Friday, January 14, 2011

Coming to the End of a Dog's Life

Something I tell new writers not to do is write about their pets. I know they think they're cute and adorable and there's nothing else like them (just like parents think that stuff about their kids: She stood up in her crib and clapped her hands!) but you have to understand that feeling is only in your inner circle. And what I try to get new writers to do is push to their outer circles and what's in them.

But Al took such a great picture of Bob over the holidays, and frankly Bob's been taking up more than a small portion of my attention lately, I can't not write about him. Besides, I've almost gone so full circle that I can write about my dog if I want. And if you don't like it, just click off.

He gave us a bad scare a couple of weeks ago, and I can't help but look at him so differently now, knowing what he must be going through. He's coming to the end of the line, and that means I'm coming to the end of the line with him. I don't know if this post is about him or me, frankly.

A few weeks ago, it was a Friday, Sue was getting ready for work and I was up and about. I remember we were talking about Christmas; Christmas took up a lot of energy this year, and while we were trying to sort things out, suddenly Sue said, Where's Bob? He's no longer always underfoot, but he usually is somewhere in one of his spots, and he usually gets up with Sue, knowing she'll be a sucker and feed him before me.

We found him lying on the bedroom floor, in his own shit and piss, and he couldn't move his hindquarters. We called the vet, and tried to figure out how to clean him up and get him out of the apartment. We got some towels under him, and a tarp, figuring we could carry him down in a litter, but once we started to hoist him, he didn't want any part of it. He found his legs, and lumbered down the stairs.

The short story is he's just slowly easing toward the end of the line. He's just about blind now. The vet said it's like he has maybe three pair of sunglasses on. So he's slow going just about anywhere except when it's bright sunlight. Down the stairs at night and into the backyard so he can relieve himself is a long process as he feels his way along. I tried putting him on a leash and leading him, but he didn't seem to like that. Bob is smart, and lets you know what's up.

He's pretty much deaf and responds only to the loudest, sharpest noises. He has arthritis in his hips, and nerve damage in his hindquarters, so he doesn't always feel it when he has to go to the bathroom. He'll just walk along the sidewalk and things drop out of him like goose eggs.

All this so far might seem funny or endearing, but at times at can be pretty tough, like when it's pouring rain in the middle of the night and he wasn't responding to commands like he had been taught. Or when he'd relieve himself at the bottom of the stairs before we got out of the house, or right on the porch as soon as we got outside. Yeah, I was short with him. I got mad. I yelled. I said he was bad. And, like I said, he's smart. He had a vocabulary of maybe twenty words or more. We had to spell things sometimes because he knew words like walk, truck, kibble, Rocky (a cat), Toby (a dog). What am I saying; he knew more than twenty words. So when I yelled he took it hard. And I hate myself now for making him feel like that. He was trying. He's always been so good and he was still being good, just not in the way he always had been before. He was old and even he knew it. He hated it when he messed on the porch more than I did.

I knew he was getting old, but I didn't quite absorb it all. Or I didn't want to. I'm not trying to make myself look better than I am (ever hear the saying, I want to be the person my dog thinks I am?) but I questioned if I was getting mad at him because I was scared of the inevitable decision I was going to have to make. Or I was more angry at what seems like desertion. How dare you leave me. He and I have been together since he was twelve weeks old, and now he's thirteen and a half. We went everywhere together, and I mean everywhere. If I had to drive somewhere, he came along. Most times he came into whatever building I had to go into, too. And now he can barely make it back up the stairs.

On December 26 the girls came over and Al brought her dog, Ella Mae. It was snowing like crazy that night, and after dinner we all went out in the snow with the dogs. A neighbor came along with her Lab pup, and that pup and Ella Mae just tore through the snow. And while my girls laughed and clapped at Bob horsing around too, I saw something else. I saw a very old dog who couldn't keep up any more, but who wanted to. I saw a dog who used to be a big strong alpha, get run over by a runty little Lab pup that before would have been nothing more than a chew toy.

We've pretty much come to terms with Bob and what he can and can't do. We don't get guilty when we don't take him places anymore, because we know it will just tire him out. We're patient when he takes his time, knowing he's still the good boy he's always been, still doing things better any other dog. And we've decided that the inevitable day is coming for not only Bob, but us too, and before he goes we're just going to do our best (but not as good as Bob could do it) to make his last days here on earth as good an comfortable as they can be for him.


Jake said...

My dog is just about exactly as old as Bob, has arthritis as well, etc. It is, no doubt about it, tough seeing her the way she is now, compared to the invincible dog she used to be.

All I can do is wish you the best in taking care of your old friend. I guess growing old is an eventuality in life, and we just have to do our best to deal with it (although, no doubt about it, that is easier said than done). Good luck, and I hope the rest of Bob's life is spent comfortably.

Action Bob said...

thanks jake...hope things go well for you and your dog, too...

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