Living with Elder Great Pyrenees: Life skills they teach me.
By Linnaea Bohn with walking companions Rinchen, 14 and Jampo, 12, male golden retrievers; Nanda Devi, 12, female white Pyr; Sonam, 9, male black newfoundland and Kailash, 14, male badger-eared Pyr.
Nanda Devi, an adopted Great Pyrenees, captured my heart with her calm, non-clinging, dedicated devotion. By the time she was seven I had become addicted to Pyr love, and wanted to adopt another loving presence, an even bigger Pyr. A few days before New Year’s a 10-year-old, 160-lb. male was turned into a pound by his owners. I waited to see if anyone else wanted him, but by 3:30 pm New Years eve, I was the one who showed up to be his new mom. How fortunate!
As most of you who have adopted a pyr know by now, we really don’t adopt them, they adopt us. We learn from them. Kailash not only taught me about deep connection, but as an elder, he demonstrated how to thrive on slow. It was a refreshing antidote to the adrenaline-addicted, multitasking and entitled lifestyle I witnessed in the humans around me, and that sped up my life.
Taking a walk was now more like a stroll. Rather than power strutting along paths glued to a cell phone, we wandered at varying paces, dependent on how many fresh scents drew them to plants, poles, rocks. We developed a guideline, all of us (four giant dogs and one human): wait for whoever is busy appreciating life. We practiced patience, other before self, and being present. We appreciated each other’s delights—wild animal skat for them, sunsets and clouds for me.
Somewhere around age 12, my Pyrs insisted on plopping down whenever they got tired. I used to pull them up, and insist on moving forward, and even pull their easy-walk harness for the whole last half mile. Procrastinating Pyrs in the left hand unperceptively injured my rotator cuff. Retrievers in the right hand created no strain. Eventually my stubborn mind saw their wisdom of just stopping when tired. What a revelation! My left axilla wishes I had not been so stubborn!
Stopping when they were tired, I would pet them, nurturing all of us with the release of oxytocin in our brains. I would hug them, bringing our hearts into rhythmic coherence, or massage the muscles along their back, deepening our emotional bond. As they rested their bodies, their ears and noses were ever alert to signals in the environment. I took their example using my strongest sense, sight, to draw in the beauty of trees, hawks dancing on the wind. Satiated, I turned to the sounds of songbirds, the cries of hawks, the zzzzzz of bees, and the gentle timpani of leaves. Focusing on smell, I could not detect any in the drought. Yet my Pyrs picked up on a moving coyote by his scent about a quarter mile away!
“You’ve got your hands full” is the most frequent comment when out-of-town bicyclists on the trail see a white haired lady with four giant dogs on leash. It sounded critical, as if I had taken on too much. Anger would arise—I would snap back some smart-aleck remark to put those guys in their place. Yet, after a few years of hearing it I now accept that my hands are full—full of love…unconditional love. Then each old fart on two wheels laughs in recognition that he himself is missing something by leaving his hands empty.
Some will say, “Who is walking whom.” It sounds like a question, but it is another rote comment. We are really walking aside each other. We have been called a herd, another word for community. We enjoy being together. As much as I support each aging dog, that dog supports me, and supports his fellow beasts. We are our own dog park.
And then there is the overweight man with his barky terriers who says each time he sees me as if it is a new thought: “You need a sled so they can pull you.” And each time I remark: “I love walking. It keeps me fit and healthy. I won’t get fat.” As much as I love hiking and just walking, I thrive being with the dogs on the trail.
Needless to say, elder Pyrs enhance my life. Can’t imagine a day without a few.
My prescription for a balanced life, get a few elder Pyrs, and enjoy being with them in nature.
About the Author: The pyr addict who wrote this article first adopted dogs at age 45 starting with yellow labs, then goldens, and finally Pyrs. She had wanted Pyrs since moving back the the US to care for her elderly mom, but was told they were protective and didn’t like hot weather. However, Linnaea did meet pyrs that lived in the Ojai Valley, CA where Indian summers are over 100 and dry. Nanda Devi, pyr #1, was born in the same climate, and loved to lie in the baking sun! Linnaea now only adopts elder Pyrs, Newfs and Pyrenean Mastiffs, 8-12 years old. She will retire as a massage therapist in 2017, move to a 35-acre property where she will adopt 10-12 elder gentle giants. This sanctuary will welcome autistic, Asperger’s, PTSD, sex-trafficked and transgender kids to visit the dogs, and absorb their unconditional love.