The New 60: In Dog Years

By Robert Levithan

Originally published on Advocate.com May 03 2010 12:50 PM ET

I live with an overeducated bitch.

Sophie is beautiful. She’s an elegant blond with a bit of Grace Kelly hauteur. She has shared my bed for almost five years. She has the equivalent of a Ph.D. She is often photographed and has appeared in an Oprah magazine, on the Web, and in newspaper features. She assists with more than 100 clients a week. She is intelligent. She is good at getting her way. She hates to be left home alone.

By the way, she’s a yellow Labrador.

Sophie was a guide dog for the blind, decommissioned at three years of age for "not wanting to work." She’s just too social to be a seeing-eye dog. When she first came to live with me, I called her "The Stepford Dog" because she was too good to be real. As the years go by, she becomes less perfect and more of an individual, stubborn and wily and therefore even more lovable in my estimation.

Sophie is not my first dog. Knickerbocker was also a yellow Lab, rescued from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter at about two years of age. He was handsome and dignified, joining me as I turned 40. At that point in my life, I had real concerns about his outliving me. My will provided a fund for Knick and stated who was to get him in the event of my death (presumably from AIDS). He died in 2000. I am still here. Of course, Sophie might outlive me, but I now live with the expectation that I will see her age and die, that once again my heart will be broken and once again I will go on.

ROBERT LEVITHAN 2 X390 (KAREN FUCHS) | ADVOCATE.COMEverything in my life is predicated on different assumptions and possibilities than it was 15 or 20 years ago. As I approach 60, Sophie and I will peak at the same age and then, if nature takes its course, she will age more rapidly than I will. This is amazing to me. Still.

Outliving yourself brings with it so many gifts and certain challenges, such as outliving my father and my dogs, some of my friends and also, outliving my firm skin and springy knees. I’m not complaining. I’m observing it. I am savoring it.

My friend Wayde realized the other day that he is now the same age his father was when he died. He says every moment from now on he will, in a sense, have outlived his father’s experience of life. Wayde is only 32. My father was almost 94 when he died, so I may or may not have the experience of outliving my father, but I live in it as a possibility. After all, my family’s motto is "The Good Die Young. We Live Forever."