Five Key Considerations
With two exceptions, my wife and I have owned at least one dog throughout our 44 years of marriage. The first exception was some thirty years ago when we still had two cats. The second exception is now.
Our beloved border collie, Skye, crossed over the rainbow bridge this past summer and we are still reeling in grief. We miss the joy of the greeting we received when returning home, regardless of whether we were gone 3 hours or 3 weeks. When the refrigerator ice maker grinds, there’s no waiting mouth to catch the one cube that falls outside the glass. We dote on friends’ new puppies and we still go the the dog beach in Jupiter, Florida to get our puppy fix. Witnessing the bond between the playful dog and his owner touches us and we get to explain our longing to a sympathetic ear. And we still have poop bags and dog treats in various pants and jacket pockets.
But after living without Skye for these 6 months, our answer to the inevitable question we’re asked, “Are you going to get another dog?” is now a bit less certain, and we’re a bit more hesitant to answer.
Our lifestyle has certainly changed. I felt no guilt escaping from the dreadful Florida weather this past August and September for what I call our “evacuation vacation.” And I certainly don’t miss having to walk Skye in the rain. But I clearly miss the devotion, companionship, and unconditional love I was granted from our dogs. In the past after we’d lost a pet, that alone always made my answer very simple.
So what’s changed? The answer is “my age.” I’m 74 years old now. Any dog we get will likely live 12 to 15 years, making me almost 90 years old. So as the title of this article says, “Am I too old to get another dog?” Here are some considerations I have as I age.
- Am I too old? I worry that I won’t be able to do all the things I need to do to raise a healthy and devoted companion. I can barely bend down now so the idea of pooper scooping 10 years from now is not a small concern. Will I have the energy to train the new member of our family? I’m used to a completely trained companion whom I could totally trust to stay by my side, even without a fence. Is it realistic for me to take on a young pup and expect that she’ll be as easy as Skye was? And what if we get a different breed, a dog who’s not as trainable as a border collie? Or we get an older dog whose already trained but now needs to be re-homed.
- What about my health? Other than orthopedic issues I don’t really have any medical problems. But what about tomorrow? Could the proverbial bus hit me, leaving the care of a young dog with my wife who’s also “of an age”? Or worse yet, with a stranger?
- What if I get seriously ill or die before the dog? When we lost Skye I consoled myself with the knowledge that I could deal with the grief better than she could. But we’ve all heard stories about dogs whose owners died and the dog grieved so much they wouldn’t leave the gravesite. Skye would have been devastated. For many years we were a team. She’d be broken. I’d feel immeasurable guilt knowing the pain I’d caused her. I’m sure I’d feel the same about another dog.
- What about our travel and other lifestyle activities? When we first adopted Skye, and throughout her life, she had a nanny who loved her as much as we did. We’d bring Skye and her brother to the nanny knowing that they were safe and thrilled to be there. Could we find someone else who cares as much for our new pup as we do? If not, how scaled back must we be? As retirees we have almost no other obligations and have made trips away from our dogs for as long as 4 weeks, an eternity for a dog. How long will it take before we could find someone who’d take on that responsibility for so long? Would we resent the fact that we’d never be able to go away for a month or longer without bringing the dog? If we can’t leave her for a long period, it means we’d have to take her with us. Well, as I wrote in my article, “Why I’m Thinking About Handing Over My Car Keys,” I’m not particularly thrilled with the notion of making road trips. And what about flying? There’s zero chance I would consider putting a dog on a commercial airplane as luggage.
- What about considering a different breed? To be able to fly in the cabin of a plane, a dog would have to be small. Is that the kind of dog I’d be happy with? Does this fit with my vision of a dog frolicking on the beach? Can I be ok with a smaller dog? For over 20 years I’ve had only border collies. My identity is tied to that breed (I love saying I’m happy having a dog that’s smarter than me).
I don’t have the answers. These are all considerations that I think many of us have or will face. A few years ago, when my wife and I bought a new bed, we joked that it may be the very last bed we buy. When we remodeled our current home we said this was going to be our “forever home.” Can I say that Skye was the last dog I’d ever own? No, definitely not. I love being with dogs too much to spend the rest of my life missing that part of me. Defining the problem is said to be the first step in coming up with a solution. So now on to step 2.