My “very mixed-breed” dog, Otto, turned 12 years old at some point in the past couple of months. For a big dog (currently 72 pounds), that’s getting up there in age! And he’s got some health issues that I have to stay on top of – a benign mass on his liver that we are monitoring, lipomas that have just started blooming in size and number in the past year, and molars that keep fracturing and needing removal (despite the fact that he doesn’t chew on anything hard – no bones for this guy for years). He also has a very subtle, intermittent limp on his right front leg, particularly when he first gets up in the morning.
The good news is that he’s still as mentally sharp as ever, and still getting around well. He can still jump into my car, and will still jump into the back of our truck if the tailgate is down and we happen to walk by it – just in case we were going somewhere for the kind of fun he associates with the truck: paddleboarding, fishing, hiking, camping. I don’t take him on long hikes anymore, because he gets way too stiff and sore afterward, and I don’t want him to tear something when he’s fatigued. He still stays ahead of me and my friends on our regular two- to three-mile off-leash walking routes and is only a little stiff the next day. But it’s hard to keep from hovering and fretting.
Communicating with a deaf dog
This week and next, I’m caring for a friend’s 14-year-old small dog, Leila, while my friend visits family in Europe. Leila has stayed with me and my dogs before, but it’s been at least six years or more; she’s a very different dog at 14 than she was at 8 or so – solidly deaf, for starters. She still chases her tail and barks when she wants attention, skips around when it’s mealtime, and her eyes are bright and happy, and her vision seems good! That’s fortunate, because what’s new to me is that her habitual gait is quite slow, and she sometimes stalls out and stands still, not sure if she wants to go with me and my dogs as we travel the 100 yards or so back and forth between my house and my detached office building on our fenced property.
I’m in the process of figuring out what sort of body language and gestures encourage her to come along. We’ve established that she does not want to be picked up, and that she will definitely hurry along if I happen to make a treat available from the depths of one of my jacket pockets. She can trot along, and will for a treat, but left to wander around the property without a destination in mind, she sort of shuffles and snuffles; she’s enjoying all the smells on my property, that’s for sure. But I think I will recommend that she see her vet about something for what looks to me like arthritis pain.
Hoping for many more good years
Observing Leila at 14 is kind of ramping up my anxiety about Otto at 12. How much time do I have before Otto has mobility issues, or can’t hear me? This is stiffening my resolve to diet-and-exercise away those extra two pounds that now appear on the vet’s scale every time Otto weighs in. He’s already great at physical cues (without a verbal reminder or co-cue), so we’ll just keep practicing those.
The cold temperatures just add to my worry. My last heart dog, Rupert the Border Collie, passed away (at 14 years old) in the winter, and so many of my friends’ dogs passed away in the winter, too. I’m so relieved that, even though winter has officially just recently started, we are past the solstice and the days have started getting longer again. We still have many cold days ahead, but at least we’ll have more light.
Here’s looking forward to spring and, we hope and pray, gifts of at least one more year with our precious heart dogs.