There is a Louis CK bit that is sadder than it is funny, in which he talks about the “countdown to sorrow” that comes with the adoption of a new puppy. “You’re bringing it home to your family, saying, ‘Hey, look, everyone, we’re all going to cry soon!’” goes the joke. “Look at what I’ve brought home — I brought home us crying in a few years!”
This truly is the worst part of owning a dog, the knowledge that if everything unfolds in the best way possible, your dog will die before you do. Fortunately, researchers at the University of Washington are now doing what they can to address this, in hopes of giving pet owners at least a little more time with their canine companions. They have named their mission the Dog Aging Project, and they have big ambitions: If funding comes through, they want to study 10,000 pet dogs in an effort to develop, among other things, a standard way of measuring aging, something that exists for elderly humans but does not yet exist for elderly dogs. “You can, for example, measure frailty — a condition in older adults involving loss of strength and speed, and a risk factor for many poor outcomes — by seeing how quickly a person can get out of a chair,” writer Emily Matchar explains for Smithsonian. “But there’s no such chair test for dogs, which makes it hard to evaluate how well or poorly a dog is aging.”
Eventually, the scientists behind the Dog Aging Project hope their work will help identify ways of keeping dogs healthier (and happier) for longer. You can’t eradicate the countdown to sorrow, but maybe one day, dogs and their people will get at least a few more good years.