How senior animals teach us to be better people

Unless your favorite animal companion is a tortoise or a macaw, you know that when you bring home a new dog or cat, that they will unfortunately enter their senior years far too soon. Cats live on average 15 years; dogs, just 10-13.

But because I always try to see the bright side of things, and having shared my life with a senior dog (or two), I like to remind myself of the many ways my senior animals have actually made me a better person through the gifts they share so freely. Here are five incredible gifts of wisdom my senior animals have offered me through the years (do any of these sound familiar to you?):

1. The gift of slowing down: Kittens and puppies are so much fun—but they are also endless fluff balls of energy! There is something wonderfully fulfilling about a friendship honed over the years with your favorite dog or cat. You know each other inside and out. She’s seen your best—and worst—and loves you just the same. Play time may not be as active, but cuddle time can be just as bonding. We lead such crazy busy lives as it is, and when we share our lives with a senior animal, they remind us that it’s OK (and even healing) to slow down.

2. Unconditional love: I touched on this point above, but it’s so true: When we bring animals into our home, they share everything with us as the years pass—including the whole rainbow of emotions (yes, even the ugly ones). They are there to catch our tears in their fur when our heart aches, and embrace joy with us when bounding down a soft beach. No matter how sick or grumpy or selfish we become, they love us more every single day. And when their whiskers finally turn silver and they are still there to lend a paw, no matter what, we can finally understand the true meaning of unconditional love.

3. Senior animals are wise meditation teachers: They help us in so many ways. When our overactive mind won’t quiet, their calming presence reminds us to slow down and breathe. Sharing a meditation with our senior animals also helps us access our inner compassion: It arises effortlessly because we are already opening our hearts to our animal at that moment. They also remind us that any moment can be a meditation—cuddling on the couch, or going for a walk. Meditation is about bringing all of our energy to this present moment, and opening our hearts to the peaceful power that exists in the now.

4. They model the Reiki precept: “For today only, do not worry.” Your senior dog may have slowed down due to arthritis. Or perhaps your elder cat suffers kidney failure and now survives with the help of subcutaneous fluid therapy. Whatever their health condition, you see this commonality in animals: They don’t waste precious life moments agonizing over their health problems. For the most part, as long as they are not in pain, they are accepting of the aging process. We could learn a lot from them! How many of us spend sleepless nights worrying not just about our current health issues—but of potential diseases that haven’t even affected us (or our loved ones) yet? Yeah, me too. But as difficult (or impossible) as it seems, take a few minutes each day to sit with your senior animal. Let go of your fears and focus on embracing the moment that exists right now—be fully present, with no thought or worry of the past or the future. This daily exercise is not only renewing for your spirit, it also gives you the strength to face what tomorrow brings.

5. Bravery: Our senior animals don’t just face aging with dignity—they do so with bravery, too. Somehow they just know how hard it is on us that they will have to leave this earthly plane. They have spent their entire lives protecting us—leaving us is not easy. And so when the time approaches, they find small ways to teach us to be brave, too, in the face of the inevitable—to reassure us that we will be OK when they are gone; that they will curl up in our hearts forever. We then must share that bravery when we open our hearts and whisper our blessing, that they may leave now, when the time is right, and let go of all worry for us—for we are strong because of them.

How has your senior animal made you better, stronger and wiser?

{Photo of Sterling © Charlotte Jensen}

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Kathleen Prasad

Kathleen Prasad is an entrepreneur, author, educator, spiritual seeker and animal advocate living in beautiful Marin County, California, with her husband, daughter, dog and two horses. She loves being with animals, listening to hip-hop, eating out at vegan restaurants, riding dressage, hiking in the redwoods and traveling the world to meet animal people.
You can learn more about Kathleen here.

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Comments (2)

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    Linda Rae

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    I so loved this post. I’ve had several seniors of different species in my life and they were each one a blessing to me and my family. One cat in particular lived to be 21 and she came into our bedroom and cried at 5am to say goodbye and then passed away. She was so spry and healthy her whole life and played like a kitten right up until the end. The older horses were so wise, teaching me patience with the young colts. We adopted a senior dog after our former dog died at age 18. He helped me to heal from the grief and was our dear friend for five years before he passed also at age 18. They are all so wonderful. I need the animals like I need air.

    Thanks for your lovely thoughts. Bless you and all that you do.

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      Kathleen Prasad

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      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Linda. Sounds like your life has been truly blessed by many senior angels 🙂 I love how you say you need animals like you need air – that is precious! I am sure it’s true for many of us reading this article, myself included! Blessings to you too 🙂

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