Your aging dog

November 14, 2011

When your dog becomes old, while euthanasia is supposed to only be conducted to alleviate an animal’s suffering from incurable and painful disease or injury, not for their own convenience.  Other heartless people discard their dogs in the pound and adopt a puppy.

When I witness such people, I often wonder if they realize that they are teaching their children, “When mommy and daddy get old and become no use to you, you can abandon us and get new parents.”

It’s not easy to care for your old dog.  It can be emotionally, physically and financially draining, but don’t we all know that we should expect to outlive our dogs?  The answer is obviously yes.  But our heart says no.

When I adopted Valentino as a young 1-year old dog, I did not think about his beautiful muzzle turning gray and how he might shuffle his legs when he gets older.  He was sharp and fast like a stealth, so majestically beautiful that while he’s a mutt from the pound, people asked where they could find a puppy of the same breed.  His eyes were bright, and his coat had the thickness and glow only a young dog displays.

Today, Valentino is almost 13 years old.  We can no longer do many of the things we used to do together because he is so frail.  As I help him climb the stairs with a sling to support his back legs, the images of him, young and agile, flying up a flight of stairs, flash in my mind.  Instead of the glorious smile he used to shine at me from the top of the stairs, he now gives me a soft smile when we arrive at the top together, with me by his side holding his sling.

IMG_1310 copy Dogs age seven times faster than we do, so while I hold my dog, I wonder where my original dog has gone, as if there are two separate versions of him.  Of course I miss those days and the young version of my dog, but I love this old version so much that I just enjoy taking care of every inch of him.

Caring for your old dog gives you an altered perspective on life.  Every day is precious because your life with your dog is now clearly finite.  I avoid anything that might possibly cause him stress because the last thing I want when he goes is to feel regrets.  I do not want memories of situations that I should’ve-could’ve-would’ve done differently.  If I walk by him in haste and catch in my peripheral vision that he is looking at me for attention, I go back and give him a hug.  He smiles, and I go on.  Because one day, there will be no “later” to catch up with those missed hugs.

There are moments that I cannot stay out late or have to skip some events, and when a friend said, “You are letting your dog run your life,” I said, “No, I’m running my own life by choosing what I want.  What I want is go home and take care of my dog right now.”

Inconvenient?  Certainly.  But — so what.  You accept the inconvenience as part of your life.  Your dog has been your best friend, more loyal than any human being.  He deserves better than the pound or “euthanasia” when it’s not even close to “his time.”

Not everybody can afford the best veterinary care, but what’s important is to do your best.  “Someone else can give him a better life, so I surrendered my dog to a shelter,” is not doing your best.  Until you exhaust every option available to you, you have not done your best.

Just be there for your old dog, especially when he’s ailing.  That’s all it matters to him.  Your dogs don’t need anything special because being with you is the most special thing for them.  Cherish the inconvenience because you will miss everything about them when they take their last breath.
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Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.