Wagons, Pillows, Fans, and Patience
Contributed by Heather Munoz
This article was submitted by Heather Munoz and tells of the love and dedication that we put into our aging pets:
Perhaps it's my age or just a bitter-sweet coincidence but I have two dogs and both are old. One dog has been mine since she was a puppy and the other sweet guy I became a surrogate "Mom" too when I met my boyfriend. In dog years they are both past 70. In reality, they are often momentarily like the puppies that used to dart around the house and yard when we first brought them home 12 and 13 years ago respectively, and then, like so many parents and grandparents we have all watched decline over the years, slow and hobbled for days, content to do little more than lay around. I've often wondered if they have any dementia? Even though both dogs have a healthy appetite and still get excited to go for a walk, albeit a short one, do they have a fleeting thought about being able to out run a squirrel or rabbit anymore or is the rabbit bounding in the yard before them merely something that briefly captures their attention and then become a target too fast and unworthy of the effort beyond letting out a few barks?
Raskal, the elder statesman of the two at 13+ years old, often doesn't recognize the limitations of his ever weakening body. He has fatty tumors over much of his body. They are not malignant and they are considered to be inoperable given his age. Like so many of us, his body is softer than it used to be and his eye sight isn't as sharp or his hearing as keen, yet he is ALWAYS ready to go for a walk. Like most Beagles what he lacks in ability he more than makes up for in sheer determination, and will rarely stop a walk on his own. If Raskal is left to his own charge he would literally walk until he fell over. We've re-purposed an old wagon for our neighborhood walks knowing that his mind makes plans his body can no longer fulfill. Koa, my 12-year-old female Boxer, is spry in comparison to her "brother." She still looks the part of a fit, active dog. In fact, were it not for the gray and white hair around her face and interspersed across her Brindle markings she could still pass for a dog half her age. Koa, like Raskal, doesn't recognize her own limitations. 3 mile runs used to be the norm when she was a younger dog, now a short walk takes a toll on the old girl. Anything much beyond a stroll around the circle results in limping and pain in her hind quarters. All of this "doom and gloom" isn't to point out the negatives of my pets getting old. It certainly isn't meant to point out any negatives associated with owning older pets. In fact, it is to point out the gem that I may not have focused on enough… The incredible spirit that both animals have. They both embody the essence of what I love about being a pet owner. So little delivers so much joy in their lives. What most people would consider little more than a quick walk around the neighborhood worthy of a yawn and casual indifference, Raskal and Koa would surely label as an amazing event worthy of fireworks and trumpets heralding the beginning of a life changing experience. Well, that's what I believe they would say anyway if they could speak, and that's the way they act at the beginning of a walk.
Meal time is no different from the nightly walks. Tails start wagging. Muted whimpering escalates into joyful barks. The old timers come out of their most recent resting spot in the house, wobbling and hobbling at times, down the steps or up the steps to arrive at their food bowls. Surely such joy and exuberance would not be wasted on something as bland as dog food, right? It is! Twice daily.
Raskal is too old and riddled with tumors to flip on to his back to have his tummy rubbed but a quick scratch on his back and a rub on his side and he somehow manages to flip over, even doing his best impression of a full-out dog stretch. Koa still begins every day, without fail, with a flip on to her back and a full dog stretch in the truest sense. A belly rub for either of them results in smiles, tamping of paws scratching an imaginary itch and moans of joy.
Bedtime is an adventure all its own. The two compadres typically start meandering toward the Master Bedroom from their current perch around 8:30, assuming they aren't already sleeping in that room. Raskal assumes a place on a cushioned floor mat next to my vanity and waits patiently, albeit in an inconvenient spot beneath my feet, for me to finish brushing my teeth and washing my face. Koa, who is the more active of the two, displays no such patience so long as we are in the Master Bedroom with the door closed. She makes a beeline for her bed on the floor and curls-up, asleep usually within a few minutes. After 15 minutes or so I head out to join my significant other already in bed with Raskal making his way behind me panting heavily. It's shortly after this point that the nightly ritual commences. The lights go out save a small lamp. Raskal positions himself next to Koa and immediately begins panting. We have a small portable fan that we keep on the floor for Raskal, which he invariably against; However, he always begins the evening ritual positioned on the wrong side of the fan. It doesn't matter how we set the fan up before laying down, Raskal will most certainly lay on the "wrong" side of the fan. One of us gets up and re-positions the fan to blow towards Raskal. At this point Raskal gets up, panting heavily, moves away from Koa – and the recently re-positioned fan – and plops down near my side of the bed. We see if he is going to go to sleep. He rarely does, panting instead or licking his paws, or the carpet, or a chew bone. We usually share a laugh at this point. One of us gets out of bed and once again re-position the portable fan to point directly at Raskal. He continues to pant albeit with less energy but enough to keep us both awake. One of us gets-up and brings out a bowl of water. Raskal laps up a small amount, plops back in front of the fan – this assuming he even bothered to get up from his laying position to take the sip of water – and dozes off. During this "act" Koa will have typically barely raised an eyebrow. We'll sometimes replay the ritual two or three times a night. Mix in children and the occasional house alarm going off and an uninterrupted night's sleep is a rarity in our house.
So, what's the long and short of this post you might be asking? Probably not what you might think and certainly not what 90% of my rambling has addressed. It is not a opt out of owning an older dog or cat. It is not a virtual soap box for me to complain about the extra time and care that goes into having an older pet. It is a resounding endorsement for older pets. Much the same way we talk about the immense amount of knowledge we can glean from our elders and the care, and respect we should extend to our senior citizens, I am here to say that the same is true of senior pets. I love both of my older dogs. I love that despite being a few steps slower and requiring some extra TLC, both of my geriatric canines wake with the same joy that you see in a puppy. They both love meal time. They both trip over their own paws when they hear me pull down a leash (or see me reach for a leash, the hearing is a little less sharp these days). They both prove every day that the few things I consider to be very basic life fundamentals.
Some Senior Dog Pics
Some Senior Dog Pics