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Monday, August 17, 2009

Preparing to Let Go...When it's Your Dog's Time

originally published August 2, 2009
This is a tough topic to write about, particularly because I know I'll be dealing with this soon myself. At 12 1/2, Xena is pushing 90 human years, has liver cancer, and is showing minor signs of vision and hearing difficulty. After writing the post on dog proofing, I realized that I have recently begun to dog proof for Xena, but in a different way.

At her age, chewing on household items and barking at the doorbell are no longer even a consideration. She's content to enjoy long naps, short walks, dog park visits and time in the sunny outdoors.

So why am I "old dog proofing?", you may ask. Because with diminishing eyesight, I have noticed that Xena often stops before approaching an area where there is a step down or a step up and ponders its exact location. It is apparent to me that she can no longer see it clearly. I often encourage her through these areas, rather than watching her nervously consider her options. When I offer her food dish, I have to tap my fingers on it to get her attention in the right location. She used to come running as soon as she heard the lid come off of the food bin. That's how significant the change is.

Outdoors, she has begun to stand at our Invisible fence line and stare into the distance for long periods. I suspect this is because she smells good things and can only enjoy them at a distance. Her nose has shown no signs of diminished ability. But her sight is failing her and she probably does not see things across the street as easily.

Cesar Millan says that a dog's nose is his strongest sense; Xena is definitely walking proof that her nose is still in charge. When my animal-loving daughter found a baby bird on the ground this weekend, Xena was the first to discover the fallen fowl when it entered the house in a shoebox lined with papers. As quickly as my daughter could run to the closest pet store for baby bird formula, Xena had already managed to knock the box off a shelf onto the floor. Fortunately, the little fella (?) wasn't hurt and Xena did nothing more than enjoy a good sniff. In euphoric doggie heaven, she examined the little 1-ounce fledgling with her highly experienced nose, knowing full well she had found a bird--the instinctual goal of every Retriever.

Despite this momentary energy, Xena does show signs of slowing down. We have abandoned biking with her, to protect her aging joints, although she happily shows no signs of arthritis or hip displasia. When she wants to , she can put up quite a "fight" with Tanner in their wrestling matches. Surprisingly, she is often the instigator. It does my heart good to see her in a play bow at this age.

Nevertheless, it is on my mind. I sometimes find myself thinking about how I will handle her passing and giving thanks that I have her two housemates to keep my spirits up when the time comes. Mental preparation is really all I can do. I find it morbid to consider a grave site or her cremation, even though I know what the answer will be. At Organic Journey Online, I recently pondered and then wrote about this very subject; I suppose Xena's age is more on my mind than I would like to admit. Rather, I prefer to envision her frolicking at the dog park with her first BFF, Deke, who moved away, but is always a memory that my family shares.

Let me end this post with a short, uplifting story about Deke and Xena's first meeting. Deke, a 9 month old Rottweiler, lived a few houses away. Just after adopting Xena, she and I were sitting in the grass of my front yard, as we saw Deke walking toward us down the street. From this distance, Deke appeared much smaller. Xena's 13 week old energy and lack of experience took over, as she took off running toward this prospective playmate. As Xena approached close enough to realize the error of her ways, she slammed on her brakes and made a quick 180 degree turn, high-tailing it back to my lap, where she buried her head, hoping to find safety.

Candy, Deke's owner, walked over to introduce herself, while Xena snuggled close, anxiously awaiting her sentence for childish assertion. Instead, Deke reached in to sniff her and dropped to the ground in an obvious effort to invite her to get acquainted. Xena needed no encouragement as she stumbled off my lap and began to explore her new friend's many interesting smells. He enjoyed the attention and she learned a lot that day about how not to approach a large dog. The two unlikely buddies became fast friends and enjoyed many playful encounters while we remained neighbors.

Although Cesar Millan would have me to believe that dogs do not live in the past, I sometimes hope that Xena remembers her romps with Deke. Those were great times and there is nothing better than fun with friends. That's exactly how I feel about Xena, by BFF.


Anonymous said...

Nice article Carrie,

I can relate to your feelings of the constant mental preparation for your special friend's passing. I just went through all of that and my sweet little Missy just passed away a couple of months ago.

To prepare myself, I started thinking about her passing when she was about 11 and she just passed away at age 15 1/2. She definitely was more like a child to me than a pet. I still miss her so much. I don't think there was ever a day that she didn't bring a smile to my face. I feel so lucky and blessed to have had her in my life and as a member of our family. I love animals, but I do not want another to fill that void. Maybe it's too soon, but I don't ever want to go through that again. It was a very difficult couple of days and none of my mental preparation helped to make it any easier for me.

Advice from the other side.... try not to spend too much time trying to prepare mentally about it. That really doesn't help. There is no way to predict any scenario as to how it will happen or what you will have to deal with when it happens. Just try to enjoy every moment while you can.

That day will come and however hard, you WILL somehow just get through it. GOOD LUCK!

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Pet Stain Remover said...

12.5 years for a dog is very long! What an adorable picture.

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