Recently a senior acquaintance made a profound observation.
"These days, when I get together with friends, they don't talk about things they used to talk about," he said. "Nobody is talking about last night's hot date, or who won the FSU game, the weather, or any of the stuff we used to talk about. All they talk about is their health. Who died, who is dying, what medications they are taking, what their wives are taking, what doctors they go to. How much does Medicare cover? It's all about health. That's all they talk about."
We agreed that this is a serious national health problem. Studies have shown that people who talk about nothing but health tend to die three or four hours sooner than people who never talk about health. But, based on our own recent experience, we offered our friend a suggestion.
"There is only one subject that can stop older people from talking about health," we said.
"What's that?" he asked, quite sincerely.
"Dogs. We recently attended a gathering of what we expected to be interesting people. One worked for the power company and was an expert on wind and solar energy. Another was a former cleric who ran off with a 17-year-old he met in a drug program. Another was a woman who had been married to a former mob hit man. One man had been with the Rumanian army at Stalingrad. We looked forward to an illuminating night. The only problem was that our hostess had just gotten a dog and had also invited the dog to the party. As soon as the guests saw the dog, they began playing with him, or her, or it – whatever it was. All we know is that it was one of those little hair-in-the-eye dogs that kept sniffing our feet.
"We let them go for about 20 minutes, well into our second cocktail, but every time somebody told a story about their dog, somebody else wanted to talk about their dog. We tried to change the subject. We asked the energy expert if it was true that Florida is not that great of a wind state. We said it blows here all the time. The others kept talking about dogs, and he, trying to manage two conversations, said Texas had a lot more wind, and did we see the TV show about the dog that knew 10,000 words?"
“I saw that show,” said our acquaintance. “That dog was amazing. But, you know, dogs are smart. My dog knows people by names. And he remembers everybody. If somebody comes in that he doesn’t know, he gets shy and runs away. But if he knows you, he goes crazy. If I go away for a week he jumps all over me. And if he hasn’t seen you for a few days, he gets very excited, but not quite as much. But if he just saw you a couple hours ago, no big deal. And dogs know each other. I walk my dog in the morning and there are five or six other dogs that we see, and they know each other. It is Illegal to live on my street unless you have a least two dogs. Some families have enough to pull a sled in the Arctic. Some dogs my dog like better than others. You know, walking your dog is a great way to meet neighbors. People you never see at a homeowner’s meeting are out there walking dogs. And you meet interesting people. They love to talk about their dogs. There’s one woman who has a mongrel, looks like a little deer, and believe it or not, that dog is on tranquilizers. She thinks a previous owner abused him, and it was probably a man. The dog hates men, loves women. And if he sees a dog on television he goes nuts, attacking the screen. My boss has three tiny dogs that should be on tranquilizers. You walk in and they attack, you. One actually tore my pants. And he says ‘don’t move, he thinks he’s an attack dog.' Thinks he is. I saw online there are 20 breeds of dogs that should not be around small children. They are all loving, friendly dogs and very loyal and protective. But some are just too big. They can mistake very small children for biscuits and eat them. I hate people who don’t pick up after dogs. There’s one guy who has this enormous Great Dane and he lets him do it on my swale and he doesn’t pick it up. He would need a shovel and a wheelbarrow for that. But my dog isn’t afraid of him. He doesn’t know he’s barely as big as a mouse. He wants to fight all these big dogs.“
Our acquaintance paused for air, and we moved in.
“Everything okay. You feeling good?”
“Yeah, but I volunteered for a study on who has the potential for Alzheimer’s. Sometimes I forget names. And sometimes I mix up my telephone with the TV changer. I think a lot of people do that. Boy, get people on that subject and they never stop. All they talk about is health, and all the pills they take. Did I say this before?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry. They can give you something for that. And they say dogs help. Maybe you should get one.”