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  • suzjennifer62

“I may not always hear when you call my name, and sometimes I miss the ball on an easy toss. But the love for you that shines in my eyes will never, ever grow old.”--Anonymous

I posted a blog on July 30th, 2020 titled “Til the End of Time,” about how we handle our aging dogs. Giving examples of observations I had, I expressed how badly it felt to see an older dog walking in distress, trying desperately to keep up or being dragged along on-leash with their collars pushing up to their ears. In witnessing this, I felt the humans were behaving with total disregard for their dog.

Reading it again evokes memories of the dogs I have loved and lost. Opening up conversation on the subject with friends, I better understand what motivates others to do certain things when we journey with our dogs along the end-of-life path. By continuing to expect our dogs to operate as if nothing changes, it is easier to ignore the signs of aging than to acknowledge what we know is coming.

black pug sleeping on comfy dog bed
Juno-2013, 14 yrs, sleeping peacefully. He showed no signs of the cancer that would consume him in four short months.

We think we can stave off the inevitable. We tell ourselves our dogs are fine when we ask them to keep going at a previously set pace. As our aging dogs continue to hike twelve miles, or run an agility course in record keeping time, we don’t see the toll it takes. Our dogs are so eager to please. When asked, “do you want to go for a walk?” they will always answer "Yes." What they can’t say is, “but my hip is sore today, so can we go half as far as we did yesterday?” Dogs will sit in anxious anticipation when we bring them to the course start line, but can’t request the jumps be lowered a foot or two. Yes, they can still jump that high, but it’s about the landing now. The arthritis building up in the joints in their legs and shoulders is becoming painful.

Riley-2018, Still bright eyed at age fourteen. Three years before she passed away.

We evaluate our dogs based on their attitude of enthusiasm, but they are naturally optimistic. Having no sense of self, with nary a narcissistic bone in their bodies, they can’t make the judgement call. If the boss says let’s go round up the sheep, they will pull themselves up from their cozy bed by the fire and run around that flock, pushing those critters to and fro no matter the pain or strain.

A situation fraught with emotional turmoil, assisting the aging canine is difficult. It’s hard to grasp that someone we love so much will be with us for only a short time. Often we get our dogs when they are puppies, they are our babies. Even if we rescue an adult dog, given their nature, dogs are still our babies for their entire lives. So when we, the acting parent, lose our dogs, who play the part of children, it leaves us grieving. Broken into a thousand pieces. We feel physically sick, as though our hearts will cease to beat.

When we share our lives with our dogs, we attempt to forget that their lifespan is much shorter. Whether we see it, there are the physical changes; the greying muzzles, the mellowing of some behaviors. There’s the dietary needs that change, and their pottying schedule. When a friend loses their own dog in its teenage years and our dog is approaching double-digit figures, we escape further into denial. I struck a deal with God (even though I know that’s not how it works), when Winnie turned nine years to please give me nine more with her. Is that too much to ask?

We all know the answer. We’ve all been here.

Along with the visible signs, are the intangible indications of a maturing dog. Having bonded as a team through the years, we become so close to our dogs. Almost working with one brain, our dog can anticipate with accuracy what is expected, making our interactions look seamless.

We’ve journeyed with them through all the phases; the antics and entertainment (and sometimes the frustration) of the puppy stage, the excitement of teaching and learning from each other when the dog is a young adult. When they enter full adulthood, we enjoy our accomplishments and dance together with our dogs as we experience the summer hikes to the summit of five mountain ranges. We pose with them in front of a pile of ribbons to commemorate a fantastic day of trialing. Reveling in the relationship's joy, mindfully present, we’d like to remain at this stage. No matter how we try, our dogs continue on into their next chapter.

old dog sleeping in dog bed
At just shy of 16 yrs, Riley wasn't asked to do more than she chose to do. She would leave us five months later.

My viewpoint hasn’t softened regarding the insensitivity some dog keepers show towards their senior dogs. There is still much elder abuse happening and we must teach each other how to do better. What has changed for me, though, is I have broadened my perspective in generalizing. I still see people pushing their senior dogs too hard, but acknowledge and empathize with their reasons.

In updating the previous blog with what I have realized over the past few years, I praise those among us who know what I’m talking about. Those who honor their dogs’ timeline and understand the sacrifices we make when staying with our dogs in whatever stage they're in. I encourage us to make each moment the best it can be by keeping tabs on what our dogs are saying and what they would rather do if given the agency. Just as we wouldn’t ask a puppy to sniff at a Summit League trial, let’s not ask our older dogs to do what is beyond their stage in life.

Winnie is solidly in the adult stage where she is, IMHO, the perfect dog, but the modifications have already begun. As my ride-or-die hiking companion, I have reduced the length of our excursions. This means it hurts when I have to leave her home now for the longer trails. But she licks her peanut butter ball during the initial separation, then sleeps quietly til I return. And because she knows the difference when I prepare to go and she’s coming compared to when she is staying back, she almost seems to say, “hurry and go, would’ya, so I can have my Peanut-butter Ball.”

Not to sell our older dogs short, they do amazing things and it’s our privilege to help them shine. It is our duty, though, to be the voice of reason and protect them and preserve for them their most comfortable life.

In nose work, I am a fan of the one-hide searches. We have recently incorporated it into the routine and Winnie loves it. I feel she is a different dog, enthusiasm-wise. We still take lessons and practice, but my expectations have decreased and I change them with each search and each hide.

We are also still trialing, but I am closely monitoring how Winnie handles the traveling. At Summit level, with two full days of searching, endurance is the name of the game, but now we have ELT-S trials, a half-day trial of four searches with emphasis on speed. And when we can no longer compete at any level, I will always present Winnie the opportunity to chase the odor. I’ll place a scent vessel in the middle of the floor, assist her if she needs it to stand, and let her walk to the “hide.” I will recognize when her legs don’t operate in unity with her mind, but always give her mind the pleasure just the same.

With this blog, I hope to give some insight to those who haven’t yet walked beside and assisted a K9 senior-citizen into the realm beyond. And also to enhance the overall experience for us dog lovers, I hope to give dogs the benefit of a much more enlightened handler.

Thanks for reading. See ya next time.

“If when you look at me, you only see a white face and cloudy eyes, a burden or a hassle…you’ve missed out on the best part of me…Love me until the very end, for I am a gift. With each wag of my tail, I say thank you.”– Bacardi Reynolds

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