Til the End of Time
The first time I saw this big old, leggy Lab-mix walking with his person coming towards me, I was walking my two favorite Dachshunds, Em and Yoli. As always, I assessed the situation and began reading the body language of the oncoming dog and handler. Did the dog seem overly interested in us? Was the handler taking control of the situation on his end? Were they going to swing wide, or did I need to take action in the absence of him taking any action at all? As the leash holder took no responsibility, I quickly realized upon seeing the expression on his face the dog, a grizzled and skinny old guy, was using all his energy just to keep moving forward, there was no immediate worry. My heart softened as I silently honored the spirit of that sweet, old dog wishing I could ease the desperation in his eyes. As they passed, the handler quickly mentioned his dog was in the last stages of kidney failure and I was deeply saddened for him and his faithful canine companion. About 45min later and about a mile from where I had seen them before I saw the pair again, still walking. The next time I saw them was a few days later in much the same circumstances, the old dog seemed to be laboring with every step but on they marched and I wondered why were they walking so much? Clearly the dog was straining to move forward, did it help dogs in kidney failure to walk?
When Winnie was a puppy we had met Ruby, a stately and serene old Puggle who really liked to play gently with Winnie. I saw Ruby a year later walking with her owner along Main Street as I drove past. Ruby was lagging behind, the leash was taught, the collar pulling up around her ears. At such a fast pace, Ruby's back legs seemed disengaged from her front legs, she was trying to keep up but at her age her step had lost it's spring. After that sighting, I saw Ruby a few more times and with each passing the dog seemed in more dire of straits. Why was Ruby's owner walking so fast? How far were they going? This kind of exercise couldn't be doing Ruby any good. Did they have some place they had to be? I could offer them a ride.
These are just two of the many times I have seen a human walking steadily on as their dog lagged behind often on a tight leash as it was with Ruby, with a look of desperation in their eyes as had the eyes of the Lab-mix. When you see something as described above, there is no way to know the whole story. I am in no way passing judgement or accusing anyone of anything. But I will ask on behalf of those without a voice that we humans as guardians try to see what is really going on. A dog will never say "no" when we ask them for something, they will always try. When we ask an old dog or a dog who is in pain or ill, "Do you wanna go for a walk?" They don't stop and think, "oh, as fun as that would be, no thanks. My hip is hurting too much today." Dogs see the leash and think with instinct, "I'm ready to help you. I don't want to be left behind. I'm coming with you." Our faithful friends may start off with vim and vigor but that quickly runs out and they are left trying to keep up. A dog's desire to please us throttles them forward and then their instinct to survive takes over. With wide eyes staring intensely ahead but not really seeing and a wobbly, uneven pace they focus on continuing forward. They will do it for us. For us even if they drop down exhausted when we get home. Even when the pain of over exertion keeps them from restful sleep.
Riley, after being diagnosed with cancer was given a couple weeks and put on aggressive palliative care, narcotic pain meds and anti inflammatory meds in hopes of shrinking the tumor. That was over a year ago and Riley is crushing the odds. The tumor under her tongue has been shrunk and maintained to a manageable size and with a whole food, healthy diet Riley's digestion has been spared too much damage from the pain killer. Riley is lucky to have a huge network of caregivers that are sensitive to her needs. She has had a couple scary times; a vestibular syndrome-like episode due to dehydration and some cognitive degeneration from the dopey effects of narcotics. But Riley tells us every day by showing us what she needs be it a bouncing stroll out to feed the horses or lets just step out side and take care of business. And we listen.
Animals never hide their truth, their energy is honest and easy to read. When we humans try to understand our dogs we tend to give them complex emotions when their emotions are simple but deep which leads us to misread them a lot. Then there are those who give animals very little credence for real feelings at all. I am hopeful things are changing, though, it has been my observation that more and more people are putting energy into becoming better keepers. We research health issues, get our pets regular health check-ups, pay attention to harmonious and gentle training and communication methods. But this is only a one directional approach. We need to focus also our energy on receiving information from the dog. It's about watching, hearing and seeing what our animals need. Amazing to see is the transformation of the dog who has been heard. Empowered by it. It brings me to tears to see a dog who has been heard. It is time for us all to become way more receptive to what our dogs are saying, each one with their own individual silent words, asking us to please hear them.
There are many reasons why we humans do what we do, I am not a vet, or a behavioral specialist or even a trainer so it is not for me to say. I am however one of those who sees with my heart as well as my eyes. I feel energy as it passes by and can hear without my ears some truths that can't be put into words. On behalf of all beings without a formal language and in honor of the many dogs I have loved til the end, please hear, see and above all feel what those without a voice are saying. In the silence you just may find the peace and happiness you might be looking for.
Riley would not enjoy trialing but she enjoys her own kind of nose work games. This stimulating game keeps Riley's mind sharp and is good practice for her cognitive awareness.