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Book Review
Old Dogs, Old Friends,
by Bonnie Wilcox & Chris Walkowicz

Review by: Kate Connick, Sept. 2002

There are few things that I am utterly sappy about, but old dogs rank right up at the top of the list. Show me a stiff, grey-snouted, old dog with cloudy eyes and a few fatty lumps, and my heart melts. And that is why I love this book. Old Dogs, Old Friends is a shamelessly sentimental celebration of the canine old-timers in our lives. It is filled with heartwarming photos of dogs ranging in age from mature to utterly ancient, and the text abounds with their inspirational tales. The book also offers useful, practical advice about caring for an older dog... and about saying goodbye.

Wilcox & Walkowicz have a very readable, down-to-Earth writing style. They display a tremendous warmth and sensitivity not only for old dogs but for their owners. Analogies between aging people and dogs abound, "The hardest thing about retirement is that after they give you a gold watch and a pat on the back, they turn you out to pasture. As dogs grow older, we often treat them the same way - minus the gold watch." I dare say that this book is not only a tribute to aging dogs but is rather life-affirming for any of us. The bottom line is to make the most of those golden years!

The book's fundamental message is about cherishing one's old dog - being more attentive, spending extra time, relishing shared moments before it's too late. The authors wisely point out, "We, the owners of aging pets, are actually the lucky ones. We've had time to build memories, and - until the last moment - there's always time to create more." The authors encourage owners of old dogs to keep their pets active, maintain familiar routines, and continue to include them in activities. A multitude of case histories interspersed throughout the text personalizes each point the authors make.

The reader is advised to be especially attentive to the old dog's health and demeanor, as age-related ailments can sneak up unexpectedly. A quick overview of common old dog conditions, including cataracts, liver and kidney disease, hypothyroidism and arthritis, gives the reader an idea of what kind of symptoms to watch for. Practical suggestions are offered, for example keeping a blind dog on leash, avoiding startling a deaf dog while he's sleeping, bringing the old "outdoor dog" indoors to live, etc.

The reader might be disappointed at the relatively superficial way in which some common ailments (e.g., Cushing's disease) are discussed. Paradoxically that can be considered part of the book's strength, given that our understanding of and method of treating various conditions is continually evolving. In other words, the more general the discussion, the less likely it is to become invalid with time. The authors indicate that they are not trying to provide a medical manual but are merely trying to give the old-dog owner enough information to know when to get their dog the veterinary attention it may need.

Nonetheless, the greatest problem with this book may be its own elderly status. This book was published 11 years ago, so some of the informational content is bound to be dated. For example, one notable "fact" that has since been discredited is the authors' once widely-believed assertion that it is crucial to feed reduced-protein diets to elderly dogs in order to prevent age-related kidney damage. Quite to the contrary, it is now believed that geriatric dogs - whether experiencing renal impairment or not - may have increased dietary protein requirements. Increasing the digestibility of the protein source and reducing dietary phosphorus appear to best decrease the burden on kidney function, as opposed to reducing the dietary protein level, per se. (For more information on this particular topic, see Is a Low Protein Diet Necessary or Desirable?)

To the authors' credit, much of the advice is timeless in terms of reducing stress, avoiding obesity, and keeping an older dog mentally and physically active within its capabilities. The plea to love one's old dog, spend time with him, be attentive to his needs and health, and spare his suffering when the time comes can never grow stale.

This book is best appreciated for its sentimentality rather than its informational content. It is a celebration of old dogs, and anyone who has ever been fortunate enough to share life with a silver-muzzled codger cannot help but feel the warmth as the authors share anecdote after anecdote of old dog adventures and triumphs. The information on basic care and the inspirational tone will make anyone cherish their geriatric pooch just a little more after closing the book. Read this book yourself, and then give it to a friend to enjoy.

Old Dogs, Old Friends by Bonnie Wilcox & Chris Walkowicz.
Published by Howell Book House, 1991. ISBN: 0876057504

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