Duke, our 18 year old Corgi’s days are numbered. The hair on his face has become a mixture of white and gray. His eyes have the film of cataracts and his ears no longer perk up when we come through the door. He doesn’t see or hear us until we’re close enough for him to feel the vibration of our footsteps on the floor. Unfortunately, this means that we often cause him to be startled, more than delighted, by our presence. But as Duke’s days grow shorter, he’s teaching us some important lessons about aging and growing older. I hope I’m wise enough to remember and accept them.
What an old dog can teach us about aging
1. No matter how cute we are when we’re young, time takes its toll on each of us. He’s turned gray and his coat isn’t as pretty and shiny as it used to be. The same is true for each of us. We begin to notice that our skin isn’t as taut as it once was. Age spots begin to appear on our face and hands. Our hair isn’t as thick and shiny as it was in our youth and our skin becomes thinner.
2. All of us – if we’re lucky – will get old. To not get old means we missed out on living a long life and all the miracles and joys it brings. I’ve written before about how not to dread your birthday, but it’s true – if you live a long and full life, you’re going to get old. There’s no way to avoid it.
3. It’s hard to lose your sight and hearing. You get startled easily because you don’t see or hear people coming. It also means that you miss out on many of the things going on around you because your senses just aren’t as sharp as they used to be. I know that I personally fear losing my sight most of all since I love to read and the work I do now requires it. It’s hard to imagine a world in which I couldn’t see and appreciate the beauty of a sunset.
4. His body doesn’t work the way it used to. I notice more and more that Duke has difficulty getting over the threshold of his doggie door to go outside. His hips and back legs are stiffer so he’s slower getting outside for his morning business. He has less energy and he sleeps more every passing day. Something has to be extraordinary for it to be worth the effort it takes him now to get up and down. Unfortunately, he’s not the only creature at my house that is experiencing aches and pains.
5. He has stomach issues. He can’t tolerate foods unless they’re very bland. While he used to enjoy the scraps from out dinner table, they upset his stomach and make him sick these days. About the only ‘people food’ he can tolerate these days is mashed potatoes.
6. He has problems with his teeth. He no longer enjoys many of the things he used to beg for and then gobble up. He used to enjoy the bacon my dad would feed him each morning, but no longer. We’ve made jokes about having a dog that got so spoiled he would turn up his nose at bacon (what dog DOES that?). It tells us either that his stomach or his teeth won’t let him enjoy what used to be a heavenly treat. His days of bacon, dog biscuits, and other chewy treats are behind him.
7. He’s getting forgetful and more easily confused. He frequently can’t find his doggie door any more. He makes way to the little dog room/porch, but he can’t figure out where the door is. He’ll end up with his nose in a corner wondering why he can’t get outside. It’s actually very sad to see him so confused.
8. He still likes to be close to his people. In fact he stays even closer by our side these days than he used to. It’s as if he takes comfort in knowing that the people who love him are right beside him.
9. Once a day, in the mornings, he still tries his best to scamper down the hall when he hears my father in the kitchen. He’s grown to love my dad since we moved in with him because Dad likes to feed him. So once a day he feels like a young puppy again. The lesson is that inside each of us is still a young pup who remembers something that excited us. (An update to this – Duke no longer scampers down the hall. His back legs and his hips are giving him enough trouble that he can’t do this anymore. This is a change that’s occurred in just the last week.)
When a pet is gone…update
Unfortunately, we had to have Duke put to sleep a couple of weeks ago. He spiraled downward in the span of under two weeks and it became very obvious that he was suffering.
The morning that we took him to the vet for the last time was a very somber car trip. The usual talking was replaced with silence as none of us had much to say.
Jungle Jim had asked if I wanted to go back when they took Duke. I told him, “Of course. I’m not going to let him be taken back by strangers and be frightened in his last few moments.”
So Jungle Jim and I both went to the back with Duke. The people at the vet’s office were so kind to us all. They petted Duke and did the best they could to keep him from being afraid. But we held and petted him and spoke softly to him as the light went out of his eyes.
Jungle Jim commented that he thought he saw a smile cross Duke’s face as the first shot of pain killer took effect, as if he was no longer hurting. I don’t know if dogs can really smile or not, but I hope so. I’d like to think that he was relieved to not be suffering any longer.
I know that I was bawling like a baby the whole time. Jungle Jim wasn’t doing much better.
We still haven’t gotten used to how much emptier the house feels without his presence. Granted, he slept much of the day and he never was a very loud dog (and he hadn’t barked in ages). But there was still a routine that revolved around taking care of his needs. Water to be changed, food to be put out, making sure he went out before bed (even if it meant waking him up to do so). He was also a frequent topic of our conversation as we’d prepare meals and talk about how we were all feeling on a particular day (and we’d compare ourselves to the dog). Not doing those things leaves us a little at loose ends.
We’d made a decision months ago that Duke would be our last dog. Our life situation has changed and we don’t feel that we’re ready to make the commit that another animal would require. It seemed so logical and rational months ago when we agreed on this.
Now, who knows.
For now we’re getting used to a house that seems too still and quiet. We tell ourselves that Duke is finally chasing squirrels and bunny rabbits and that he’s enjoying eating bacon again. It’s easy to say “We’ll never” during times of blessing. It’s another thing altogether when you realize that you were blessed in ways you didn’t recognize.
Duke was a blessing to our family in ways that only pet lovers can understand. We’ll be anxious to see him again when we cross that Rainbow Bridge.
Honoring our pets
I really debated with myself whether or not to link to this plaque of the Rainbow Bridge. It feels odd to put an affiliate link (see disclosure) in a tribute to our little friend. However, after sitting on this post for a couple of days I asked myself whether the verse might help someone else who had suffered the loss of their fur baby. I decided that it might and that I would hate to not to share something that touched my heart. If you’re not familiar with the verse I highly suggest you read it. Be warned – it is very sweet and touching but it will bring a few tears to your eyes. At least, that’s what it always does to me.
Update: December 2021
For the past year our “granddoggie”, Sunny, has been living with us. Sunny is a beautiful Blue Heeler with one brown eye and one blue eye. And we just adore him! Our son moved into a place that was just too small for the dog’s needs and since we already loved the dog, he came to stay at our house. We’re so much better for having him around.
Sunny has become the focal point of the house. My dad spoiled him rotten and has taught him that good doogies get to share breakfast. And now Sunny feels that every meal should be shared…and most are. While he’s bigger than any dog we’ve ever had, we just don’t know what we’d do without him.
No matter how much you love a pet…and we loved Duke completely…your heart can always find room to love again. That may be the ultimate lesson our pets teach us.