A quick update on my 1,000-year-old…. actually 1,001-year old dog.

The internet is a funny place. I wrote this piece about my ancient, beloved, sometimes foul-tempered, and often stinky, but always utterly herself, cattle-dog-mix – gosh, almost a year ago – and suddenly it has gotten approximately one skillion views over the last two days. Randomly. And people are commenting like mad and sending me beautiful, passionate, and soulful emails, telling me the story of their own beloved pets – those still hanging on, and those tenderly carried into their next grand adventure in that dog park in the sky.

And people are asking: how is Harper? Is she still alive?

And it’s a good question. On my block there are a lot of kids and a LOT of dogs. And this year, two very beloved animals left us, and we are all incredibly sad about it. (One of them, Gebo, just passed a couple weeks ago. My little son is heartbroken. Here is his tender tribute. Be careful clicking. You will smile through your flowing tears.)

As for Harper – she’s great! At the very youngest, she is 18 now, but she is likely over 20. That is friggin’ old. But she is tough. And she’s hanging on. Still kicking, still stinking up the place. Still barking her head off at doggie passers-by (my sweet Alpha female, though enfeebled, is still a dang Alpha – and she makes sure the world knows it). She is slowing down, for sure. She snuggles up at my feet while I write. She still gives the stink-eye to the gaggles of boys who tear up and down our stairs and pretend to be slain by lasers and fart on purpose and for no reason. (She is not alone in her stinky-eye, I have to admit.) And while she can’t go as far as she used to, she still enjoys a hike in the forest, and still enjoys her yard, and still eats her food (and the occasional peanut butter sandwich crust, should the Universe provide) and still seems perfectly happy to be here.

There is a truism among parents that one of the benefits of pet-ownership is that it helps to teach kids about death. I think this is true, but it is not the most important lesson that our dogs (and other furry family members) teach us. They teach us about compassion, too. They teach us to be patient. They teach us that life isn’t just short, it’s also fragile. They teach us that it’s important to be a noticer. To put into words what we see in others. Leo is incredibly aware of Harper’s good days and bad days. Sometimes Harper moves more slowly than others. Sometimes she shakes. Sometimes she is in pain. On those days, Leo slows his feet. He asks me when the last time she had her pain meds. He sits down on the floor and rests his arm on her back. Sometimes, he reads her a story.

Having an aging animal teaches us to hang on to each day.

Having an aging animal teaches us to find moments of grace in very small things.

Having an aging animal teaches us to take our responsibility as pet owners incredibly seriously. They look at us, these animals. They see us to our centers. They demand that we do the same.

Look at me, Harper’s eyes say. I’m counting on you.

I know, honey, my eyes say back. I’m here. I’ll be here with every wobbly step. I’ll be here with every good day and bad. I’ll be here with every rattly breath and every contented sigh. I’ll be here when you’re sick. I’ll be here when you’re well. And I’ll be here at the very end.

I promise.

When kids love pets, they learn how to promise. They learn how to care. They learn how to notice. They learn how to empathize. They learn how to nurture. They learn how to tend. They learn how to love. They learn how to say good-bye. These are good things to learn.

Haper is still alive. For now. As we all are. We will hang on to each day until we can’t. It is a blessed thing, really. And I am grateful.

Thank you to everyone who wrote in and told me your stories. I really appreciate them. I honor them. Thank you for sharing your great love with me. Honestly, it means the world.

Much love,

KB

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39 thoughts on “A quick update on my 1,000-year-old…. actually 1,001-year old dog.

    • Thank you for the loving story. We just had to say good-bye to our Golden Retriever Saya on Thanksgiving day. She was 15 1/2 and I thought she was going to live forever too. She passed so many hurdles. We rescued her when she was 2 after almost being put down by her ‘owner/breeder’ and thankfully the vet said no and gave her to a rescue group. I can’t imagine my life without her, which unfortunatley i am finding out how to do. She loved life up to the end, and i knew when i looked into her eyes, that she wanted me to take care of her…and i did in the most loving way i could. She is at peace, out of pain and chasing many, many tennis balls!

      • I too lost my Rottweiler Pebbles on thanksgiving day 2005, she was 14 , every year at thanksgiving I feel such sadness she was such a good girl she had a life long companion named munchkin a shih Tzu who we lost last year at the age of 20 I feel so blessed that my babies lived so long and tried to stay as long as they could

  1. Pingback: Regarding my 1,000-year-old dog. | Kelly Barnhill

  2. As an animal companion for much of my life, because you don’t own the animal, they own you, this hit me very hard. Our current member of the family is a rescue cat who is at least 22 years old, fast approaching her 23rd birthday. April, named by the rescue group for the estimated month of her birth, is extremely skinny, acts like a kitten most days. She’s healthy and energetic, but the reality is that she won’t outlive me. I hope each and every creature in my life knows how very much I loved them, how I still remember them to this day, how very much they gave to me.

    If there is a heaven, I will be met by dogs: Shanty I, Shanty II, Clem, Dopey, Fritzie, Dim; cats: Scoobie, Sam, Tigger, Fed-Fed, Tinkerbelle, Tommy, Baby, Whisperjet, Pywacket, Michael, Big Boy, Merlin, Avon, Poof; snakes and lizards: Herman, Ralph. And so many more.

  3. God bless you all and God bless Harper. I hope to see Cheyenne again and I hope that she loves me because I did not treat her as well as I should have. She was my first dog and I didn’t understand. I have Calamity now and I adore her. I still adore Cheyenne.

  4. Harper is a true companion and there is no doubt in my mind that she was purposely sent to you.
    There will come a time sooner than we ever want when the time to say goodbye comes to pass. Here are a few words you may find some comfort in when it does. I’ve read and re read it as each of ours have crossed the Bridge and find great comfort in them.

    If It Should Be”

    If it should be I grow frail and weak
    And pain prevents my peaceful sleep.
    Then you must do what must be done
    When this last battle can’t be won.

    You will be sad, I understand.
    Selfishness might stay your hand.
    But on this day, more than the rest,
    Your love and friendship take the test.

    We’ve had so many happy years
    That what’s to come can hold no fears.
    You’d not want me to suffer. So,
    When the time comes, please let me go.

    Take me where my needs they’ll tend.
    Only — stay with me until the end.
    Hold me firm and speak to me.
    Until my eyes no longer see.

    I know, in time, you, too, will see
    It is a kindness that you do for me.
    Although my tail it’s last has waved,
    From pain and suffering I’ve been saved.

    Do not grieve it should be you.
    Who must decide this thing to do.
    We’ve been so close, we two, these years……
    Don’t let your heart hold any tears.

    by Diane Wright

    Ron
    Husky Howllow

  5. Reblogged this on All the little pieces and commented:

    Add your tThere is a truism among parents that one of the benefits of pet-ownership is that it helps to teach kids about death. I think this is true, but it is not the most important lesson that our dogs (and other furry family members) teach us. They teach us about compassion, too. They teach us to be patient. They teach us that life isn’t just short, it’s also fragile. They teach us that it’s important to be a noticer.houghts here… (optional)

  6. You may not know it but Animal Hospice does exist and palliative care is very successful if you can find a vet who is on board. Here is one of my articles about it:
    http://www.animalwellnessmagazine.com/articles/considering-hospice/
    I may be able to help you find a hospice provider. What a beautiful story! There are some “hospice ” vets who still think you need to plan on euthanasia but most of the time natural death is peaceful and painless. (Assuming good pain control). I wish you all the best! I am writing a book about Animal Hospice to help spread the word!
    All the best to you, Harper and your family! Jaime Glasser

  7. To Ron: Thanks for this Ron, I saved it….I have two little girls, Maltese and Terrier mix, whom I love with my whole heart. I recently lost my husband and they are all I have…I thank God for each day he lets me have them. It’s amazing the way these animals just take hold of your heart and don’t let go. Again, thanks Ron for this :)

  8. wow, what say I? what can I say that has not been said, I have so many tears I can barely read what I am typing. Your writing is really wonderful KB, I am grateful I have read this and look forward to reading more of your writings. My love for animals is as deep as it can be, I have always been empathic with them, feeling what they are feeling, and have had them all but the first 6 months of my life, when my father brought home a 6 week old german shepherd puppy-Gretchen. We grew up together, and when we were 12 it was her time to cross, I was bereft. Inconsolable. I missed 2 weeks of school, I felt I lost my sister. In fact, she was so much more loving and caring than my own human sister. I now rescue and do all that is possible to help as many as I can. God has given us this gift in animals, dogs and cats in particular, dogs especially, who love us unconditionally as does He, so we can get our minds around that kind of love. Those who do not get it or care to get it are left in the cold, and I fear for their eternity. But as for me, I am grateful to have this small chunk of love from heaven above on this earth.This earth and it ‘s people so deeply need this love, and so often reject it. I can only pray that more people will open their eyes to the gifts of the animals, and the love and compassion they bring. My own life would be so very empty without that love, I in fact might not even be here were it not for it, it has saved me many times.
    Thank you for your writing, thank you for caring for this angel Harper, I feel I know her, and only wish I could. When she crosses, the earth will be a little more empty for it, but God brings us more and more every day to try and console the cold and hard heart of mankind.
    Blessings to you and your family~

  9. We had to give Okie away over 40 years ago and I still miss him. He loved me unconditionally. (Well, I did feed him, walk him and give him his meds!) My dream is to be an old woman with a black Lab just like him, who will sleep under my bed and greet me at the door with the leash in his teeth to say “let’s go outside!” (He was all about exclamations) and roll around with my someday grandkids. Hugs to Harper, and to your children who are so fortunate to have a furry family member.

  10. Wow! You are an animal lover after my own heart. My husband and I are currently besotted with our 13 year-old Min-Pin who has been our alpha male since he was 8 weeks old. He established that he was the boss within 3 days in our home. We have always been his devoted and adoring subjects although I must admit he often lets me challenge him and knows that when my hands are on my hips, it’s time to say he is sorry with downcast body language. Soon it’s hugs and pets all round as we play make-up snuggle time. Your post reminded me how much we have learned from Jacky over the years – unconditional love, patience, tolerance. He makes us laugh all day long but especially at bedtime when he does his utmost to discourage my husband from getting in the bed. And also when he is intent on playing any of his several favorite games of keep-away. He is adept at using his body language to establish the object and rules of the game he has chosen. He has learned to be gentle with us and not to play too rough despite his exuberance and love of winning. As he grows older, he is slowing down a little and I’m beginning to worry about the inevitable end of days for him. The years seem to fly by and the memories of the loss of his two predecessors within the space of two months 13 years ago is beginning to encroach on my mind. I So far have been able to shake it off and not let anything spoil the time left. . Thank you so much for your post describing your wonderful Harper and how wonderful it is to have a beloved pet. May the end be peaceful,gentle and serene for her. Bless you

  11. Jaime G
    Natural death is what we do to humans!who lie there till their last breath ,I have always given my beloveds a peaceful calm death when the time came

  12. My daughter posted your story, and I almost didn’t click to read the passages of your journey. It would have been a great lose had I not. After losing my almost, 11 year old golden to lymphoma two years ago, my ache for her is still as raw as the day she passed. We all say our dogs are the best animal ever, I feel in my world, she was. Her name, Lily. All our pets have taken a name of a flower or tree. I guess you can blame that on me as a nature lover. Lily had her quirks, she couldn’t eat a meal in her beginning years unless someone was in the same room with her. If you didn’t share part of your treat with her, she felt snubbed and would bark until she got a piece. We could have been eating mud, and she still wanted a lick or two, or three.
    In the summer of Lily’s sixth year, she developed Bells Palsy on the right side of her face. No one in our area had ever seen this in an animal ever, and mis-dignoised her. In all actuality they didn’t know what was wrong with Lily. Our anxiety heighten with worry. She was on steroids, which affected her joints. It affected her mobility to get up and move. She was cooed and lifted up to walk . Her right eye couldn’t blink. That was the oddest thing to see. I applied an eye cream twice a day, to help protect it from drying out. She was such a trooper. As the weeks drummed onward, It was the look in her face. It’s been forever imprinted on my brain. I stopped the steroid treatment. she regained all her playfulness, yet her face still drooped. We traveled all over the state of Pa trying to find out what happened to her. Finally after an optometrists visit, He told us it was Bells Palsy. He hadn’t seen this in a dog in Twenty yrs. Soon after that visit, remarkably it disappeared and she was fine.
    Lily was my walking partner, she was my companion. Her curly, amber fur soaked up a lot of “missing ” tears for the first year when moving away from family. Lily’s smiles have been forever captured in pictures. These are my heart strums. Her white face, and those brown eyes are pieces of love boned into to my soul.
    Harper still has a life to live, If only she could talk. I bet her stories would be colorful, and laughable, and make her smile even more adorable. Cheers to all our pets , gracing us with unconditional love. Thank you .

  13. We had a Harper in our house. Her name was Sunnie. We loved her and she lived long enough to give us Hulk (also a spaz -just like his Mom). And we had to let her go 2 days before Christmas a few years ago because she had Lyme disease and heart worm together despite the “anti” medicines we gave her. Two days before Christmas, I heard her whimpering when I got up so I picked her up (she was a golden retriever) and carried her outside to hold her up so she could go to the bathroom. I brought her back in and fixed her bed for her and laid her down all curled up (like she liked to be) but she still cried and it seemed she couldn’t stop. So I sat with her and petted her head and when my husband got up I said, “Rick, I think we need to let her go” So sunnie went out of our lives and it was very very hard. But we have Hulk to be with us and remember Sunnie with all his faces, and spazzing actions and behavior. We love them both!

  14. WOW ,I totally needed to read this ,but man I’m bawling like a baby and am at the same intersection in life with my elderly English bulldog Gracie ! I feel for her and do not want her to suffer but she having to wear a diaper in the house cause she can no longer hold her bladder very long and she stinks so terribly bad but she is always so ever loving always sleeping at my feet or I am stumbling over her in the kitchen while preparing supper and I even accidently step on her getting out of the shower . I know my time is precious with her and I will even treasure our time even more after reading Harpers story and I Thank you :)

    • Yeah, we have to be careful about the stumbling too. She wants to be right there, you know? And I don’t want to hurt her!

      Still, she is fantastic, and I’ll take it – stinkiness and all.

  15. You have put into words what so many of us feel. In loving ‘romantically’, we often try to keep back some part of ourselves, for self-preservation. When we love a dog, we cannot help but love them completely, despite knowing that parting is one day inevitable and will bring such pain.

    We adopted Bertie aged about 8 and he only stayed with us for a couple of years. He was our joy; his sudden passing broke us for a while. Kazakh street dog Nellie now claims his place on our bed and, with her utter silliness, has helped us to smile again.

  16. Just when I neared the end of the previous post about your 1000 year old dog, some silent tears formed in my eyes. Instantly my 1000 year old dog, Lilly the kelpie (mostly blind and mostly deaf) arrived out of nowhere to rest her head on my lap. They are truly amazing animals. She too also had a cancer removed from her hind leg, about a month ago. The vet was also surprised at how she bounced back.
    Enjoy every moment with your first born x

    • Hi Kelly,
      Boy, it didn’t take the update to make me smile through tears – thank you – I agree with everything all our canine companions are here with us at home – some in the garden doing some fertilising with their ashes and now just one who is two years old and hopefully will be with us for another 1,000 years . Harper will always be with you in your heart because she is your heart dog – there are just special ones even though you may love them all unconditionally there is one who will creep into every little niche in your heart – that is what Harper is to you I am sure.

      Thank you for your inspirational words – I have a friend called Jill who will love this and writes from the heart as do you and will send it on to her – today is her Dad’s 91st birthday and they will be in the pub having a pint.

      Love, hugs, gentle ear rubs to Harper, woofs from Blaze and may I wish you compliments of the season and hope that the New Year will be happy, healthy and peaceful for us all.

      Janet

  17. Thanks for the update. I had a Cattle dog cross who passed away May 2011, 2 weeks shy of her 14th birthday due to cancer. Started in her sinuses and went into the brain. But unknown to me at the time there was a 1-1/2 year old purebred Cattle dog who was in need of a home who could handle her. She came into my life 2 months after Pepper’s passing. I still miss her but Maverick, yes she lives up to her name, has been a blessing. I ask Pepper for help when Maverick is being a brat…somehow I think she does. Pep’s passing was hard because she was a 1 of a kind and now I have a new one of a kind. Bless you for taking in a wonderful creature.

  18. I lost my oldest cat last year – 17.5 yrs old. I finally had to give her permission to go or she would have continued to hang on. Then lost another one (13 yrs) 6 months later. As painful as it was, I loved them both dearly, it was one of the greatest blessings in my life. They honored me with the gift to be with them at the end.

  19. I am so glad that your children get to experience being with an older dog. I as three when I got my first dog. Well, he wasn’t really /my/ dog, but I liked to think he was. I’d only ever had a cat or two before and didn’t really know how to handle a dog (I was only three at the time and he was already about two); Rusty hated me, but I was determined that we would still be friends. I eventually won him over with treats, belly rubs, and tennis balls. Over the next 18 years, Rusty showed me how to respect animals, how to have patience and how to be quick to forgiveness, how to enjoy life for what it is. Above everything, Rusty taught me how to be a survivor. He lived on the streets for at least two years before we took him in. He pulled through several serious illnesses, and two major surgeries. When we were told of a possibility of him not being able to walk again, he was running in the backyard in three weeks. When an F5 tornado rolled through my parents’ neighborhood in May (yes, that big one in Oklahoma), Rusty was found plodding along like nothing had happened. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure shortly thereafter, but waited until my parents had found a place to stay and when he thought they were adequately safe, let them know it was time.Through it all, he kept wagging his tail and begging for belly rubs.

  20. I’ve had many dogs, cats, rabbits, white rats, turtles, parakeets, hamsters and fish my entire life, and I loved them all. Last year I lost two of my beloved Vizsla girls within 6 weeks of each other. Ruby was almost 14, but Gypsy was only 7. Both had liver cancer. I’ve been crying my eyes out ever since. Ruby came to us at 6 weeks old, and spent the first 3 years of her life giving us a serious case of the crazies. But she loved to hunt, and spent many years chasing those birds across many fields before she got too old and crippled with arthritis to do it any more. Gypsy was a rescue, 3 years old when she came to live with us. I’ve had many pets of every description, but she was the absolute neediest dog I’ve ever seen. The papers we got with her said she was turned over to a local dog pound by a man who said he didn’t have time to work with her, and didn’t understand the breed at all. I figured she spent the first 3 years of her life mostly alone and neglected. When she came to live with us, she would put her arms around our shoulders and hang on for dear life. We got her some training to hunt and she took off like a free spirit. She was absolutely the best bird dog of all the dogs we’d ever had! She would listen quietly when you explained anything to her, and then did her best to give you what you asked for. When she was about 7, I started Rally training with her. She was so good, she made me look good. But at the next to last training class, I gave her a bit of cheese as a treat for a good job and she spit it out. Oh, oh, something was wrong. A trip to the vet and an x-ray told us the bad news. I took her home and tried to keep her as comfortable as I could, and a couple of days later, she slowly walked over to me and laid down at my feet. She laid one paw over my foot as I continued to work at my table. A few minutes later I looked down at her, and she had quietly passed over the rainbow bridge, touching my foot. I’ve been so torn up over her that I can’t stop crying. When I read stories like yours, it sends me onto long crying jags. Gypsy is always on my mind. I didn’t get to love her for very long, but it was one of the sweetest, lovingest relationships of my life. I have 2 other dogs in my life right now, and love them both totally, but I still cry over Gypsy when I read stories like yours.

  21. Pingback: Beautiful tribute to old dogs - Doberman Forum : Doberman Breed Dog Forums

  22. Just consumed all of your stories about Harper and am flooded with memories. We’ve lost 3 of our wonderful dogs in the last four years. Two of them were with us since puppyhood, one an adopted senior. We have two more adopted seniors age 10, so I know the reality of a dog’s lifespan. Our Tino lived the longest – to 15 – and he, like Harper is a dog we rescued from certain death and still has my heart and I miss him every single day. This was beautiful writing – thank you for sharing. Here’s to Harper and all the seniors for all the lessons they teach us.

  23. Some call them old souls. Some say they are other pets reincarnated. All I know for certain is that beloved Wiggles Blue Heeler (aka a cattle dog, like your sweet Harper) — truly the child of my soul, I tell you as I am still part of this earth, and forevermore — upon my helping him put his fourth paw back into Heaven on Sunday morning, December 5th, 2010, immediately got God’s ear and said, “God, we’ve just GOT to find my mommy another dog to love & care for. She’s not going to make it without me!” I did not want “another dog,” and actually was angry when others, meaning well, I’m sure, said, “So, when are you going to get ‘another dog’?” How could there be another to assauge the grief that, even now, more than three years later, continues to well up in my throat, threatening to choke off my ability to breathe? Well, three months to the day later, I returned home from visiting & helping my father (who passed away from Alzheimer’s 4 months ago), and although exhausted, felt the need to sign on to Facebook. There, on my page, a friend had crossposted a photo with the words “Someone please help this poor soul.” Visit http://wigglesblueheeler.blogspot.com to learn more about what happened. You will not be sorry. If our true story touches you, please share it with others, because, as Wiggles aka Many Kisses aka The Sweetest One, taught me so well, “Blindness musts never be a death sentence.”

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