On our walk this evening Happy was once again mistaken for a puppy. When we found him at the Oregon Humane Society in 2006 he was thought to be at least one year of age, which means that by now he’s at least seven-going-on-eight. This makes him older than I am by a few years, and I ain’t no puppy!
Happy is routinely mistaken for a puppy, and when this happens I always respond with something along the lines of “Well, he certainly seems to act like he is! But he’s actually not a puppy.” Today, I responded by saying, “He’s not a puppy, he’s middle-aged, like me!”
If you’ve met Happy, you know that he has a little gray soul patch on his chin, which I think adds some gravitas to his countenance, but apparently no one else even notices his gray hair because of his overall vibe. But I wonder, what is this overall vibe that strangers are picking up on, and why do they almost to a person associate it with the status of puppy-ness, e.g. youthfulness?
There’s no doubt that I have a heightened sensitivity to discourses about human development and aging. I’m especially sensitive to the words we use to talk about age and aging and stages of the life course, and in particular to how the concepts of “young” and “old” are associated with other concepts. For example, how many times have you said or heard someone else say that during a period of illness or recovery from a serious injury they felt “old”? What about the statements that are so much a part of normative age discourse as to be almost beyond questioning? “You are only as old as you feel.” Or, “He’s young at heart.” Or, “She looks really good for her age.” When we say these things, what do we actually mean, what are we actually communicating? Do we even think about what we are saying before we say it?
I’ve thought quite a bit about why Happy might be mistaken for a puppy, and I think it has to do with the way he inhabits his body, the way he moves through the world. Happy is always looking around, checking things out, in addition to pissing on what seems to be every single light post and bush. As we are walking, he often pulls on the leash out of his exuberance and desire to be out in the world; he also periodically looks back at me and smiles as if to say, “We are together taking a walk and it is my favorite thing and you are my favorite person!” He never forgets that I’m there at the other end of the leash—it is about both of us taking a walk together. When Happy comes upon strangers, he does so in an open, friendly, casual way – I have to say, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I get the feeling that he’s just so darn pleased to be alive, to be himself in the world and to hang out with his people and anyone else he happens to meet.
But why are all of these qualities associated with youthfulness? He’s not a puppy. And yet, and yet....
On a related but to-the-side line of thought, in an episodic, meandering way, over the past several months I’ve been turning my mind toward questions about interconnectedness as we travel through the life course. Not just the connections between human beings, but more broadly between human beings and other creatures. My curiosity about this is specifically connected to Happy and our relationship (which is intimate and has changed over time and is in need of care as are my relationships with my human companions). My relationship with Happy, because of its close-in-ness to my daily lived experience, and because our relationship is cross-creaturely, offers me opportunities to ponder questions about how our travels through the life course, our deep developmental journeys, are inter-related.
I’m still working this out, and I’ll write more once I have more to write.