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It's a dog's life

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:20pm

Old dogs actually may teach us new tricks. A Purdue University researcher spent this spring examining 15 of the longest-lived Rottweilers in the U.S. His aim in studying 13-year-old dogs is insights into healthy human aging.

"These dogs are the equivalent of 100-year-old people," says David Waters. "We want to find out the roots of their success. I know we're going to find that each dog has its own story."

Look around today and you'll see that dogs have achieved almost-human status. And, without a doubt, each has a story.

It seems only a few years ago that my husband, Stan, saw an ad for free puppies. Our old pet, Lassie, had died that winter, and we missed having a dog.

On a breezy early spring day in 2000, we arrived to find two female littermates left. A mixture of Australian shepherd and blue heeler breeds, one puppy had piercing blue eyes. The other puppy had one blue eye and one brown eye. We just couldn't take one and leave the odd-looking one behind!

Naming them was a challenge. A few weeks after the puppies settled in, the doorbell rang. I opened the door but no one was there -- just a four-legged critter with one blue eye and one brown eye.

From that day on, she was known as Ringer. Her sister was called Rosie (Ringer around the Rosie).

Traffic on our blacktop road posed an immediate threat. In July, during the Iowa Games bike race, the puppies were keeping bicyclists at bay when a slow-moving pickup pulled around to pass.

Both dogs were hit. Ringer's injury wasn't life threatening, but the price tag for her survival was a stiff hip. Rosie took off running, and we feared the worst. But she reappeared the next day with a small cut on her head. We hoped it was a lesson learned.

As we found out, owning two dogs isn't necessarily a great idea. The dogs were hard on cats. They also explored the neighborhood. We worried one morning when Rosie was missing.

A few hours later, Rosie was discovered with her head in a snare along the creek that cuts through our farm. Thankfully, she wasn't injured.

Close calls were eclipsed by endless days of snoozing in the sun. Soon only our youngest daughter, Alexa, was home to dote on the dogs.

Then one summer night five years ago, a teenage girl and her mom rang the doorbell. The teen driver had hit -- and killed -- Rosie. At Alexa's insistence, we held a grave-site service.

Gradually we adjusted to being a one-dog family. Ringer chased rabbits but rarely caught one. She tolerated cats.

When an early morning fire destroyed our grower two years ago, she did everything a dog could do to save the pigs.

Ringer always loved having her tummy rubbed. A year ago I felt a lump, and the vet removed a tumor. Before long, she had regained her joie de vivre.

Then one night last summer, Ringer inexplicably ran in front of the tractor. The vet said she had a broken rib and a punctured lung, but she would live. We were relieved because Alexa was returning home the next day from a choir trip.

Ringer healed during the dog days of summer, gradually resuming her nocturnal barking and goat-herding duties.

Then on a bitterly cold February day, a hungry, stray dog appeared. As Stan fed it, he noticed Ringer's appetite was off.

The cancer was back. Less than two weeks later, we had to let go of Ringer.

Looking back, she didn't share any secrets of aging or reach a pinnacle of longevity. But for the record, she was top dog.

Old dogs actually may teach us new tricks. A Purdue University researcher spent this spring examining 15 of the longest-lived Rottweilers in the U.S. His aim in studying 13-year-old dogs is insights into healthy human aging.

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