Un-Still Life With Cavaliers: On Aging

Posted by on Sep 4, 2013 in Blog, General | 16 comments

I’m very excited because today is a Dog Agility Blog Event Day.  It is significant because it is my first as a widely known, respected, and admired dog agility blogger (*cough*.)  I could even say “internationally known” as I have some friends from Canada.  This is not surprising, since Canada is approximately 17 kilometers from my house.  Or maybe 17 kilograms.  I’m not so sure, I learned that in high school and that was a long, long time ago, which leads nicely into today’s subject.

You can read all the blog posts on aging at http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/aging/  and I encourage you to do so.  If everything works correctly, this post will be linked from that site, which means a few innocent souls with careless fingers may accidentally click on it thinking they will find some valuable information from a big-time dog agility trainer.  Instead they will find random neuron misfirings loosely related to dogs, agility, and aging.

Let us first examine human aging and agility, then we will look at our canine teammates.  What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say “aging?”  For me, it is “DENIAL.”  I think that’s a perfectly legitimate and adult way to deal with the topic.  Nobody asks me for an ID any more when I buy alcohol, I have to put my date of birth on a form here or there but it just gets shuffled into a pile with other forms, so why deal with it at all?  It’s all about attitude, experience, not some number of years, like math or something.  Nobody needs to know.  Don’t ask, don’t tell.  Those of you who have had the misfortune of watching me run agility in person (hope your eyes have healed) know that I can still run like the cops are chasing me.

But then there is that darn eyesight thing.  I have never worn contacts, glasses, had laser surgery on my juicy little eyeballs or anything.  But I can’t read anymore.  It started with the date on my watch, you know the little number in the box where the “3” (or “III” for my international readers from ancient Rome) is supposed to be. Couldn’t read it.  Then 8 point font, then 10, and so on.  Now I have to carry drug store magnifying glasses with me wherever I go, just in case I have to read something.  A course map, rules for the agility game Snooker, the latest membership solicitation from AARP (shut up!)  Reading glasses are a sure sign of aging.

I do have the solution to that.  I have bifocal sunglasses, regular shades with magnifying lenses at the bottom.  You can’t tell by looking at them, I just look like an uncool, short, bald Jack Nicholson.  Yeah it’s a little funny wearing sunglasses indoors, but I’ve always had the ability to look out of place just about anywhere.  And for you Snooker fans, 3 OR 4 reds versus 3 OF 4 reds, it makes a big difference.  My hearing may not be what it used to be either, but I can still hear the judge’s whistle on that Snooker course!

Sneaky old man

Sneaky old man glasses

Other than that, I feel pretty darn good.  I can run three dogs in five or six events each day over a three day weekend, and then go home and work 10 or 14 hour days until the next weekend.  I am not a big “diet” freak, but I do keep my weight under control with a carefully planned program of excess caffeine and severe hyperactivity disorder.  And regular exercise.  I’m not going to preach about anything, but here is my three step program for eternal youth:

  1. Spend more time with dogs than people.  Sorry, but it’s true.
  2. Exercise regularly, and everything in moderation.  Except caffeine and exercise, as much as you can stand of those.
  3. DENY!

Now on to aging and dogs.  My regular readers (both of you) know that I like to quote song lyrics from my youth in my blog and I like to make myself cry.  So here goes.  I grew up with a dog, I have had dogs my entire adult life.  Lisa and I have shared shelter dogs, rescue dogs, dogs that were re-homed with us, and purebred dogs.  Many dogs have come and gone, through various stages of illness; cancer, seizures, heart disease, or sudden death.  Many of these have been difficult, particularly the end of life decisions we have had to make for them.  But we are still relatively new to the sport of dog agility, and my very first agility dog, Elmo, will turn 9 very soon.  That is old for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  He is aging.

I am still running him in USDAA agility, but I retired him from AKC.  He earned his MACH (Master Agility Champion) and his MXF (Master Excellent FAST) showing consistency and versatility.  He is one of the most accomplished Cavaliers in USDAA agility, having recently earned a Lifetime Achievement Award and made the Performance Top Ten for 12″ dogs in three out of four classes in 2012.

Being Elmo

Elmo being Elmo

So I send this out to Elmo from Neil Young:  We’ve been through some things together, with trunks of memories still to come, we found things to do in stormy weather, long may you run.  But I realize that Cavaliers are a breed with a short life expectancy.  I breed them, I know all about mitral valve disease in Cavaliers.  Yes, Elmo has a heart murmur.  His mother also recently developed one, but she will turn 13 this month.  Remarkable for a Cavalier.  Long may you run.  Long may you run.  Although these changes have come, with your chrome heart shining in the sun, long may you run.

It is way too soon to think about the end of his career.  I still have the option of moving him to the USDAA Veteran’s classes where he can jump 4″ lower and run a lower A-frame.  He will let me know when that time comes.  Right now we are getting ready for the Cynosport World Games, where he will compete in three different events.  He is getting a little grey in the face, just a hint, and he has lost a second or two on his course times, but I think agility is keeping him younger.  He loves it, the attention at trials, running with me, okay let’s face it he likes the warm-up routine with cheese and liver and the post-run meatballs, but that’s what agility is to him.  I’ve also thought about doing Rally Obedience with him.  Realistically, with all the caffeine and exercise I would probably vibrate myself right out of the ring and I’m sure that is some kind of non-qualifying fault, so maybe that’s not such a good idea.

I think we are just going to live for the moment.  We can cover ourselves in denial.  Celebrate every run, just walking to the start line with his tail in constant motion and his bright eyes.  Camping and hanging out with friends during the summer at trials, maybe sneaking him a bit of hamburger, steak, or rib.  He gets regular veterinary and chiropractic care, has a Back on Track horsey blanket to keep his muscles warm, eats and lives well (no caffeine for him) and he gets to spend some time lounging on the back of the couch trying to lick my head.

And slowly, steadily and stealthily we age together, the first Sanflorian Cavaliers’ agility team.  Nobody needs to know how old we really are.  You and me Elmo, and another Neil Young song:  Old Man take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you.  I need someone to love me the whole day through.  Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true.   We will always be a team.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to check out http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/aging/ for more dog agility blog posts on “Aging.”  And stay tuned to Un-Still Life With Cavaliers, I’m still planning to write some useful advice some day.





  1. Now you have made ME cry. Neither you nor Shmo are allowed to age. See, I can do denial too.

  2. Dammit, John, now you’ve gone and ruined my mascara, and as a person older than you I have no idea how I’m going to get it back on right without my trusty magnifying mirror!

    Do you think we could lobby the AARP to fix this wording? “3 OR 4 reds versus 3 OF 4 reds” could become “3 or 4 reds vs only 3 reds”. Or “as many reds as you can remember to do”

    Love and hugs to Elmo. You’re right, agility is keeping him young so do it as long as you can even if you end up doing NADAC where there are no jumps at all. The dogs don’t care.

    Luck at Cynosport!

    • Hey, one of my two readers has weighed in! I would like “DO ONLY 3 REDS YOU IDIOT” in 24 point type. Looking forward to Cynosport and hearing more from you about Mr. T’s new contact challenges!

  3. Well, you made me cry, too. Tristan is not in agility, but is agile, but also 10 and I am doing the denial thing, but it only holds up for a bit…Lovely essay, John! Long may Elmo wave!

    • Thanks Marie, and such is the magic of Cavaliers. We must accept that they may not be with us for a long, long time, and that makes us love them even more intensely while we are with them.

  4. And me too – blubber, blubber…. I am way ahead of you – both Phipps and myself. The decision to retire her was hard, and every now and then I think it was too soon at 11 1/2. Denial -that river in Egypt thing…..

    • I can’t even imagine Sherry, I think of Phipps running all the time and I smile and she isn’t even one of mine! She sure did have fun doing agility.

  5. Thanks for the reminiscing prompt, John :-) I agree with the whole denial thing – I have to do some quick subtraction when someone asks my age. And my dogs all stop aging at 5 yo. Now about the small type – I believe trials should start offering reading glasses for course maps. Either that or we should get some leeway on off courses due to not being able to read the numbers.

    • Love it Cindy, one free fault for every decade over 40!

  6. Can’t believe that I’ve never read your blog before… You are now added to my favorites :)
    I also agree that caffeine should never be consumed in moderation.

    • Thanks for reading it. I’ve given up most of my other bad habits, but they will have to pry my coffee cup from my cold dead hands!

  7. What a beautiful blog.I am feeling sad about mortality and my Elmo Jr. (Leroy) is only 2 1/2. My own mortality, DENIAL for sure.

    • Thanks for reading it, and don’t be sad, enjoy every moment with all of your special dogs, whether playing agility or lounging around the house.

  8. Yep, made me cry. Especially with all the emotional stuff I am experiencing about bringing Willin’ back to competition in Veterans. I feel like LIsa – NONE of us are allowed to get old!

  9. Reading glass thing is driving me crazy!! Why do they make course maps so small…can’t they make a large print edition like Readers Digest??? Love my Cavalier- you should work on breeding one that will last at least 20 years :) I am certainly in denial that she will not live forever.

    • Love it – large print course map digest! Enjoy your Cavalier, they certainly have changed our lives.


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