The last few days, now in the first long days of true winter, I have had a serious impulse to stay indoors and be a hermit. But I've pushed myself out into the cold, generally gray streets because it's "good for" me - yes, of course it is. When the feet move one in front of the other at a fairly speedy pace, the whole body benefits: th heart beats a bit faster, the stomach and bowels are stimulated and function better, the brain's endorphins rev up a bit and produce a feeling of well being. Walking is good. Yes, let's hear it for walking! My cardiologist recommends it -- briskly.
Every now and then I think I should get a dog. If I had a dog I would feel responsible to the critter to take him or her out twice a day. I wouldn't argue with myself that I'm cozy and comfy where I am and don't need to put on a heavy coat and scarf and gloves and hat and face the elements. I'd feel it was my duty toward the dog -- I know myself. The needs of others, including animals, are not to be ignored. They too have biological urges and appreciate attention - and they repay us with affection and companionship and their simple cuteness.
When I go out I see lots of dogs of all sizes and shapes and they all look lovable. I like cats, I've had cats, I like stroking a purring cat. I know it releases all those feel-good brain chemicals; I like that feeling. But cats in the city need liter boxes and liter boxes necessarily stink and must be cleaned and changed very regularly and no matter how fastidious the cat, it can't help but get litter granules in its paws and leave them on rugs around the house. There's only one little corner in the house where a litter box could be and I DON"T WANT a litter there. Darling as cats are, no cats, thank you very much. Ideally cats have a cat door and can go out to a backyard and do their thing most of the year. Not in the an apartment building like this.
Dogs? Yes, I like dogs. They need to be walked, they need even more attention than cats, but they are more dependably loving and playful. As I walked in Central Park yesterday I had a familiar discussion with myself. First of all one has no true freedom from a dog's needs. If there is a lovely companion or a wonderful neighbor, maybe it is possible to feel free to live one's life on one's schedule irrespective of the dog's needs, but without that, a dog's needs are more consistent and demanding than, say a spouse's even. My sense of responsibility is such that I would feel tied to a dog's needs and worry about coming home late -- what does a dog understand of an acquaintance met by chance? A subway stalled?
And then there's the question that people my age must think about. If I got a dog or cat at this time in, will I. We would grow somewhat decrepit and needy together. And just at my most vulnerable, at say 85 or 90, the animal would begin suffering old age symptoms and perhaps serious illness and perhaps die or have to be put down -- what an awful burden at that [human] age to lose a beloved companion, to see the parallels! It's cowardly to think in these terms, but it is also selfish to think that a darling dog acquired now will have a thriving life as long as I might live.
I know I would love a dog or cat but all these considerations convince me, no. Not now, perhaps not ever. And yet ... ah ... they say people live longer with pets ... the thoughts will recur, the question will not be resolved.
ELDER MUSIC: Send More Chuck Berry - This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge an...
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