Queen Beatrix is getting old.
Her muzzle has gone white, her eyes rheumy. She limps more than walks around the block sometimes. She no longer runs at the beach. She sleeps just about all the time. She is 16 years old, give or take.
How old is that?
The standard formula, as everyone knows, is one year in human age equals seven years for a dog. But that, of course, is too simple. Dogs age more rapidly in their early years. Big dogs tend to break down quicker than small dogs. Some breeds age faster than others.
Trixie, as we’ve always called her, is some kind of chow-border collie mix with a habit of eating anything she can pick up off the street. She weighs just shy of 50 pounds, which puts her in the medium-sized category. I found a chart online that showed canine ages by weight class. Ominously, the chart stops at 16 years. Evidently, dogs generally don’t get much older than 16.
The dog-age calculator showed a 16-year-old dog in the medium-size category would be 87 years old in human terms. That’s old for sure, but a big dog at age 16 would be something like 120 if it were a person who lasted so long. Even a smaller dog would be equivalent to an octogenarian at 16.
I hope I am still walking on the beach, if not running, when I reach 87, if I even last so long. There is reason to hope. A few people I know have made it into their 90s with few obvious signs of falling to pieces. They no longer run at the beach, either, but at least one friend still swims in the bay and takes his sailboat out with his girlfriend. If 80 is the new 60 for people, could 15 be the new 10 for canines?
I’ve seen no evidence of this, but a lot of experts seem to be convinced that more dogs live into their late teens, even 20s, for the same reason more people are living into their 80s and 90s or beyond. Better nutrition. Better medical care. More exercise.
Thanks to my wife, Marieke, Trixie has had immaculate care — two or three walks every day, regular trips to the vet, a daily regimen of medications. She’s not overweight, limited to two cups of the appropriate dog food daily, plus whatever she manages to scarf up off the sidewalk. She lives a royal dog’s life.
Most people are surprised to learn she’s as old as she is. But now the signs of shortening telomeres are impossible to miss. Ever since she was a pup, Trixie has had the habit of getting up from her medium-sized dog bed when I come home late, walking out to greet me before immediately returning to bed. Lately, though, she only wags her tail. When you’re 87, getting up out of bed just to say hello to someone is not worth the effort.
The inevitable is clearly coming. Recently, when she failed even to wag her tail when I came home, I went to check if she was still breathing. She was — that time. And just yesterday, when I walked her past the German shepherd down the street, she worked up a pretty enthusiastic barking frenzy. She seemed almost 12 again.
On Jan. 31, Trixie’s namesake, Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, the former queen before she abdicated at age 75 when she was the oldest reigning monarch in Dutch history, will turn 81. She looks 61 judging from the photographs. I hope she and Trixie both enjoy another good year.
Just take more walks on the beach — just not too fast.
Happy new year to all you old dogs.
Carl T. Hall is a longtime union organizer in San Francisco who is now a co-owner of Word A Café, a dog-friendly coffee shop now open for business in the Bayview Neighborhood. You can pick up Bay Woof there.
The canine Queen Beatrix, above, in fine spirits in Pacifica in 2016, when she was 14.
Main article photo by: Pamela Uberti