The other day I asked a friend how many years of his life he would give to his dog, if he had the ability to do so. I’ve thought about this a lot myself, as the entirety of my emotional wellbeing rests on the fact of my own dog's continued existence; my ability to be near him, and to feed him pasta with my mouth. This is an issue for at least one obvious reason.
The question of how many years we’d give to our dogs is one that, in the wrong hands, could turn into a parable about some bullshit like the importance of honoring the limited amount of time we all have. Or it could be like a Twilight Zone episode where a guy gives his dog too many of his years (after somebody grants him a wish) and he dies immediately, and then the dog has to live on without him. And you’re left thinking, “Okay but, like ... what was the moral? Aren’t these supposed to have morals?” But I just mean it as a real question. How many years would you give?
My friend asked if he could just meet his dog in the middle, which is unfortunately against the rules. Then he thought about it briefly — weighing his own age and life expectancy — and said, “ten or 15.” I’ll anticipate your questions as you consider the prospect yourself.
WOULDN'T THE DOG'S QUALITY OF LIFE BE TERRIBLE WITH THE UNNATURAL ADDITION OF YEARS?
No. Obviously dogs are, biologically, only meant to live to a certain point, but this question isn’t about torturing your dog with the pain of forced living. This is imaginary. Even if your dog has ailments at the moment, for his bonus years your dog is healthy.
SO I CAN’T JUST SAY I'LL MEET MY DOG IN THE MIDDLE? HE TAKES HALF OF MY REMAINING YEARS AND I TAKE THE OTHER HALF AND WE DIE AT THE SAME TIME?
No, you have to pick a number.
BUT I DON'T KNOW HOW MANY YEARS I HAVE LEFT.
I know, that's part of it. Maybe you only have ten years left, and you say ten, and now you die immediately and your dog falls in love with a new person for ten years of bliss.
THAT WOULD SUCK FOR ME.
I know, but there has to be risk involved otherwise it’s just a simultaneously boring and devastating question about death that only serves to highlight our ultimate lack of control.
IT IS STILL THAT.
WHAT IF I DON'T WANT TO GIVE ANY YEARS TO MY DOG?
Sounds selfish but all right.
IT'S JUST, I HAVE CHILDREN.
I didn't ask.
IT'S NOT THAT I DON'T LOVE MY DOG, BUT—
The question and answer portion has ended.
One of my main fears around the death of my dog concerns the fact that his mere existence greatly enhances every other aspect of my life. A bad lunch isn’t so bad if he’s sharing it. A career in online media is not as doomed if I have him to rest his head on my keyboard. A night at home doing nothing is a night spent doing my favorite thing: nothing, but with him. The source of any sadness that leaves me in tears is lessened by his absolute determination to stop it using tactics such as: shoving his small face into mine, booping my nose, and forcing himself onto my lap with all of the weight his tiny cannonball body can muster. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about every other aspect of my life once he is not there to enhance it.
That’s why I invented the question, you see.
But I was curious if anyone felt the same way. Using a Google form, I asked people who follow me on Twitter how many years of their lives they’d give to their dogs if they could, if any. A few people said zero. “I love my dog but I am terrified of death,” one person wrote. “Please don’t judge me.” I am judging you, and I suggest you attempt to form a better relationship with death for your own good (not a threat). But the majority of answers were between five and twenty years, save for one person who said 50 (“I don't even have a dog but id rather they live forever and i die tomorrow”).
“My dog is 7ish now but that’s just a guess bc the shelter said she was 3 when I adopted her. Every time I think about the fact that she will one day die I start to cry,” said a person donating seven years. “She’s small and should live to be 15 if I take good care of her but that simply is not enough.”
“I REALLY thought about it, and the idea of Rufus having an extra healthy 12 years is absolutely worth the cost to my own life.” “My dog died of heart failure in April and it was very sudden. I still haven't been able to shake the feeling that I missed something and cut his life short. Saying five years feels like I'm being stingy, but I just want to give him back what I thought would have been a full life for him. Maybe I should have said ten. I don't know.”
A 40-year-old said they would attempt to split the difference and give their dog 20 years, which I believe is a noble and daring move. Someone else wrote, “The last half of this century is gonna be bad from climate change anyway, so why not add a good decade with my dog now while we can still go outside and my brain hasn't melted from cumulative exposure to online yet?” And I agree completely.
A few people brought up the fact that if we all give our dogs additional years, we’ll be leaving fewer homes for other dogs. It’s a good point. Maybe as part of your deal, you can agree to adopt an additional dog. Or maybe two. Or maybe three? :)
And I’ll share one more answer from someone who said they would give “honestly, 15” years. “There are fewer and fewer sources of joy in my life/the world, my corgi Arlo is a huge and unfailing one, and the future seems like it's going to be pretty hellish anyway tbh.” It’s just true.
But how many years would I give, caretaker to my dog Peter, and author of The Particulars of Peter, a book that is out today in paperback and for which this post is meant to serve as somewhat of a promotional device?
None. I believe a dog’s limited lifespan forces us humans to understand the importance of honoring the limited amount of time we all have here on just kidding. I would give 15!