In her younger years, Maia would wake me up before dawn with the clicking of her pacing wolf dog nails on the hardwood floor, and her cold nose poking my face repeatedly until I arose. Then she and Stormy, my Aussie, would make play growling noises and run through the house wrestling with their toys until I took them on their two-hour morning hike.
To some extent this energetic display repeated itself at nightfall. For a wolf dog, sunrise and sunset are instinctually active. Maia could clear any stone wall barbed-wire fence up to five feet high in single leap. She chased deer for miles and knew when any dog entered a four-block radius of our home. She has been my greatest teacher on remaining calm in chaos as well for learning about animal behavior. Over the years I watched her transform from an aggressive, abused wolf dog to one of acute awareness and compassion for others.
Training, helping, and learning to live with Maia (more wolf than dog) have honestly been my greatest accomplishments.
She is now 14 years old and a five-year cancer survivor. She sleeps until I am up and dressed. She can see only two feet in front her, hear only clapping, and walk only very short distances before her hind legs get entwined and she collapses. I often find her holding herself up with her front end while her hind end stretches out in front of her, in yoga poses I could never find myself in. I tried to put her in a wagon to walk. She humored me and rode peacefully half way around the block, then got too embarrassed and insisted on walking the rest of the way herself. She didn’t care that the top of her hind paws dragged upside down and bled the whole way.
Stormy likes wagon rides and will jump in just for fun. Maia still wants to walk — 20 minutes on grass is the best. She amazes me with her ability to pull herself around and jump and pivot off the bed with just her front end. She’s lost over 25 pounds of muscle overall, but still went up a harness size because her front shoulders are so bulky with strength. Though they are slowly going too. She has a burning in her stomach when she eats, and blisters in her mouth from gum disease. She poops when she walks. But she is still more beautiful and has more desire to live than any dog I have ever known. I ask her, “Maia, what is good about getting old?”
Maia says, “As the years go by and my senses go, I realize what it is like to be a domesticated dog and I realize why I had so many problems before. There were too many stimuli for me to process. I realize that I have you to trust, to keep me safe, and to keep me alive. I have learned to sleep more peacefully and let people and animals walk by our territory. I have learned that I have been hard to handle, but I am easier now. Getting old teaches me to let go of things that worry me because they take too much energy out of me. I have learned that there are many people that love me and fight for the welfare of animals. Mostly what I love about being old is that I get to be with you and our other animals for a longer time. I don’t want to die, because every day I learn to love you all even more. When you help me up after I have fallen I realize that you have been doing that for me all my life. You have always been there for me when I needed your help.
“Having to walk slow, with little mobility and sight, has made me love the cats more because they are always there guiding my way. If I forget where I am, they will instantly rub up against me and tell me. I also realize how Stormy has been my protector. Getting old has taught me to appreciate our family more.”