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Old Dog Teaches New Tricks for a Good Life

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Courtesy Patricia Crisafulli
Courtesy Patricia Crisafulli

Malinka is a stately old gal, with her thick white hair and a robust stature that might call to mind Queen Victoria. Malinka is a centenarian--in dog years, that is. By the human calendar she is 14, an august age for her breed of Polish Tatra Mountain Sheepdog (or Owczarek Podhalański in Polish) which has a more typical life expectancy of 11 or so.

Malinka belongs to Adele, who, like me, is in her early 50s. If you even the longevity playing field, we are roughly half of Malinka's age. And so, indeed, we have much to learn from our elder.

I met Malinka and Adele while on one of my daily jogs this summer, at about the two-thirds point of a five-mile run. They were outside for a morning constitutional, and Malinka woofed a deep, friendly greeting. (Malinka is "bilingual," although she understands the language of her native country best; a wagging tail, though, needs no translation.) Since then, we have made a regular habit of short, 10- or 15-minute conversations for Adele and me, and a little company for Malinka, before I set out again.

These interludes have changed my routine that, in the past, could not be interrupted. Although not competitive, I am a committed runner; I do eight- and 10-mile runs regularly and last summer completed my first half-marathon with a respectable time (two hours, 14 minutes). Taking a break and talking are not part of the plan.

And yet, there is just something about Malinka that compelled me to stop, not just once, but every time I see her and Adele (and, occasionally, Adele's husband). Most of the time, Malinka is resting; she's not the spunky pup she once was. But the day I saw Malinka walking down the sidewalk, her panting mouth drawn into what could only be described as a wide smile, she looked as if she were running the Iditarod--or maybe the Boston Marathon. She was slow and didn't get far, but it was the effort and the joy in doing that mattered.

Malinka is the mistress of the moment: When the weather is good and the air smells sweet, there just might be something interesting at the end of one's nose to investigate. As a writer, I appreciate the reminder that inspiration can be found anywhere, but I have to take the time to notice. Wise one, that Malinka.

And so an old dog taught me that it's never too late to learn how to live a good life. Click on the slideshow to learn Malinka's new tricks.

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