Starter Dog: My Path to Joy, Belonging and Loving This WorldON SALE NOW!

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A dog licks a woman's face.

The Best Time of Life to Get a Dog

A dog licks a woman's face.

Casey and me in our favorite park

I’m a complicator, except when Casey is beside me. Every day is his best day since… well, yesterday. Today is his high tide of happiness until tomorrow brings more kibble in his bowl, more cheese flecks to lick from the kitchen floor, a cascade of moreness in everything from new friends made on the street to the endlessly alluring layers of smell at his favorite peeing corner.

Paul and I were both 65 when our Starter Dog galloped through our door, and ginger hairs began to drift like dust motes to settle in the strangest places. Inside a sneaker, okay. But floating atop a bean stew? He made the very air his own, and I must have swallowed a little of him more than once.
I often say that retirement is the best time for a dog. Casey doesn’t wait around, head between paws, for his humans to drag themselves away from the office. His walks pull us away from our computers and into the ever-changing world, where we kibitz with neighbors and watch the seasons unfold.
Remember, though, I’m a complicator. I can’t help but think of the dogs we might have loved when we were younger. We didn’t have time for a dog then, it seemed. No dog should be stuck with work-obsessed achievers like us, hunkered over their desks after dark to fine-tune the strategic plan or bang out one last memo. But if we had a dog at home, we surely would have made a faster exit. How productive were those last hours, anyway? Plenty of executives can find a daily rhythm with a dog. What was so different about us? Dogs are levelers, if you let them do their thing. They turn your attention to what you share with others, not what sets you apart.
In our busiest years, when our son had left home and we could lavish our attention on two pinnacle jobs, I began to envy neighbors who came home in time to walk their dogs. How blithe they looked—the freshly groomed goldens and doodles, the humans bouncing in their sneakers after kicking off the workaday loafers and pumps. I let it slip that I might like a dog, and I thought Paul was taking my musings to heart. A week or so before Christmas, he told me not to enter the garage. Aha! Surely my Christmas pup was waiting there. It didn’t cross my mind to ask why this pup was not barking or when he was getting his walk. On Christmas morning Paul unveiled the gift of a lifetime—a neon sign with my signature, created by an artist. It hung in a couple of our kitchens, and now it’s in the master bathroom. No one else will have the slightest use for a neon sign that says “Rona,” the last letter culminating in an exclamation point. No gift could have been a more convincing declaration of love. But because I had been picturing a dog, my heart quivered as if about to sink.
Anyone who thinks you can keep a dog in a garage is in no way ready to have one. I wanted a treadmill and a fashion accessory rolled into one adorable package. I only thought I wanted a dog. The right age for a dog is whenever you can bend your life to what the dog asks of you—love, exercise, consistency and the trust it inspires. A dog’s perfect day isn’t much, when you stop to think about it. And yet it’s everything that matters.


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About Me

I’m an author and keynote speaker who found happiness at 65—a story I tell in my new memoir Starter Dog: My Path to Joy, Belonging and Loving This World. In a former life as Editor of Chatelaine, Canada’s premier magazine, I disclosed my struggle with depression and helped kickstart a national conversation about mental health. I’ve been married more than 50 years and am a firm believer that road trips go better with a dog in the back seat. I’ve learned plenty about staying well from people with diplomas on their walls but my best mental health coach is a rescue dog named Casey.

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