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Living in dog years

Alan Braunholtz

Dogs provide an unwanted lesson in aging as they quickly burn through their allotted years. Unless you’re cuddling up to a Galapagos giant tortoise, with a lifespan of 200 years, all of our pets do. I’ve always wanted to be an old man on the back porch with an equally grumpy old dog. But we’re not there yet. Both our dogs still surprise me with bursts of youthful energy and power when challenged.Numu will be dawdling along, gray-grizzled snout scuffing the ground, tail drooping flat and generally looking very long in the tooth. Then wham, a strange dog will appear in the ‘hood and she’s all business in her territorial-protection mode. She’s a dominant cow, and a pain in the ass, but the transformation is remarkable.After a recent fence-line brawl in Denver, she trotted away tail up, snorting and looking a decade younger, at least for the next 10 minutes or so. Calvin the other dog, fortunately a complete wimp, competes with speed. He loves beating the younger pups to the ball or stick, then playing keepaway. Competition, if not quite the elixir of youth, is a big part of living young.We protect our pets from the harsh basis of this instinctive pick-me-up, nature’s “survival of the fittest.” Don’t win the fight in the wolf pack and you’re out, left to hunt and starve alone. Run too slow and you don’t eat, or you become a tasty snack yourself. Likewise, civilization shields us from the extreme results of competition. Mediocrity is a Lexus-or-Hyundai issue, not a life-or-death problem, at least in the developed world.We satisfy the competitive urge in part with recreational sports. For many, the highlight of the week is the local B League, recreational race or bridge tournament. Watch the legends at the American Ski Classic as they go head to head. They’ll be as proud as a pit bull, all young and tough again.It’s even better in the local town races, as the up and coming youth measure up to the old men and vice versa. There’s no age class quarter asked or given here. Whether the racer is 14 or 50, it’s the time that counts and both probably surprise the other with their skills, though I doubt they publicly admit it. That would be betraying your demographic.Every now and then an ex-national team racer or Olympian wanders through and everyone guns for them. If you somehow missed competing in the Olympics, the next best thing is to compete against an Olympian. I have to admire these ex-racers who are relaxing after years of intense competition and still manage to graciously acknowledge all our belated efforts as we push ourselves against the most visible benchmark available – them.Best to be selective with competitive urges. It gets addictive. It’s a powerful motivator for improvement and getting you out there, but it can overwhelm the original pleasures of participation. A pleasant trail jog, sniffing the air and savoring the freedom disappears into a training regimen of miles, tempos, heart rates and wind sprints. That elusive victory becomes the be all and end all.Lose the intrinsic pleasures to the god of being the best and ageing will be a difficult time as the body starts to slow down and performance declines. The victory of youth!Rec leagues and age classes fill a need as we slide up and then down the competitive scales. Sure it’s serious but fun and really not too serious. Almost everyone knows the scales go higher than they can. I feel that my dogs know this, too, as they pick races and fights with appropriate opponents to keep them on their toes, but not kill them. Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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