Not one but two friends said goodbye to their beloved senior dogs in the past week. I read their tributes to their beautiful dogs and looked through all the photos of the good times they had together, and wiped copious tears away. These deaths make me hyperconscious of the limited time that I have left with my senior dog, Otto.
If he makes it to November, he’ll be 15 years old. His back legs are getting weaker, and though he can still jump into my car (it’s low, and he jumps onto the floor of the back seat, then climbs onto the seat), he sometimes catches a toe when he goes up the two stairs leading to our back deck and then two more that lead to the kitchen door and his back end collapses for a moment. I try not to fuss when I help him up; he always looks embarrassed when this happens.
He doesn’t trot much anymore; his gaits include a fairly gimpy walk and a sort of swinging lope that he uses as a replacement for his formerly jaunty trot – but he also still roars at the sight of any United States postal vehicles and races to and then down the fence line to chase said vehicles out of sight. He can’t resist! But he pays a price for this after the adrenaline wears off; he retires to his sandbox and naps deeply in the cool sand afterward.
He has always been good about being groomed, but he loves being brushed now – even with a Furminator, which I have to use to try to get rid of his still-shedding thick winter coat. But I have to be careful as I brush his sides and flanks, as he has countless egg-shaped lipomas of various sizes now. They don’t cause any pain, but it can’t be good to put any sort of pressure on them!
For almost a year now, he exhibits signs of dementia at night. He pants and paces and seems confused and anxious. A few months ago, at the suggestion of his team of vets, in addition to his arthritis med and gabapentin, we tried a prescription medicine for dementia. Within days, he had fountaining diarrhea, and we had to stop the dementia medicine. Following that, even though I bathed his nether end again and again, he started over-grooming the underside of his tail, where the liquid poop had gotten on it. He caused a nasty little lick granuloma, which required shaving the underside of his tail several times before it finally healed up, weeks later. I know it’s silly and not important, but it makes me so sad to see the skinny section of his now threadbare tail, which is usually a glorious flag, curving up and gently waving high in good spirits.
Until this past year, he’s always had nice breath and clean teeth. He was well past middle age when he needed his first dental, and he’s had several since then – but now, no vet wants to put him under anesthesia for a thorough dental, so his teeth are getting a little cruddy and his breath isn’t as fresh as it used to be. Fortunately, he’s good about tolerating brushing. We’re trying to hold the line!
He’s gotten ridiculous about food, hungrily and openly begging for whatever treats he thinks someone might give him, and lurking in the kitchen when we’re cooking. He no longer bothers to “sit” or “down” on cue, but stands, tail wagging and open-mouthed in anticipation when I’m giving cues to the other dogs. He knows he gets treats whenever the other dogs get treats, no “work” is required anymore.
But turn about is fair play; the other dogs have learned his medication schedule. Any time I get the can of wet food out of the refrigerator, they will jump up out of a deep sleep or game of tug to come and sit politely. They know that after I hide Otto’s meds in a “meatball” of pâté and he has taken the meatball from my hand, I will feed them a tiny bit of the tasty food as well.
I thank goodness that 7-month-old Boone doesn’t have high exercise needs. When Woody was his age, I used to have to take daily (sometimes twice daily) long, off-leash walks in our local wildlife area in order to keep him from jumping out of his skin. If we take Otto along, we can’t go very far before he’s tired – and I can’t bear his sad, uncomprehending stare if he doesn’t get to leave the house with me and the other dogs. I try to make it up to Boone with more play on the lawn and more hide-and-seek around the property. Happily, like many “youngest children,” he’s great about entertaining himself by chewing and tugging on our grandson’s swing (we have to make a new seat!) and playing tug all by himself with the leather leash we use to retrieve our grandson’s zip line (watch him do it here!).
It will be wonderful to get a good, full night’s sleep again someday, and to take long, guilt-free hikes with Woody and Boone – but I’m not in a rush. I keep trying to memorize the sweet hayfield aroma of Otto’s thick ruff and the feel of the one silky patch of hair he has on the very top of his head, right between his distinctive half-folded, tufted ears. Though my friends’ tributes to their beloved dogs make my heart hurt, I’m trying not to pre-grieve my vibrant, joyous, mischievous Otto of the past. I’m making every effort to just be here now with my beloved dog, one slightly stinky breath at a time.