Teaching Old Dog Owners New Tricks: Getting A Puppy In My 70s

Are You A Dog Owner?

It started with an email in November, arriving the day before Thanksgiving.

“We have a new litter — 14 puppies. Would you be interested in one?”

The email came from our yellow lab Tashi’s breeder, from whom we had heard nothing for a dozen years.

The couple, Irene and Walter, were getting along at the time. By now, as best we could reckon, they must be in their mid-80s. In other words, this might be a last-chance litter.

Tashi was also definitely getting along. Indeed, in December 2020 she had been diagnosed with a rare and fatal form of cancer. By April, it looked like the end was nigh — she had lost a great deal of weight and was unsteady. We even went so far as to contact a canine hospice service, one that allows your dog to peacefully die at home.

But then, as if by magic, Tashi bounced back. By November, she was, if not her old self, a reasonable facsimile.

Do We Get A Puppy???

We thought long and hard about bringing a new puppy into the mix.

All of the dog books — and we have a lot of dog books — offer words of caution, although no hard-and-fast advice.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Labrador Retrievers (my favorite, for obvious reasons), puts it succinctly: “This can be good or bad.”

And then there was our own longevity to consider. I’m going to be 73 in June. Labs live, on average, 12 to 14 years.

I was reminded of comedian George Burns’ line when he was asked about his plans for the future.

“The future?” he responded incredulously. “The future? Young man, at my age I don’t even buy green bananas.”  

Once You Look A Puppy In The Eyes

Our mistake, of course, was to go look at the puppies. If you’ve ever been to the middle of nowhere, imagine driving another two hours. In winter.   

But once we stared into those soulful puppy eyes, we were done. In mid-January, we picked up a female pup, one we named Kumi.

It is said that if women could clearly recall childbirth, there would be no second child.

Much the same can be said of puppydom. We had forgotten the joys of housebreaking — the chewed baseboards and furniture, the periodic “zoomies” when your pup ricochets off the walls like a furry pinball.

Karen, who reads more sophisticated dog books than I, has decided that Kumi is a “field” (or American) lab, in contrast to Tashi, who is more of the English (or “show”) variety.

Kumi and Tashi (photo by Bob Waite).

Older Dogs And Puppies

Among other things, Kumi seems unbothered by water (Tashi hates puddles) and barks. Tashi has barked maybe twice in her life. Kumi is also much more alert to her surroundings … and much more interested in the ducks and geese that are returning from their winter quarters.

The good news is that Tashi, while not exactly welcoming Kumi with open paws, hovers somewhere between tolerance and fascination. For example, she allows Kumi to climb all over her and even to hitch a precarious ride on her back, although she does cast a look in our direction when such antics transpire that says, “Really?”

Which is to say that it is all a lot of work with many months of training ahead. But much as we were happy to have a second child after having a first, we are happy to have Kumi come into our life … and relieved that Tashi, approaching 13, is taking things in stride.

It’s enough to make me go out and buy some green bananas.    

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About The Author
Robert Waite
Robert Waite
Robert is Managing Director at Waite + Co., a communications firm with offices in Boston, Ottawa and Toronto. He also teaches at Seneca College. He has more than 35 years experience leading communications, marketing and government relations functions for some of North America’s largest firms, including Ford, IBM, CAE, CIBC and Canada Post. He served as Press Secretary to Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-MA) and Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) and in the Reagan Administration. He is a three-time winner of the New England Press Association’s Best Column Award. He can be reached at [email protected].
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