Wednesday, December 12, 2012

If dogs have a heaven, there’s one thing I know…

The past few days, I’ve been dog-sitting my dog-phew. I don’t think I’m being at all biased here when I say that Jack is absolutely in the Top 10 when it comes to adorable and sweetie-pie, cutie-pie pups.

If it’s cute your after, it’s hard to do better than a Black Lab. Jack, by the way, came from a no-kill shelter, where his family of origin had left him for some reason that was undoubtedly sad for them, and certainly a boon for our extended family.

Forget Rodgers and Hammerstein: There is nothing like a dog, nothing in this world…There is nothing you can blog, that is anything like a dog.

Although Jack is just in his dogged, middle aged prime, my thoughts turned to him when I saw an article on on the growing niche market for products and services for geriatric canines.

Old dogs touch a nerve — and the pocketbook. With an eye on burgeoning market possibilities of the senior set, canine product purveyors sell specially formulated kibble, beds, bowls, ramps to get up into the car, harnesses, diapers for incontinence, as well as various supplements, herbs and holistic remedies designed to cosset a senior dog through its last years. Doting owners find it difficult to resist the pitch for anything to help their four-legged family member.

Well, young and middle-aged dogs touch a nerve – and the pocketbook, too. But I absolutely understand why anyone who can afford it goes the extra mile to make sure their aging pal is comfy and cozy in his great old age.

Orvis – inventor of the dog bed - has an entire line of products for dogs getting along in dog years, mostly memory foam and Tempur-pedic beds. I noted with interest that many of the dog beds bear a dog’s name, and the most popular names are Dakota and Jack. Jack, as it happens, was originally named Dakota, but was rechristened when my sister and her family adopted him. So I guess naming your dog Dakota or Jack is like naming our kid Jacob or Madison. One day, you’ve never heard it, the next day it’s everywhere.

(By the way, if you click through to Orvis, the dog who most closely resembles our Jack is the one posing with the Solid Foam Microfiber Backseat Extender.)

And speaking of Jacks, the first night of my dogsitting gig, we had a pajama party at Auntie Moe’s place in Boston. While I was taking Jack out for his final airing of the evening, we ran into the man who lives across the hall, who is also named Jack. Human Jack was pleased to meet a four-legged namesake. Canine Jack was silent on the matter.

Of course, today’s dogs are more likely to sport human names than the dogs of my childhood.

My grandmother had a series of Black Labs named Midnight, Thunder, and Lightning. My cousin had a Meadowlark, whose sister, owned by another cousin, was named Kelly, but I believe that she was named for a place (Kelly Pond) not a person. Dogs in the ‘hood when I was growing up included Dapper, Clipper, Sheba, Rasputin, Brian Boru, Blackie, and Queenie  (whose face actually resembled that of a carp).

Blackie was the one dog I actively hated. That’s because I was bitten by him while innocently walking by his house, swinging my OLA school bag. Blackie, apparently, took some offense, and pell-melled off his porch and bit me in the arm. My father had to come home from work and take me to the ER for a shot. There, I had to wait in line behind someone who had stapled his thumb with an industrial stapler. Ouch.

Blackie was pretty much a menace, but his owner was a cop. So what were you gonna do?

There were some human-named dogs around, even in the old days. My uncle had a mutt called Luke, and we had a Sid and a Cindy floating around the neighborhood. My friend Marie had a Sam, a lovely poodle-mutt who just disappeared. 

Which sometimes happened to dogs. And some dogs were put down, and some died in there tracks. But a lot of dog mortality was death was by car, in that era of free-range dog life.

Our dog Grimbald had a quasi human name.

Grim, who was quasi free-range – he sometimes did an overnight cavort with Sheba (that bitch!) -  made it to 12 – reasonably ripe old age, especially for a large dog (German Shepherd) who’d been diagnosed with dysplasia as a puppy. The day my mother and I took Grim on the last leg of his dog’s journey, a final trip to the vet, was one of the saddest of my life.

So I understand completely why someone would pay $275 for an Orvis Tempur-Pedic Dream Lounger Dog Bed.

If such an item had existed, and I’d thought it would have given Grim a shot at a bit more of his doggy life, why not? And I would not have been alone.

Jon Comeau, product development specialist for dogs at Vermont’s Orvis Company, says his company’s market expands with the aging dog population.

What a great job title! Product development specialist for dogs. Talk about being able to go home from work each night knowing you’d done good.

“We see it in the sales figures that come through,” he says. “Ten years ago, we were selling products to keep dogs off the couch. Now we’re selling products to keep them on the couch.”

An aging dog population is occurring alongside the aging human population, and for some overlapping (sorry) reasons. Vet [medical] care is better, dog food [nutrition] has improved, and a more affluent population is willing to lavish more money on their mutts [selves], keeping them alive. (Not that having a seasonal change in dog collar is going to extend your life, but didn’t dogs just used to get one chain collar, issued when they reached adult size, and that was about it. Sort of like the one shirt that peasants had in medieval times.)

If your wondering what constitutes old age for a dog:

The actuarial table depends on size. For small dogs, old age begin after 10. For bigger dogs, after age “8 or 9,” according to Moses, and for “giant breeds (Great Dane, St. Bernard) at 5 or 6.”

Fortunately, our boy Jack has a few more squirrel-chasing, pajama partying years to go before we have to order him that Orvis Tempur-Pedic Dream Lounger. (Good idea for a combined Christmas-Birthday gift from us.)

For those not old enough to recognize the other dog-related tune that Elvis Presley popularized (the first being, of course “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog”), the title of this blog is taken from the song "Old Shep.”

Now Old Shep is gone where the good doggies go,
And no more with Old Shep will I roam.
But if dogs have a heaven, there's one thing I know
Old Shep has a wonderful home.

Sniff, sniff.

Still, when it comes to heavenly dog epigrams, I’ll stick with Will Rogers:

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

I wonder how Grim and Jack will take to each other, and will I be there to see it? Hope so!

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