Everyone loves a quiz, right?  At least one that doesn’t count for anything.  Well, I have one for you that should be a snap.  Here is the set-up.

Laird and Karen

Laird and Karen

I have two foster dogs.  One is a robustly healthy, active five-year-old with no known medical problem.  The other is an 11-year-old with stage III lymphosarcoma, and at least one prognosis of only a month to live.  I took these two dogs into my fenced backyard, one at a time, and recorded his/her activities for a couple of hours—sometiimes with me simply sitting on my deck, other times with me moving around doing normal chores, and other times with me actively interacting with the dogs.  Your task is to choose which dog is terminally ill based on their activities.

Dog A

  • Explored fence and yard
  • Relieved itself
  • Checked out veggie garden
  • Sought my attention
  • Snuffled with other dog through window screen
  • Got a drink from the birdbath
  • Ignored a lizard, but chased a bee
  • Lay down next to me and dozed off
  • Lay on the deck and watched the birds
  • Picked up a bone and gnawed on it
  • Chased a tossed squeaky toy and brought it halfway back
  • Followed me when I got up
  • Ate treat enthusiastically
  • Lay zoned out with eyes open staring into distance

Dog B

  • Explored yard and fence
  • Relieved itself
  • Intensely focused on lizard
  • Lay down next to me and dozed off
  • Demanded my attention
  • Got a drink from birdbath
  • Checked out dogs in house
  • Watched horses in adjacent pasture
  • Relaxed in shade of oak tree
  • Followed me when I got up to fill bird feeder
  • Zoned out when I was not doing anything of interest
  • Picked up dog toy and pranced around with it for about a minute, then dropped it
  • Ignored ball I threw
  • Howled along with siren

So which dog is terminally ill?  You might get lucky and pick the one, but I’m sure you will admit that based on their normal everyday behavior, it would be very difficult to tell.

We humans would tend to subjectively view these two dogs quite differently, given the knowledge that one was a senior and terminally ill.  But objectively, on a day-by-day basis there seems to be little difference.  How can we explain this?

I would argue that a good part of the answer is that dogs live ‘in the moment’ whereas humans are aware of the ‘moment’ but then create ‘stories’ about what will happen in the future (e.g. the ill dog will not live long) and we are sad, a feeling that layers directly on top of the happiness that we are experiencing ‘in the moment’ with the ill dog.  But we are very poor at predicting the future, and our stories will be wrong.

So for me, the take-home message is to follow the lead of the dog—LIVE IN THE MOMENT–and enjoy these most wonderful companion animals for what they give us ‘in the moment’.  If you have a senior or terminally ill dog like Laird T. (Dog A), he still is at least 95% the wonderful companion animal you have always enjoyed so much.  Focus on the 95%, not the 5% and, along with your Laird T. ‘live in the moment’.