Why do some dogs live longer than others?
Why does one dog live longer than another? What makes an individual resistant to a disease such as cancer, when it is a common malady in its breed? These questions are the focus of Dr. David Waters’ research program at the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation, a not-for-profit institute committed to identifying genetic and environmental determinants of longevity and subsequent resistance to cancer and other age-related diseases. In other words, an effort to discover the “secrets of successful aging and cancer avoidance.”
We met Dr. Waters in 2014. As part of the “The Old Grey Muzzle Tour”, he was invited to speak to a local group of veterinarians and others regarding his research program. This was part of an annual trip during which he visits and studies elderly Rottweilers who successfully reached the ripe old age of 100 years old (in human years). (For more information on Dr. Water’s project, please visit his website: www.GPMCF.org)
Following the presentation, Dr. Waters invited the audience to ask questions. Since the dominant profession of those in attendance was veterinary medicine, most of the questions involved genetic and laboratory findings. Surprisingly, his research has found that spaying and neutering dogs at a very young age is contra-indicative to long-term health. Findings indicate that the length and quality of a dog’s life is directly associated with how long the dog’s endocrine system is intact. This is the opposite of the current “spay & neuter at 6 months” philosophy promoted at most animal care facilities and shelters.
Another common factor/proponent to longevity was companionship…. meaning dogs in households with 2 or more dogs were found to live longer. Dogs are extremely social beings who develop a close relationship with their pack members. Loyal to the Nth-degree to their bipeds but especially bonded to their canine brothers/sisters. Anyone in a multiple dog household has held witness to the joys of playtime and the affection displayed between pack mates.
So what happens when one pet departs this world and leaves the other behind? Whether a dog is capable of grieving has been an issue of debate. Based on personal experience, it is my opinion that they do.
We brought Xar home as a 10 week old puppy. Although initially surprised that he was actually going to help raise one of his pups, Patryn stepped up. Over the next year or so, the two became close…father and son, teacher and student….sleeping side by side. When Patryn was diagnosed with cancer and died several months afterward, Xar was lost. He quickly realized Patryn wasn’t coming home. No longer the bouncy, irritating youngster, he quit eating, his hair began to fall out. Thinking his grief would dissipate in a few weeks or so, we were still waiting for his “come back” months down the road. It was obvious that Xar needed a companion and we couldn’t wait until Spring to find him one.
On Facebook, my husband mentioned that Xar wasn’t doing well as a singleton and we were in need of a puppy. His fellow Deerhound connections told him of 2 young male pups possibly available for adoption. We talked with both caretaker and breeder about the pups. They were similar in age and open to a forever home. The “tie breaker” was photos sent by the breeder of “Snuffles”. After seeing him, I knew he belonged with us. He was 4 ½ months old and as yet had not been given a name. The “Snuffles” nickname came from his malformed turbinate which impacted his ability to breathe through his left nasal passage. So, the breeder warned, he sometimes made snuffling sounds and snored a bit. No matter to us …. we knew we wanted him and waited for the breeder to decide between us and another family looking for a puppy.
While driving out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday to be with family in Iowa, we received an email from the breeder saying “he was ours” and asking when we would come pick him up. We stopped on the roadside, turned around and the 3 of us (Xar, my husband and I) headed for Virginia the next morning. It was Coren’s (a.k.a. Snuffle’s) first ride in a car. Xar and Coren shared the back area of the van and by the time we arrived back home, they had bonded.
Coren has proved to be an excellent pack mate … as a companion and a playmate. He is smart and assimilated quickly to his new home environment. He easily picked up the basic commands of obedience training and has tolerated Xar’s lessons on manners at home. Since joining us as a pup, Coren has come a long way…..and so has Xar.
It was a pleasure to watch Xar come alive again. This is the value of companionship.