Those first gray hairs on that beloved muzzle always seem impossible. “Not so soon. Please, not so soon.” But now “puppy” is said with a rueful smile as the fur is lovingly ruffled. You notice that your dog is sleeping more and more deeply. He races around a bit less, barking is less intense and stops sooner. Sunny spots become sought after and you may now hear soft snoring as you go about your day.
Loving your older dog is a journey of acceptance and denial, cherishing and pulling away, fear of the future and embracing the moment. In today’s world, where we get our meat in plastic wrappers and most epidemic disease has been tamed, we can live our entire lives pretty removed from death – except with our pets. We cannot avoid the grim reaper there, and it is the rather horrible bargain we make in exchange for the daily affection, company and fun we so very much enjoy. It is all worth it, but it is all hard as well.
The first step in living with and loving your older dog is acceptance. Aging is a natural process and it is happening and will be happening with your friend.
Next comes adjustment – by which I mean adjusting both his lifestyle and your expectations. He may no longer be up for that five-mile hike. He will want to, he may tell you “yes, great idea!” for a long time, but if he is terribly sore the next day or if he really slows down toward the end, it’s time to regroup.
At first, premedicating him with an anti-inflammatory from the vet may be enough, later – going slower and not as far will be necessary. Your life together is no longer about him keeping up with you; the tides have turned and now you have to measure his physical needs and abilities against your desires. We all want things to stay the same forever, but wanting – at some point – is no longer enough.
He will start to sleep harder until some day he sleeps the sleep of the old dog. That deep sleep that is hard to awaken him from. If you get through his old age without being scared that his sleep was one step too far, then you are a lucky person.
He (and she) may start to snore more, and farting may become part of the daily routine, if it is not already.
This is all just part of watching a being we love pass through every stage of life. It is an honor to accompany a loved one from youth to old age and then finally to death. A tough honor, but an honor nonetheless. One we are blessed with if we manage to get them through life safely, without disease or accident taking them from us sooner.
And it is a journey each of us will react to in our own ways. You may find yourself distancing from your older dog some days as his age is hard to bear and other times curling up with him in the sun, feeling his breathing as he sleeps with your hand gently resting on his chest as it has so many times before.
It is truly bitter-sweet.
By Sarah Wilson, MySmartPuppy.com