Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Youth vs. Age (#atozchallenge)

After yesterday's post, you probably think I'm partial to puppies. Who wouldn't be? Little bundles of cuteness overload, a pristine mind, character yet unshaped. Puppies--like the bunnies and chicks that symbolize Easter--offer a fresh start. A blank page. Holding a puppy in your arms is like holding the future. And our dreams for it.

It's no surprise that puppies get adopted a lot faster than adult dogs. Which presents a problem for rescue organizations.

Two, actually.

The first, most obvious, is that adult dogs have ever-narrowing chances of finding a good home. By "adult" I don't mean "senior"--even one- or two-year-old dogs get passed over for puppies. And every time that happens is another nail in their coffins. (If only they had coffins.)

The second problem is, actually, the core problem of dog rescuing. Where do all these homeless dogs come from? Sure, a lot are born homeless (especially in third-world locations like the Caribbean and Latin America)--but not all of them. A huge number started out life in homes, in families--a family that wanted that "bundle of cuteness overload", that "fresh start". But puppies don't stay puppies forever. They grow. Oh, so very, very fast.

Raising a puppy is every bit as challenging as raising a child. With one significant difference: you've got around six to eight years, depending on the branch of child psychology you prefer, to form that child's foundation of values and principles. With a puppy, you've got months. And not that many.

I get it; all you want to do with a puppy is cuddle and take pictures. What do you do when you find him cutting his tiny baby teeth on your Gucci loafers? You go Awwww, snap a photo, post it on Facebook, and all your friends go Awwwww too. And how can you possibly leave that itty-bitty baby in a crate all night? No, no; he sleeps in the bed with us. Plenty of time to teach him later.

Too many people fall in love with the baby cuteness and forget its days are numbered--until, one day, the puppy is no longer a puppy, it's a grown dog that growls at you when you try to get him off the bed. Off goes the ex-puppy to the shelter (or the street).

Raising a puppy to be a calm, independent, happy adult--the companion of your dreams--is hard work.

An adult dog comes with challenges, too, but they're of a different nature. They're already there, immediately visible so you can decide whether you can or cannot deal with them.

An adult's basic character traits--full of energy or mellow, social or not, a cuddler or a loner--have already been established and (unless you're into rehabilitation, which is a whole different ballgame), won't change.

An adult is much easier to train; they've lived enough to know, for example, that going potty in the same place where you sleep or eat is a bad idea. They test boundaries less. They love with less distraction, less challenge.

And yet ninety percent of people will stride past the adult cages at a shelter without so much as a second glance.

Why is it that we value youth so much more? Not just a dog's--ours, too. The golden years were in our teens, our twenties. Growing old seems like the end of everything, a tragedy that most people go to extreme lengths to postpone--as if it could be. Lying about their age; using all sorts of creams, make-up, concealers, magic potions. Studying pop culture to be in with the newest slang, the latest fashions, the hippest music. Going under the knife.

Why? Why is the passing of time so dreaded? Isn't it through this very passing that we acquire experience? Why is being older so bad?

Older dogs may not have the effervescence of puppies--thank heavens--but they have plenty of energy to keep any human company in the exercise department. Older dogs don't have to chew on everything to figure out what they like; they already know what tastes good, what doesn't get them into trouble--and they can spend more time chewing that.

Relationships with older dogs are more fulfilling--more time spent in quiet contemplation rather than in a tug-of-war to establish who's who. Power struggles and pissing contests aren't necessary.

I think that's also true of our own relationships as we get older.

~ * ~

Thank you for visiting, for all your awesome comments, and for helping make Life In Dogs's 
first A-to-Z Challenge a huge success. 
I look forward to many, many mutual visits.


  1. my sis in law works at the Humane Society and when 101 Dalmations came out she was so upset because people would get all these dalmation puppies for their kids for Christmas and birthdays. They never read up about the personality of the dalmation so, what happened? The Humane Society got inundated with dalmations. people look at the cute just like a baby and forget to discipline. When they grow, whether it is a doggie or a child, they have no idea of boundaries and create damage. When it reaches a certain point, there is chaos so people give up their dogs (they may wish to give up their kids but that's another story). I got Katie from the pound and she was over a year old. Wallace is our rescue dog. The older dogs need love and companionship and should never be overlooked. I often what I could do in my area to help out more

  2. Frequently, it is the older dog; the dog of which its owners have grown tired, the dog whose owner has died or moved into residential care or into a smaller home where the dog just can't fit; that needs help most. This brings two difficulties. Firstly, you don't know all of the dog's background and training (one of our dogs was owned by a Frenchman. It took some time before he learned some English commands, and still, he only sits to the command "assis"), or all of its likes, dislikes, fears and hangups. That can all be dealt with, though, with a little patience. The greater difficulty, and the one that demands most strength of character from the dog's new companion human, is that the time between acquisition of the animal and its descent into sickness, disability and death is so much shorter. I have a friend who specialises in taking older dogs from the rescue centres. She gives her small pack of, usually, six dogs a smashing life. At least once each year she tells me that one of her charges has passed on. I know her to be deeply saddened by the loss, but within a week or two, she is sending me photographs of her latest addition.
    I'm not sure I could do that.

  3. Here's to all those wonderful older dogs! What a shame they are so often overlooked. A friend of mine adopted a retired seeing eye dog at the age of 8. He was a gorgeous black lab and lived to be almost 16! What a glorious retirement he had.
    Love your comparisons between dog and human behaviour too, Guilie! My husband and I , both "Alpha" types had some very rocky times in the past, but we'll be celebrating our 41st anniversary this year and are happier than ever. Just like a couple of old dogs! ☺

  4. Hey Guilie,

    I was wondering if you ever post guest blogs to Life In Dogs? I wrote a blog detailing six characteristics that make for a great apartment for a dog owner and was wondering if you would be interested in using my material.

    P.S. I also really your Quiet Laughter blog.

    Let me know what you think.

    Adam Busch


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