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Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Dog's Life

They say that one year of a dog’s life is equal to seven of a human’s. But that is misleading. After one year, the dog is an adult, far superior to the seven year old human. On the far end of the life, the analogy is also inapposite. A dog of ten years is almost certainly better off than a human of seventy.

The reason for this difference demands reference to Darwinian principles. To survive in the nomadic pack, dogs could not afford the lengthy weaning period of apes and humans. Nor could they survive the lengthy decline of health and vigor we associate with aging. If life could be depicted by a line chart, a human’s life would be more like a parabola, while a dog’s would be a long straight line preceded by a steep rise and ending with a precipitous drop.

Of course, now that we have reduced dogs to the status of pets, replacing the cruel truths of the pack with the pampering attentions of loco parentis, old dogs suffer age related ailments and are just as miserable as old people.

Well, almost as miserable.

We don’t know if dogs sense their impending death. We humans do and as we get older it becomes undeniable, rushing inexorably closer each moment. But for most of us death doesn’t come suddenly. It follows a long slow painful and increasingly miserable decline

My son is now thirty and in his recent visit I noticed that he has many grey hairs. Thankfully, his generation’s life expectancy will be far longer than mine. Medical advances will probably also soften the decline of his life’s parabola.

But these innovations can only delay, not eliminate the sadness that comes with awareness that you are on the downside of the parabola, life’s roller coaster ride. When I was a kid in Coney Island, I always knew when the ride was ending, slowing down after the final thrilling turn. As the car stopped, the bar unlocked and I wanted to go round again.


  1. I realized that I should have commented here, on your blog, rather than on FB. Well, here it is, the same thought:
    Just as the dog analogy proves imprecise, so may the one of parabola. Although I share the sentiment and identify with it (at times), at the same time one has to lose all hope in order to come to a finite, unswerving conclusion that one is ...rolling down the parabolic slope, and another climb is not foreseeable. But it's an assumption. What if you were to consider that life is a sine curve? There's a multiplicity of rises and drops, just like the waves in the sea. Thus, while being cognizant of descent, we don't really know how many more rises (and descents) to expect, and, as long as one has hope and the will to experience life, and curiosity, many more sine "hills" are possible, and the final number, the ending of the curve, is indeterminate, and unforeseeable - not with any degree of confidence.

  2. Rina, Yes, roller coaster is probably better than parabola because of the many ups and downs and ups and downs. But I was thinking about the moment when I stopped assuming I would be immortal, when I realized that it was mostly downhill from then on - energy, "potential" would be diminishing. And don't say life begins at ... they used to say 40, now they probably claim 80.