Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Old Dog Stuff

My husband and I adopted Roxy back in the fall of 2000 to celebrate closing on a house. We already had one dog, Astra, and she was a social pup who loved canine company. But as habitual renters, finding places with even one dog (and a clowder of cats) was challenging.  I remember all too well the pain of falling for a dog and really wanting to adopt him but being told no second dog by a landlord.

So the first thing I wanted to do once we became homeowners was to adopt a dog. I was training Astra in agility by then, so I also looked forward to training a second dog in the sport.

When we went to the Sacramento Animal Care and Services shelter, I almost missed Roxy, since she was in a kennel with three other dogs. Doug pointed her out, and we fell in love at once.

Roxy doing agility: Ann Clayton Photography
She's a border collie-chow mix, and in spite of the bad reputation chows and chow mixes have, she's always been the sweetest, most tolerant dog imaginable. When she was younger, she was a fairly enthusiastic agility partner and won some titles, including a NATCH and a CATCH. But as she became middle aged, her enthusiasm waned. Unfortunately, chows don't have the most athletic build, and the sport was starting to take its toll on her knees and shoulders.

So I retired her and concentrated on doing the sport with Wiley, my kelpie.

But she remained our special baby. After Astra passed away, we adopted a younger dog, Flick. Flick is a bit of a, well, the name for female dogs applies as a commentary on her character. Lovable but mercurial in her moods, and nervous enough we have to be careful with her and strangers. But Roxy, even as she grows old and creaky, never shows anything resembling temper.

And this is part of what's making it so hard as she gets older. With a dog who is so calm and undemanding, how can we tell when her quality of life has passed into the unacceptable. It's pretty clear that Roxy, at 15 1/2, is in her final approach. It's not just because her old peer group of dogs (ones who were in beginning agility class and were at their peak at around the same time as she was) have been dropping like flies lately. She's been arthritic for a while, and her muscles aren't as strong as they once were, but it's gotten worse lately. Until recently, she got enthusiastic about her walks, though they'd become shorter and slower than they once had. And painkilling and anti-inflammatory meds (Adequan and Metacam) seemed to help.

Roxy as of about a month ago.
But over the past week or two, she's been pretty reluctant to get up when she's been lying for a while, and if Flick jostles her (which Flick does often, being a galut), she falls over. She can still get up with help. I've tried one of those dog harnesses that allows us to assist her, but she really doesn't seem to like it much. She's still got a good appetite, but she's not always so keen to get up and out of bed in the morning, even though she's hungry. She's never been one for playing with toys, so that's not a very good gauge of her overall level of enthusiasm for life. She still likes having her ears scratched.

The hardest thing is travel. We cancelled a planned trip this summer because of the uncertainty over arranging for her care (she can't be boarded and needs a live in pet sitter who will be around a lot, but most leave the dogs for 8-10 hours and are only there at night), while Flick must be boarded in a special care program at a kennel that has trainers to work with stranger-wary dogs that can't just be tossed into their twice daily group play mash up. So needless to say, arranging for pet care for a week-long trip is astronomical--greater than our hotel costs would be, actually (Wiley is sitting here saying, "I can go either way, Mom, I love pet sitters and don't mind boarding kennels!")

And we have a day trip to Carson City coming up, because some relatives will be in town there we never get to see. For normal people, popping across the pass for a day is nothing. But with one dog who can't come for a visit because she's not reliable around kids (and so must be day boarded, since we also can't have them in our yard when we aren't there to supervise), one who can come along cheerfully, and one who can't be left home alone for 10 hours but may find the long car ride and extra stress very unpleasant, well, argh! Roxy is coming, but we'll have to be gentle with her.

This is nothing to what most people have to deal with re caregiving for kids or seniors in their human families (especially special needs family members), since we can at least go out and leaver her for 3-4 hours at a time, but since Roxy is "only" a dog, people tend to be less understanding when we say that traveling is challenging right now

So we're making a vet appointment later this week for assessment and hopefully suggestions about how to keep her quality of life acceptable, and also, when to know that it isn't. In her case, if it gets to where she just can't walk anymore, I think we will know it's time for sure. There are carts and so on, but I don't think one would be comfortable or easy to adapt to for a dog her age.

The hardest part is not simply being to ask them what they want. Doug sometimes jokes that Roxy is still alive because of her separation anxiety issues (this was something we had to deal with when she was a pup, though it became manageable as she matured). She simply doesn't want to leave us. But in all seriousness, when do the aches and pains of being so old overtake the pleasure she derives from our company? I wish we could ask her.

It's the hardest thing about having animals.


  1. It is very hard to watch our older furry kids become more arthritic, less mobile and less excited about activities that used to be so exciting. Roxy is very fortunate to have such loving parents like you and Doug. ♥

  2. Whatever you decide, I'm sure it will be for the best. You care too much about Roxy to want to see her suffer. Dogs are lucky that they have the option of going in a dignified fashion. You just have to be sure that's what she wants.