Most people, if you asked, would have a pretty good idea how old their dog is. Of course, if Rex or Lady happens to be pedigreed, the exact date is right there on their registration. But for a lot of us, it’s not quite as automatic as knowing the birth date of a son or daughter.
Then there are those pet owners who absolutely would know. Some of them will actually celebrate the birthdays of the Labrador or the Siamese in their life. People like my wife. In her defense, for our chocolate Labrador Bella’s recent eighth birthday, she did not go over the deep end and send out invitations, blow up balloons, hang banners or make anyone wear those festive, cone-shaped hats.
She did, however, put a candle in a slice of apple crisp, topped with vanilla ice cream—momentarily lighted, no less—and have me shoot a smart-phone video of Bella downing the dessert while my wife sang the Happy Birthday song. The start of the video shows a very reluctant Labrador, her reluctance owing to the fact that—having little experience with flames—Bella got too close before the candle was removed from the dessert. But all is well that ends well, and Bella ended the party well satisfied.
Adults of a certain age talk of time “flying by.” That’s especially true when they reach the age of my duck hunting partner and I—both of us now on the “round-the-numbers-up” half of the decade beyond our 60th birthdays. Both our ages and the 40-plus years we have hunted waterfowl together seem to have accumulated beyond any reasonable rate of speed.
It’s also true for our pets, or at least this human’s perception of it. It seems not so very long ago that my wife, my son and I were bound for a small rural village west of Menomonie, Wisconsin, during his college junior year Thanksgiving break. We had concocted the story that I was going there to purchase a highly desirable old shotgun from a private party. Instead, we were driving to Harvest Moon Kennels, breeders of Labrador retrievers.
My son would later say that he had put two and two together, and was on to our ruse (we hadn’t sent him to college for nothing, after all), in part because he had seen a collapsible dog crate in the back of our van, but said nothing and let the drama play out. Rather than the collapsible dog crate, Bella occupied a cardboard box on the way back to Minnesota, allowing my son and wife to pet and accustom her to their touch and smell—and her to gnaw on them with those needle-sharp puppy teeth—with frequent pauses for potty breaks.
That was eight fleeting years ago. If—by the popular formula—a dog’s age equivalent to humans is its actual years times seven, then Bella would be 56 in our years. That would be considered young for a human these days. But when you work that formula to its logical conclusion, Bella will be age 70 in just two short human years. That’s getting on up there; she will have caught up to her old man, and will soon pass him.
Signs of mortality are showing, as might be expected. She has a thin band of gray outlining her muzzle, and a few “strays” on her face as well. Not so different from her master, whose beard is the same silvery color, from cheek to chin. Though she’s catching up in dog years, Bella’s vitality is more than a match for his, still able to make retrieve after retrieve in waves he wouldn’t dream of swimming against.
By some peculiar twist of genetic fate, chocolate Labradors are said to have a shorter life expectancy than black or yellow Labradors. That life expectancy is said to be 10.7 years, while the average for black and yellow Labrador’s is somewhere between 12 and 12 ½ years.
“Why” is not easily explained. Longevity in pets, as well as in humans, is sometimes just a matter of inheritance.
Apart from disease susceptibility or resistance, is the simple durability of the vital organs and life support systems of any creature. They eventually wear out. But good nutrition, access to regular health care by a competent veterinarian, maintaining healthy body weight and staying fit through regular exercise, can be expected to make a difference, barring fatal diseases or accidents. Just like with humans.
The consolation to be found in an unfavorable life expectancy is that averages are made up of highs, lows and in-betweens. They are all added together and divided to find the average. In addition to chocolate Labradors that live to ten years of age, there will be some that live only to eight, but others that live to 12; some that live only to seven, but others to the ripe old age of 13, and so on. The average may be 10, but some will “beat the odds” and live longer.
My wife and I will hope that ours proves to be one of the latter, an exception that proves the rule. As you, no doubt, will do with your beloved pet, whatever it might be.