was really sick; stayed there three days. But, he lived. A year passed and I called the breeder to thank him for the wonderful dog. He was amazed. All of the other “healthy” puppies had died. A virus had run through the litter. Zack was the sole survivor. We retired one year later.

On the recommendation of a friend, who raised dogs by the dozens, we bought a book by the Monks of New Skete. We followed it to the letter. Zack was held and stroked from the moment we got him. Of course, the care under the veterinarian didn’t hurt. But, we gave him loving; hands-on attention and he thrived. I think of nursing homes where dogs sometimes visit and the residents stroke the dog’s fur. There is something magical about dogs and human beings. We depend on; get energy from and care about each other. Dogs lick our faces. We stroke their backs.  It’s the touch – or the caring.

The first night Zack was in our house we put him in the garage for a few minutes. He started to bark as soon as the door closed. We moved him into a small kennel at the foot of our bed. We threw one of my old shoes in with him. He never again barked at night. Dogs don’t like to be alone. They are pack animals. They want to be close. For thirteen years he slept in the hall at the entry into our bedroom.

Dogs and people seem to be a perfect match – especially dogs and older people. Older people who have a dog live longer. They are friends, they are company, they are family. When friends visited us Zack sat silently in the living room and stared into their eyes. Some called him a Buddhist dog.

We never made a scene when we came or went. There were no goodbyes and no hellos. He never got excited at our coming or going. We raised him by the book with one exception. It was a big mistake - we did not socialize him with other dogs when he was a pup. We paid the price. He was never good around other dogs. Not real bad – just edgy. It was our fault. I am reminded of a quote by George Attla, a famous musher and dog trainer in Alaska, who said that there was no such thing as a bad dog, only a bad dog owner.

We have a dog park just a few hundred yards from our house. We walk past or through it most every day. Many people gather there to exercise their dogs and to socialize – both themselves and their dogs. It is amazing how many people will stop and talk to you if you have a dog with you. The only thing that opens more doors to conversation is to have a puppy with you. Then the whole world feels free to stop, talk, and stroke the young dog. A person that is new to town and wanting to make contact with people could do no better than to get a puppy.

My retired neighbor has had six dogs over the last 30 odd years. They have all looked the same to me; same breed, same size, same coloring - a dachshund.They walk the dog many times during the day. First he takes the dog for a walk; then she takes the dog for a walk; then he again, then her again. It goes on all day and into the night. They dress it with a sweater in the winter.  When the dog gets older they carry it on the journey away from the house and let it walk home. They have paid three hundred dollars in vet bills for a neighbor’s dog; five hundred for another. They care for all the dogs in the neighborhood.

My son’s father-in-law when in his eighties had become very withdrawn. He liked to just sit at home; sit in a chair and read or watch television. His family worried about him. His wife brought home a little dachshund from the pound. He and the dog bonded. It made, “a world of difference” in his life.  He has a reason to get up. He was much more engaged about everything; more positive, alert, more social. The dog would sit in his lap.  He stroked the dog; talked to the dog. Life was better. 

It has been over twenty years since our good dog, Zack, died. We did not get another dog. Why? We move between two countries every week for thirteen of those years. It required that we cross an international boundary. A dog would complicate the process even more than it already was.

Family circumstances will bring another dog into our life sometime this year. It will be interesting and perhaps very rewarding once again. We shall see. I am not looking forward to picking up dog poop but other benefits may vastly outweigh that single, daily task.  There is something about unconditional love – it isn't easy to find. But that is what a dog gives to a person. It can be a great boon to retirement.

This is retirement talk.





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