I’M A DOG PERSON who accidentally wound up with cats. But I have a lot of canine friends.
My favorites are Tux and Gizmo, Shih Tzu/poodle mixes who live down the street. I’ve known them since they were puppies. Tux is now 17. Gizmo is 12.
They stay with me when their family is out of town. When I’m lonely, I invite them for sleepovers. No one else greets me with so much joy.
When they were younger, I called them “the adventure dogs” because they loved to hike. I’ve taken them along to alpine lakes, fire lookouts and peaks across the state. They usually covered twice the distance I did, with all their dashing back and forth. I loved it when other hikers would crack up seeing little lap dogs deep in the backcountry.
Trekking days are long past for both of them. But their journeys into elderhood have been very different.
Tux is the oldest by five years but seems much younger. He sleeps a lot, but still occasionally tears around in circles — what my grandfather used to call “cuttin’ the rug.” While Tux’s hearing is shot and his vision cloudy, his nose works fine. He’s always eager for a walk and never tires of sniffing every patch of dog pee he passes.
Gizmo’s old age has been tougher. He nearly died twice before being diagnosed with Addison’s disease. He takes daily steroids, which seem to have changed his personality from affectionate to aloof. He gets CBD for pain. Sometimes just walking around the block is too much for him.
Does the divergence between two Shih-poos raised in the same household come down to genes, circumstances or luck? That’s the kind of question the Dog Aging Project, subject of this week’s cover story, might be able to answer some day.
In an essay in “Dog Songs,” the poet Mary Oliver describes longer life and youth as “the one gift we cannot give” our canine companions.
I’ve written enough about medical research to be skeptical of the prospect for miraculous breakthroughs — especially in the age-old quest to extend life span. I also know how long it can take to translate science into treatments.
Dogs will never live for as long as we want them to. All I can do is cherish every day I have with Tux and Gizmo.
But incremental advances in diagnosis, treatment and understanding are happening all the time — and are sure to be accelerated by this massive research initiative.
For a dog lover who longs for more hikes, more rug-cuttin’ and more snuggles, that’s cause enough for optimism.