Dogwalking Away the Senior Blues
I entered this piece in a 2020 contest sponsored by the Petco Foundation for the benefit of animal rescue organizations. Winning essays yielded charitable awards of thousands of dollars to rescues nationwide. My piece did not win gold in the field of 10,000 contenders, but I was prouder of it than anything I've written in quite a while. I am honored that All 4 Paws published it in their Fall newsletter. So I thought I would share my heartfelt recollections of life the past two decades with two of my best friends. And yes I may pen another essay for the 2021 contest.
How My Rescue Dog Walked My Senior Sadness Away
By Bob Holland
Were it not for our retriever-mix Ellie whom we adopted from the good folks at All 4 Paws of Pawleys Island, S.C., I likely would not have made it through my 70s to the verge of turning 80. In your senior years, it is all too easy to succumb to sadness and slide into sedentary ways.
From that first day we made connections with an All 4 Paws representative to meet Ellie at a Petco adoption event in 2015, she started breaking me out of a deep funk that had begun six months earlier when my first senior-years walking companion, Sadie, passed away at age 15.
A sweet golden retriever, Sadie had walked me through my 60s around the leafy suburbs of Northern Virginia and later along the Blue Ridge Parkway and parts of the Appalachian Trail when we tested mountain living. When I had a scary open-heart surgery at age 63, Sadie (herself a rescue dog) became my personal trainer by patiently waiting beside my recliner and then coaxing me outside for walks of steadily increasing distances.
Almost immediately I knew that Ellie was the perfect Sadie successor to help me take on an even bigger challenge: staying active through my 70s. She excitedly went on a trial walk with me in a lot beside Petco. When we got home, she used her long legs and nimble paws to jiggle open the storm-door latch and start a solo jaunt through the neighborhood. She quickly learned to call on me, the old man, when she wanted to take a hike. And has she ever made her wishes known!
If I am on the computer too long, she literally barks me off it to get up and get moving – something we seniors need to do. At other times, she is more subtle, pleading with me with her big brown eyes or a low whine to grab the leash, poop bags, and a bottle of water and get our walk in gear. Many are the adventures we’ve had. For instance, we have participated in Audubon Society bird counts (though squirrels are of more interest to Ellie). And with my Garmin Vivofit step-tracker we have even won some international step-counting challenges.
It is almost uncanny that Ellie was my nurse and fitness companion when I had a second open-heart (aortic aneurysm) surgery last fall at age 77. Like Sadie before her, Ellie was there for me every step of the way in recovery.
Now Ellie’s face, like Sadie’s before her, is steadily turning a sweet gray, because, after all, she was 7 years old at adoption. I purposely wanted a senior like myself as a soul-mate. Before the All 4 Paws folks obtained her, Ellie was in a high-kill shelter where she was going to be put down for being “too old.” To the contrary, Ellie has shown over and over that she has life to live and love to give. To me specifically her love has been a passport out of the old-age doldrums and into enhanced resilience to meet whatever challenges life throws my way.
© Robert Gray Holland and The Petco Foundation