As I am driving my border collie  to the vet, I recall having heard that over time people begin to look like their dogs. I glance in the rear view mirror catching both our reflections at once and am relieved to see that I do not have his white chin hairs (yet) and my ears are (still) smaller than his.

Earlier this month he began having difficulty walking as his right leg would suddenly splay out to the side. My sister observed that he was “motor planning”. Although I wasn’t familiar with this term, I immediately recognized that  “motor planning” was precisely what I had begun to do this winter when confronted with icy stairs. I winced at the recognition that while he is eleven years old (that’s 77 dog years) and considerably older than I, motor planning along with AARP are now realities in my own life.

This morning we will get his right hip checked at the vet and in two hours, I have a PT appointment to work out the kinks in my right hip. So, while I am relieved we do not look alike, we seem to be suffering with similar age related maladies.

It is a strange connection we have with our animal companions; they start out as our babies, grow into incorrigible adolescents (defiant and eating everything in the house) then into young adults who make great companions. In those years –post training and pre-ailments- he was eager to learn things; he would find and retrieve the remote, collect empty water bottles to put in the recycling bin, hunt for my lost keys and always knew where his leash was. Now he is an elderly relative that I care for. His walks are shorter. He sleeps a lot. He whines for no reason. He has his own medication cupboard.

I am accustomed to his terror of thunder storms-he has tranquilizers and a thunder shirt which works so amazingly well that he brings it to me at the first mini-rumble. It is this new elderly dog with his quirks and pains and strange behaviors that occassionally tries my patience. I only half joke when I tell friends- I can’t believe I ended up in the relationship of my nightmares; I share my life with a middle aged, slightly overweight unemployed male, who hogs the bed, doesn’t help out around the house and farts in his sleep.

He still leaves pee-mails as we walk. These are just what you imagine -urine driven messages to his canine buddies that say, “I left my mark on a higher spot on this tree than you did!! I look forward to smelling your reply tomorrow!!!”

Putting aside his whining, barking and flatulence, he is still a great joy. At this slowed pace, he no longer walks like a dog with a mission-now he languishes as he closely explores the terrain. With even the slightest change in weather, Joey explores the world as if he had never seen it before. Look here- a chicken bone! Or here’s some good poop! Or a butterfly! An interesting leaf! Hey, check out this strong breeze-it makes my ears flap!

I am forced to slow down and I sometimes get antsy. (Really dude? You wanna eat THAT?) But while he explores the new additions to the usual topography, I have learned to take these moments to breathe and really notice -the brilliant blue sky-the warm sun- the field of daffodils- that weren’t there yesterday. He has taught me the gift of moving slowly and really, really seeing all the wondrous things I used to take for granted.

When he is intent on a small bug working its way over a brown torn leaf, I consider -What is he thinking? Is he planning his day in his head? Something like “Gee, will I get a treat when we go home? When will I go in the car? When is she going to work?”  

I doubt it.  All that obsessing and endless planning is saved for me–the human in the relationship–the one who is supposed to be of superior intellect. But it is Joey, the Dog, who is the ultimate wise Zen Master–ever present, mindful, and observing without judgment. Forever forgiving and unconditionally loving. He has taught me mindfulness.

Among all the gifts there are in having a dog by my side, this is the big one. He has taught me that while we don’t cover as much ground as we once did, at this new and slower pace we see and enjoy so much more.

He has also taught me that a really yummy treat and a nap in the sun can do wonders.


© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.


  1. Wendy on the 13. Apr, 2013 remarked #

    I heard about a book, titled “On Looking”. I haven’t read it yet, but I understand it is about how the author learned to really look at things by watching her dog(s). It’s on my ‘to read’ list. Loved your post by the way.

  2. cj golden on the 14. Apr, 2013 remarked #

    Absolutely gorgeous. There is no more to say.

  3. Dawn S on the 14. Apr, 2013 remarked #

    Donna – what a great blog post! I remember when you got Joey – and even named one of my pups after him as I loved the name.

  4. Jan on the 19. Apr, 2013 remarked #

    I was blessed to share life with a much-loved and wonderful cat who left us late last summer at the very old age of 19 (over 90 in people years, according to the vet). I still miss her and wish she was here, but I learned from her that when you know it is time, you just rest your head on your water dish and ask those who love you to let you go.

  5. Patti on the 22. Apr, 2013 remarked #

    I’ve only been without a dog for 2 days in 25 years and cried for those two days. Dogs are such wonderful unconditional love companions.

    Mine currently is Sheena, a 9 year old husky-collie mix who is the sweetest gentlest but stubborn and independent creature – hmm, they do say that they take after their owners right?

  6. Judy on the 29. Apr, 2013 remarked #

    It is a blessing that you and Joey have found each other,and have found greater understanding because of this relationship.

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