Friday, August 12, 2016

What's so great about old dogs? We talk to Nancy LeVine, photographer and author of Senior Dogs Across America

Do you live with a senior dog? If so you will be familiar with changes – in their appearance, behaviour, energy levels and ailments. They’re also incredibly loyal, loving and much more settled than their younger counterparts. They know our routines and develop their own (Phil doesn’t get out of bed before 8am these days, no matter what excitement is going on), and while they might not be entitled to the label “cute” (see previous debate about this) they exude a unique beauty.

Nancy LeVine is an award-winning US-based assignment photographer whose project documenting SeniorDogs Across America has collected a truckload of accolades. It began as an exhibition at the Houston Centre for Photography in 2012 and, thanks to popular demand, is now a book.

But it’s about more than dogs. In the artist statement on her blog, Nancy says that the aging of her own two dogs sparked the idea of this project.

She writes
This was at a time when I had lived enough years to start imagining my own mortality. I entered a world of grace where bodies had once expressed their vibrancy were now on a more fragile path…I saw how the dog does it, without the human’s painful ability to project ahead and fear the inevitable, the dog simply wakes up each day as a new step in the journey.
At the time Nancy was working on her book, the US media was full of stories about political battles around topics like access to medical care for vulnerable people. Yet all she saw was people caring deeply for vulnerable dogs without any qualms.
Listening to the current fevered debate over Social Security and Medicare, I am left with a fearful pit in my stomach when I imagine a country that might abandon the fundamental promise to care for those who have gone the distance and need at least a minimum of support to help them ease out of life. Politics of the moment may dictate such a course, but, in our true American hearts, we are better than that. I have seen all along my journey as I photographed senior dogs surrounded by so much love, devotion and respect for a life lived long and well.
Nancy took some time out to answer our questions.

What are some of the changes you see in senior dogs?

Like humans, each dog ages differently.  Some very senior dogs are still in good shape.  Others are arthritic and have different health issues.

What is the nature of the beauty you see in senior dogs?

So much grace and gentleness.

How can we make the world a better place for senior dogs?

A deep attention to their comfort as they age.  When dogs age, they can have different degrees of pain from arthritis and other illnesses and sometimes people do not realize there are ways of helping with their dogs pain.  And it does not have to be expensive.  If you notice a slowing down or some other physical changes, it is important to see a vet so one can understand what the issues are and how to help with discomfort.  Just like with people, sometimes ailments do not have a cure but there is always pain management.  Dogs do not complain so it becomes even more important that we take all the changes our dogs exhibit seriously.  Make them comfortable!  A comfortable bed, area rugs or yoga mats on the floor if they tend to slip on wood floors.  Put yourself in their body and think what would make you feel more comfortable.  Ramps and not steps…

Any advice for vets or up and coming veterinary students?

YES!  Pain management.  When a young dog acts differently we think he/she must not be feeling well and we take them to the vet to see what the problem is. For older dogs, people will say ‘Oh, my dog is old’ and not imagine that there might be an infection that needs treatment or other ailments.  One should never subscribe to simply ‘My dog is old'. Always  investigate and be sure the dog is healthy but old. Some solutions/ treatments are simple and can vastly improve the quality of the senior dogs life.  Look deeply.

Thank you Nancy.

Senior Dogs Across America is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available here

You can also check out the book and read more about it on the facebook page