Essays Written for The Plantation News

I wrote essays for The Plantation News, our family newspaper, between 1983 and 2003. Some essays recorded actual events, while others were humor, satire or fiction. The Plantation News transitioned from paper to blog and continues online here.

Dog Years

There is a peculiar notion in American culture that dogs live seven dog-years for every human year. We all know this is silly – dogs don’t live on their own speedy planet that zips around the sun seven times quicker. Dogs live right here with us, on Earth, enjoying the same 365 1/4 days per solar orbit.

But still, there’s something here – we mean they age quicker, or die sooner, in a proportion of seven years to one. Still, where does that magic number seven come from? This number is cited even in scientific dog food commercials; clearly the best source of truth in our television age. But, I don’t believe there are scientific studies correlating human years to the stages of dog growth. When do dogs graduate puppyhood? At our one year they’re seven; still pretty young pups. When do we, and they, become sexually mature? Our fourteen year-olds would be two in dog, and dogs can have several litters of puppies by then. Humans can, too, I guess, but it’s discouraged. (Do the puppies of teenage puppy parents have trouble adjusting?)

When is a dog in the prime of its life? At 5 or 6 human years the dog is 35 or 42 – our prime? And dogs do show some human-like signs of old age; they slow down, have more chronic or nagging problems, and they even get a few gray hairs. At what age? When a dog is ten of our years he’s supposed to match us at seventy? Or are we just projecting our stereotypes of aging and lifespans onto our pets? And why use seventy years as our old age? In earlier times, and in Angola and other parts of Africa today, the human lifespan is considerable shorter, about thirty-five years. Do their dogs age proportionately slower?

And what of those dogs that live much longer? I’ve heard of dogs reaching twenty or so of our years. We’d have to live to 140 years old to do as well. Maybe we can, if we take the dog-age gauge seriously.

If a dog lives seven years to our one, life must zip by. A doggy year at one-seventh of our 365 days is a mere 52 days. A new birthday candle in the Alpo-can cake every two months. But we can reduce it further – a dog-month is only 4 1/3 days long, a dog-day 8.6 minutes, and so on. But wait! Now I can outrun my dog! For when I’m running 20 miles per hour in my hours, and my dog is still pulling away from me, he’s only going 3 miles per dog-hour. That’s a snail’s pace for a beagle; unless of course, snail-time has its own relative pace, too. I’d hate to think just how short a bacteria-year is.

Why do we subject our pets to this? Clearly the seven factor is our idea, not theirs. Is the factor the same for a cat? Or a goldfish? Some cat owners I know multiply by seven like it works for cats, too. I bet there’s even less science going on there than with dogs. Our human weakness for simplicity and mythmaking are much in evidence in this concept of relative pet-years.

Perhaps our alarm at the low life expectancy in Angola can be calmed by calculating the Angolan peoples’ ages differently, so that their thirty-five years is just like our seventy. Just multiply by two and they live as long as we do. Well, relatively, in Angolan-years. Maybe I’d like to live a bacteria-year, if E. Coli could pack seventy years into a couple of hours. More humbly I’d suggest we calculate our time here geologically, or cosmologically – we live less time than the blink of God’s eye. Exactly how long is that in dog-years?

|| Index of The Plantation News Essays ||
February 25, 2020
10:10:24 PM