The number one reason you're never too old to adopt a puppy dog.
Four years ago my dad suffered his second heart attack. The first one, a few years earlier was serious enough to warrant a stent in one artery. This attack was bigger, and needed major surgery. A triple by-pass was to be done at Guy's and St. Thomas' hospital in London, one of the very best places to have your rib cage crow-barred in order to restore normal service of your most vital organ.
Before the surgery, he was kept in a kind of purgatorial holding pattern, not allowed to leave hospital, but not being given a definitive op date. All told, he languished there for about a week before being wheeled into theatre. It was a scary time. I know he was scared. I know that he was readying himself for the worst. The days dragged out, made worse by 'tasteless' food. No distraction was powerful enough to shake the mounting dread that his final days might be spent in a sterile ward, in a gown, surrounded by decrepit strangers.
At the time, he was almost 80.
Of course we visited every day. My mum, my siblings. We knew we couldn't really cheer him up, but we could keep him company and maybe momentarily divert his attention from the present to thoughts of a post-op future to when all is well again. A future where we'd promise never to be complacent about how precious life is, or how important it is to live for now, to appreciate the present, to cease needless worry, to stop to smell the roses.
My dad is one of those who believe that life is meant to be hard. Life is a servitude to providing for your family, an endless series of unrequited sacrifices and god forbid any personal indulgences, save the odd slice of cake, especially any slice for which there are no material witnesses.
Also, I need to confess, he's not a dog person.
But my mum is.
While we were waiting for the operation to happen, she was understandably anxious. The waiting was probably just as hard on her as it was on him. And because hospital visiting times are limited to a few hours in the day and few in the evening we were struggling to keep her and ourselves suitably distracted.
That's when I hit on a brainwave. I said to my mum, 'If you could have a dog, any dog, what sort would you like?'.
We hadn't had a family dog for many years and although a dog wasn't a totally foreign idea, it was'nt something any of us had considered since, well, I don't know when. And now we were all grown-ups, so this wouldn't be a family dog, it would be mum's dog.
Entertaining the idea of a puppy was a tonic in those foreboding days. Doing online quizzes to match you to your ideal dog, reading up on breeds and reminding ourselves about all the quirks and considerations you have to make when thinking about a dog was really good fun and, looking back, the perfect distraction for my mum at the time. It turns out my mum had had a Finnish Spitz when she was a child, we never knew this. She dug out a grainy old photograph to show us. Sure enough, there she was! She'd always thought it'd be nice to have another one in the family again, 'someday'.
The operation was a success.
My dad was on the mend. A week of intensive care and he was home. We were out the woods and he was starting to look his old self again. What a relief. The sweet guy in the hospital bed next to my dad's, the guy who was waiting for the same op at about the same time, the guy with the lovely grown-up daughters who visited dotingly everyday, that guy didn't make it. He was at least ten years younger than my dad. Life is fragile.
While my dad was convalescing he found himself in a mutated state of shell-shock and euphoria. Only a near death experience can excite such a genuine sense of appreciation of life. What a shame we can't sustain this feeling for longer, but that's life I suppose.
In any case, we decided to seize the opportunity. My mum had confessed to wanting a dog, and my dad was too weak and giddy to mount any meaningful objection. The iron was white hot. We made some phone calls. We visited two breeders. We connected with a lovely breeder in Wales. We picked out an adorable girl pup. We called her Koira, which is Finnish for dog.
Koira is 4 years old now. She lives a wonderful life. She is rarely on her own for more than an hour, she travels with my parents wherever they go. She loves to give and get affection. She issues a reassuring low growl if she hears a strange sound in the middle of the night. She's the reason my parents stroll through the park every day and she's the reason people wander over to chat, any excuse to pet her. My dad pretends not to feed her scraps from the table, but we know.
Having a dog is not always plain sailing, but I can say with good conscience that the benefits to my parents' well-being far outweigh any inconvenience she might occasionally cause.
I firmly believe there is a dog for everyone. I firmly believe it's never too late to bring a puppy or a rescue into your home. In fact, I believe a life without dogs is fundamentally empty somehow.
There is only today. We don't know what 'someday' will bring, nor when 'someday' will come. Whatever your personal circumstances, however much money you have, whatever your mobility may be, no matter how much time you have, there is a dog out there for you who will let you love them and will love you back, unreservedly, unconditionally.
Please don't wait a day longer. That's just one more day without a dog to make everything brighter.