Sam Harrington-Lowe: Bones? No bones?

You might not be able to teach them new tricks but everyone loves an old dog. Sam Harrington-Lowe looks at
Fat Alice and wonders what’s her secret

I’m under no illusion that the pug is an acquired taste. A taste I acquired about eight years ago with my first rescue, one-eyed Ruby Doo, and then again in 2016 with the current officer, Fat Alice.

Alice waddles towards me where I’m sitting on the sofa, and wants to be hoisted up, so she can sit on her parmesan-fragranced blanket next to me. I’ve long since gone nose-blind to her cheesy smells, although they make the visitor’s eye water. We have a face-off, like High Noon. I know she is more than capable of jumping up on the sofa, but she wants me to lift her up. Guess who gives in. 

Have you seen that famous senior pug, Noodle? If you’re on social media, he’s hard to avoid. The ‘bones or no bones’ prediction each day, as his owner Jon hoists him up to sitting position in his bed. Will he stay sitting up, or slump like a sack of spuds back to slumber, indicating a ‘no bones’ day? It’s wild. 

People love the dog seniors – cats too. Alice is not a senior; she’s middle-aged, but already showing some grey chops. Instead of finding this horrifying, like when I look in the mirror at my own jowls, I adore it. My daughter and I call her ‘elderly’, even though she really isn’t.

Why then, don’t we feel the same way about human seniors? I have a grandmother who just turned 100, and while I’m fond of her in a gosh-you’re-still-alive-please-stop-spending-my-inheritance-on-care sort of way, she’s not endearing like an old dog is. 

I have love for her, but I don’t really want to cuddle her. In fact, the closest I’ve been to her physically in recent years is when I had to emergency-remove insufficiently chewed pork chop from her throat before she choked to death in a restaurant.

But an ageing, smelly old dog, cat, or horse – I’m all over them with cuddles and the not caring about smell and moulting and scabby bits. Is everyone like this? 

Joking aside, we generally have a poor attitude towards ageing. Why are we not warm with our elders? I melt when I see a snoozy old dog gently wagging a tail and chasing the sunlight across the floor all day. But I’m far less enamoured with old people. And we really need to address this, because we are an ageing population. People are not having kids, and everyone is living longer. Hard not to envision the future as a kind of zombie apocalypse, the grey and infirm staggering around looking for blood – or Botox.

I think perhaps we need to reframe our oldies. Embrace their knowledge and wisdom, and give them the time of day. Interestingly, when I was 16, I had a job as a sleeper in an old people’s home, and I loved it. I’d chat to the oldies, look at their photos, fascinated by their pasts. These days I’d recoil. Is it my own advancing years that makes them less palatable? I can see my own mortality looming closer?

I expect one day I’m going to need helping on to the sofa, to my own smelly blanket. I’m going to forget what I’ve said, and tell young people the same thing over and over again. I’m going to dribble, and possibly whiff a bit. Frankly, I expect my daughter would say I’m already there. 

Going forward I’m going to try and apply a bit more patience and give a bit more time to oldies, and encourage everyone to do the same. Maybe we can even learn from them. If we’re lucky, we’ll be old at some point, and it would be nice to feel loved and appreciated, wouldn’t it?

Sam is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Silver Magazine – for the mature maverick

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