An unabashedly sentimental look at old dogs

Dog lovers know that the only fault with a dog, and I mean the only fault, is that they don’t live long enough. Here is an unabashedly sentimental look at old dogs.

Beautiful Old Dogs: A Loving Tribute to Our Senior Best Friends

Photos by Garry Gross

Edited by David Tabatsky

$19.99 St. Martin’s Press

Dog lovers know that the only fault with a dog, and I mean the only fault, is that they don’t live long enough. Here is an unabashedly sentimental look at old dogs.

Garry Gross was a fashion photographer during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. He won many awards for his work. Then, in 2002, he turned his camera lens toward dogs, especially the old guys, those pets that started out chasing balls and rabbits, patrolling the neighbourhood and keeping the kids in line, and then matured into wise old companions.

This photographer visited many shelters and pet rescue places and he saw sad dogs. He hoped his pictures would, “highlight the plight and value of the senior dog.” Too many times Gross saw the old dogs, for various reasons, languishing in rescue facilities, with no hope of a home for their last years.

Everyone who ever had a dog from a puppy is surprised when suddenly the veterinarian refers to that dog as a “senior.” “But look,” they say, “she’s only nine and she still runs around like a puppy.” Then they notice that the muzzle is grey and that hip makes stairs difficult. Many owners keep those old friends through until the end; others surrender them to animal shelters and carry on with their busy lives.

When Gross died in 2010 in New York City, David Tabatsky gathered many of these wonderful photos into this book, along with stories told by dog owners; especially stories in which dogs attain a ripe old age and retire with grace.

Some of the writers featured here are Anna Quindlen, Ally Sheedy, Christopher Durang, Doris Day, Dean Koontz and Marlo Thomas. Included, as well, is the classic essay by Eugene O’Neill written to comfort his wife whose old dog had reached the end of his life.

Many people believe that the most serious illness of elderly people is not cancer or heart disease, but loneliness. Family members are very busy these days, not always able to help fill the time of older relatives.

Life for seniors can become a round of too much TV, mediocre meals and depression. Somewhere in a rescue centre there is an old fellow or girl who could add some interest and affection to that life. Sometimes they need a bit of remedial attention from a vet, but a checkup, a warm bed and a daily stroll around the block and they will reward their rescuer with a few years of company and devotion.

Every dog owner has a thousand stories about their dog or dogs (don’t get them started) but dogs’ lives are shorter than ours. Saying goodbye is difficult. Gratitude and memories help.

This is a wonderful book, full of moving photographs of big brown eyes, grey muzzles and calm patience. “Sometimes an old dog can teach you new tricks.”

Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.

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