Mind Over Miller: The secret to keeping a young spirit
People often ask me, “When are you going to slow down?” My answer is, “When I’m forced to!”
Why? It’s simple: The older animals in my life have taught me to carry on.
My Australian shepherd Sugar Bear is 15 years old. Although now almost completely deaf, she is in remarkably good shape. She can still vault into the back of our station wagon and sail back out of it (must have a good veterinarian). Her vision and sense of smell are as good as ever, and she is quite aware of everything that goes on around our home.
However, for the past year or two, her preferred activity has been dozing somewhere around the house—preferably close to my wife Debby or me.
That is, until we got Oliver.
In contrast to Sugar’s 15 years of age, Oliver is 15 weeks old. Incompatible? Not at all!
Instead of sleeping most of the day, she accompanies Oliver on his escapades—exploring, chewing, roaming, chewing, patrolling … and chewing.
What do they chew? Everything! Not just squeaky toys, Nylabones, and tennis balls. No! Mom’s shoes, the carpets, my socks, the furniture—all are meant to be chewed. Fourteen years after Sugar outgrew the puppy chewing stage, she now joins Oliver in his mischievous dental escapades. Her teeth look good.
The change in Sugar is truly extraordinary. With Oliver around, she acts 10 years younger, her old eyes sparkle again, and she is rejuvenated—at least for a while.
Thinking back, I can vividly remember our 25-year-old mule, Jordass Jean. No longer sound at her age, she had a comfortable but dull life eating and sleeping, but not working.
Then we were told that she was to be awarded the Hall of Fame at Bishop Mule Days in Bishop, California, an event we’d brought her to in her younger days. We agreed to take her there for the award, but we were concerned about the seven-hour trailer trip, so we stopped every couple hours to let her recuperate.
When we arrived at Bishop, she backed out of the horse trailer, slowly and cautiously—as an older lady should, considering the years of athletic activity behind her: jumping, trail rides, cattle roundups, pack trips, reining contests, and roping and cutting cattle.
She hadn’t been to Bishop for 15 years, but as she got out of the trailer, she raised her head and her eyes sparkled. She remembered.
Debby saddled her up for the photographer, and afterward, the two rode off to explore the fairgrounds.
They were gone all afternoon. When they returned hours later, Debby said, “They asked me if I wanted to take her in the parade downtown and in the grand entry to the show. I turned them down because I felt that she was too old and arthritic. But, you know, she never took a lame step—she was alert and interested in everything. I could have won the Western Trail Class on her. She’s rejuvenated!”
Apparently, returning to a place where she had many meaningful experiences had stimulated her mentally and physically. When we arrived home with our “Jeannie,” we made a practice of riding her at least once a week. A dose of phenylbutazone prior to the ride helped.
So not just as a practitioner, but also as an animal owner, I learned to keep going. These pets taught me that the “Golden Years” begin at birth. The secret is not allowing them to tarnish as we age.
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmmiller.com.