November 8, 2023 at 12:05 a.m.

With aging comes some struggles

Back in the Saddle


Editor’s note: This column is being reprinted from Nov. 5, 2008. Anyone who loves a pet should be able to relate to this piece. It’s not a good feeling when there’s something clearly wrong with your pet but they are unable to communicate their dilemma with you.


You know you’re dealing with an old friend when the first words out of her mouth are, “How’s the dog?”

Ruth Ann and I go way back, further than either of us would like to admit. I’m guessing the friendship pre-dates kindergarten.

She and Dale have lost a dog this year and are still dealing with the tough emotions that go along with that.

Fortunately, when the question was posed during intermission at Saturday’s concert at Arts Place, Connie and I were able to give a good, one-word answer: “Better.”

It had been a rough week.

Shadow is pretty much a creature of habit, though most of her habits involve sleeping and eating. Lately, she’s come looking for me expectantly a little after 6 p.m., hoping for a walk.

She’ll let me watch PTI on ESPN in peace, but she apparently has something against the Newshour on PBS.

But Wednesday night was different. At 6:10, she was still conked out. At 6:15, the same.

Finally, about 6:20, I gave her a nudge. I showed her the leash and the plastic poop bag I always need for such an occasion.

And the look I got back gave me some alarm.

She looked confused, as if something were going on with her body that she didn’t understand. There was a pleading quality to it, and I wasn’t in any position to answer her plea.

Eventually, she took the leash and we headed out the back door. There, she struggled with two short steps.

Like many big older dogs (she’s a 15-year-old Lab), she’s having more and more trouble with her hindquarters. Sometimes it seems as if her back legs are asleep. She no longer attempts to go upstairs at our house; the last time she did, I had to carry her down.

Normally, we just go around the block, though sometimes we take a shortcut through an alley. And, these days, we move pretty slowly, very much at her pace.

But on Wednesday, she was having none of that.

It was a struggle to simply walk around the house, and when we got back inside, she wanted nothing to do with dinner.

Clearly, something was wrong. But we had no idea what.

This is uncharted territory for our family. I lost a dog as a kid, but that was a long, long time ago.

Our only course of action was to watch and wait.

Thursday was no better. In fact, it was scary at times. The dog’s level of unconsciousness when she slept seemed deeper than ever. Rousing her required concerted effort, and there was still no interest in food.

Should we call the vet? We didn’t know, but we decided to wait until noon Friday before making the decision.

Should we call Sally and let her know what was going on? She received Shadow as a gift on her seventh birthday. We thought about it and decided to wait on that as well.

Finally, on Friday, the old dog began to return to normal.

She sought Connie out during the day to let her know she wanted to go out and piddle. By noon, some of her appetite had begun to return.

By Saturday afternoon, she was able to make an abbreviated trip around the block and I came home with a poop bag that had been put to use.

That’s why, on Saturday night, that simple question — “How’s the dog?” — had hit the mark so cleanly. And that’s why that simple answer — “Better” — felt so, so good.

It’s not going to be an easy path. We’re well aware of that. Anyone who has loved a pet can bear witness to that fact.

But right now, things are better.

We’ve made it through another week.

PORTLAND WEATHER

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