Karen B. London
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Dogs Don’t Live Long Enough
But we share their whole life

Though I could go on endlessly about the fine qualities of dogs, I could also babble for a little while about some of the drawbacks. I could do without cleaning up vomit, excessive shedding, and the tendency of the heaviest dogs to stand on my foot without even realizing they are doing it, but only the shortness of their lives really, truly bothers me. I have often said that not a single dog has ever lived long enough, and I stand by that statement.

So, at the risk of sounding a little over the top in a rose-colored glasses, accentuate-the-positive, glass-half-full kind of way, I thought about dogs’ short lives in a new way when I saw a set of paired pictures of animals recently. Every animal (mostly dogs with some cats and one turtle) is shown twice—then and now. Some of the pictures show the dogs with just a few months of separation while other photos were taken 16 or 17 years apart.

As I looked through these photos, it struck me as beautiful that we are able to share a dog’s whole life. That’s quite rare in people’s relationships, which is why those friendships that began in early childhood and last forever are so cherished. In contrast, many dogs come into our lives as puppies or adolescents and remain with us until the end of their lives. Granted, that end comes too soon as I am always saying, but there’s something special about sharing all the stages of their life with them from youth through middle age and into the golden years.

In the set of photos that inspired these thoughts about dogs’ lifespans, I especially love the second set of photos which shows a young man holding first a black puppy and later a 10-year old black dog. Even though the dog is large, he looks content to be held by this guy, and that’s not common. The brindle boxer puppy lying on top of the fawn boxer also charmed me. Even though just 3 months passed between the photos, the puppy has grown so much, and the older dog seems to have accepted the new addition to the household.

In all the photos, I love seeing the joy in most people’s faces as they pose with their pets months or even years apart. There are big changes in the dogs and sometimes, depending on the time difference and whether the first photo showed a child or an adult, big changes in the people, too. I adore how the behavior and expressions are often consistent over time, even taking into account the purposeful reposing that obviously happened and the inability of many dogs to fit into spaces that used to accommodate them easily.

Do you have photos that span your dog’s lifetime?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

photo by dagnyg/Flickr


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Submitted by coupon | March 12 2014 |

I have pix of my 2 dogs from the time I got them at about 8-10 weeks old in 1999 to their dying day. Lost my boy to cancer in October 2011. Lost my girl to cancer/CHF in October 2013. Miss them every day. They truly don't live long enough!

Submitted by Wendy Marsh | March 13 2014 |

This made me cry... in a good way. I looked at the photos and laughed and cried. My beloved Trixies died two years ago at the age of ten. She was a Brittany, so 10 was a little young... she had some health issues. You are so correct, Karen, they do not live nearly long enough. My young niece asked me why they don't live longer and I told her (I had read it somewhere... maybe in Bark!) that they only live long enough to teach us how to love completely and unconditionally, because that is exactly what they do... love unconditionally. A new dog will be joining our family soon and I can hardly wait!

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