Today I would like to spend a few minutes talking about our seniors, and specifically about how natural rearing is influencing the sunset end of the life spectrum of my pack. I have been 100% committed to natural rearing since 2006 and, a decade into this experiment, am seeing how this philosophy and practice is manifesting in my dogs as they age. This weekend I had Ross (14), Hannah (10.5), and Kes (8) evaluated professionally by a canine physiotherapist, and all three came away with top scores in strength, musculature, and mobility. These dogs are unrelated, and each has a very different history and life story, yet all are aging much, much better than average. Clearly I am doing something right!
Puppies and young dogs are lots of fun, but are quite needy in terms of time and resources. Their demands can lead to our older dogs being ignored, overlooked, or at least not receiving as much attention as they might need. Especially when our seniors quietly follow routine and nap most of the day. Phew! One less dog to train and exercise, right?
Wrong! While older dogs might not need as much attention as a puppy, in order to live long, happy, engaged lives, they still need regular (by this I mean daily) mental and physical stimulation. Susan Garrett has written about the importance of Big Adventure Time for seniors, something I try to make happen for Ross on a daily basis.
Briefly, Ross was a stray picked up in Brooklyn, NY, surviving in the back alleys of the Big Apple. He was about 10 months old when he was picked up by animal control, with major trauma to his hips and a broken elbow (likely hit by a car), in addition to puncture marks everywhere (dog fights – was he used for fight bait? I don’t want to know), and damaged organs (probably chemical exposure from eating garbage to survive).
When I adopted him at age two, I was told he needed both hips replaced and his front leg amputated. He was hypothyroid, had severe allergies, was in early stages kidney and liver failure, and suffered from anxiety, depression, and extreme dog-dog aggression. I was advised that he wouldn’t likely make it much past 10 years of age, so to prepare myself for the inevitable.
I did get second opinions on the surgery, but decided to avoid any further assaults on his body. Instead, I treated him exclusively via raw diet, exercise, homeopathy, training, body work (osteopathy, massage, acupuncture etc.0) and keeping him away from anything that might stress his organs such as vaccines, anesthetics or flea and tick poisons.
Working with Ross to help him heal has been pivotal in my learning about holistic health and overall wellness. He taught me what worked for him, and what didn’t. He introduced me to homeopathy, through which we reversed his hypothyroidism – something the vet said he knew was possible in theory but had never witnessed in all his long practice. With diet we cured his allergies. With training and homeopathy combined, we reduced his dog aggression to a minimum so he could live with other dogs. Through love, trust, and keeping his life predictable, he emerged from depression and his anxiety subsided. With hiking, chiropractics, acupuncture, tricks, reiki and massage, we healed his broken body so that he could lead an active, unrestricted border collie life.
This week, Ross turned FOURTEEN!! Happy Birthday Mr. Ross-the-Boss!!! Ross has taught me that where there is life, there is hope, and that the body can recover from just about anything given the right support. He still has all his original parts (well, except for his testicles, which were removed prior to me adopting him), and has lived an active, happy life with a pack of other dogs. Because of his injuries I have never done formal sports with him, just lots of off-leash hiking and trick training for strength and brain work.
At this ripe old age, Ross still comes for a 45-60 minute hike every morning with the rest of the dogs. If I get nothing else done with the dogs in a day, I make sure Ross gets his morning constitutional. Keeping him moving is critical to keeping his body strong and able. Don’t use it? You’ll lose it! And I don’t want him to lose the ability to walk and hike.
Ross also goes up and down the stairs in my house several times a day. He can do them on his own, unless he is having a particularly bad day, and I never carry him. Stairs are great leg workouts! But he I do worry about him falling, so I walk beside him when changing floors and otherwise have the stairway blocked off.
I also make sure to do some brainwork with Ross most days; a little shaping of something new, or running him through his repertoire of tricks for his supper. He always gets so excited and happy to be engaging with me in that way. He never ceases to make my heart smile and time with him is wonderfully joyful. He even still gets the zoomies sometimes and love to play chase and “you can’t catch me!”
A few other things I do with Mr. Ross: 1) Grooming and nail trimming – he’s a bear about both! but oh, so critical to keep those nails SHORT for good posture and his coat and skin brushed to help with circulation and generally feeling good; 2) keeping him on a varied raw diet including bones to brush his teeth; 3) avoiding all drugs and chemicals of any sort, for any reason.
Because of Ross’s history of liver and kidney damage, I decided years ago that he would never be given any drugs or anesthetic. I learned the hard way from my first dog, Jake, that these acts of supposed help could in fact kill him. As such, anytime Ross has shown signs of illness that had me worried enough to seek professional help, we’ve stuck to external physical exams, acupuncture, body work, and homeopathy. What a test of faith this has been, especially at the start! But these methods have done the trick, every time.
There has been no health concern in 11 years that we (myself and professional holistic medical practitioners) couldn’t handle. And Ross has had more than his share of health issues to overcome! As such, his weakened organs have not been exposed to further damage, enabling them to keep doing their jobs now into his 14th year. Keeping his body clear of chemicals has also likely been a significant, if not THE contributing factor to why his mental faculties are still 100%. No dementia for this boy! No cloudy “old dog eyes” either.
This weekend I took Ross, along with Hannah, Kes, and the puppies, on a longer than average Big Adventure. We all piled into the car and drove three hours west to Lorneville, Ontario (near Lindsay) to attend the Canadian National Sheepdog Finals! While I was excited to watch the double lift finals, my main motivation for spending 6 hours in the car on a precious Sunday off was to bring my older dogs (Ross, Hannah and Kes) to see Tania Costa, Toronto-based canine physiotherapist and osteopath. And of course to socialize the puppies at a big herding event!
Since Ross is clearly planning to stick around for some time yet, I wanted to have him worked on to help loosen up his back and limbs, and also to learn some exercises to help maintain and even build his muscle tone. Ross has degeneration in his hind leg muscles, and plenty of stiffness (given his history, neither is a surprise) but despite his life experience, he’s actually in very good shape compared to most his age. Yay Ross!
Next Tania worked on 10.5 year old Hannah, who I retired from competition two years ago because of an undiagnosed (at the time) iliopsoas injury. Well, Hannah came up with a clean bill of health! Not only that, but in addition to finding no sign of any injury, she apparently has no arthritis or anything else indicating a degeneration of her body. Apparently she is in A++ condition. Woot!
Finally, it was Kes’ turn. She’s only just eight, and not showing any signs of any problems. But I wanted to get a baseline and have a professional check to make sure. Dogs are very stoic, and Kes is particularly so. So she could easily have been hiding an injury. But she’s not. Yay! She, like Hannah, got a clear bill of health and two thumbs up on her condition.
So there you have it: three completely unrelated dogs, with very different backgrounds prior to coming to me (Ross and Kes are rescues, Hannah I bought as a puppy), all aging gracefully with full mental faculties and strong bodies. I attribute my dogs’ successful aging to their lifestyle of natural health and daily intensive mental and physical exercise. Way to go dogs!