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Dog Gone Aging

Posted on July 13th, 2016 by Margit Novack
From www.movingsolutions.com | info@movingsolutions.com | 610-853-4300

dog gone aging
I overheard a conversation. “How are your parents doing?” one asked.
“Oh, you know, they’re deteriorating,” said the other. “That’s it?” I thought. “That’s how she sums up her parents… They’re deteriorating? What about, “They’re facing some challenges but they’re coping ” or “They’re declining and struggling to maintain their independence” or “All things considered, they’re pretty resilient…” .  Almost anything was better than reducing her parents to a short description of passive diminishment. And that’s when I thought about my dog.

Poppy is an old dog, very old for a greyhound. Her regal face is mostly white, and her deep brown eyes that once reached into your soul when she stared at you, are clouded with cataracts. The muscles in her once powerful hind legs are atrophied. That, combined with arthritis, makes transitions difficult. Often, she needs help getting into bed, steadying herself on stairs, or simply getting up from a nap. She has lost weight, so her ribs are prominent even for a greyhound. Her coat sheds constantly. Her failing kidneys cause her to drink more, and this in turn results in numerous accidents since she can’t move fast enough to get outside. She takes a long time to respond to simple commands like, “Come,”  which we attribute to a combination of slower mental processing speed, hearing impairment and mobility issues. She sleeps most of the day and tires quickly. Although we care for Poppy, we get little back from her compared to the funny, affectionate dog she once was.

Yet, we are OK with our role as caretakers of a senior dog. Caring for Poppy is neither sad nor frustrating — it simply is.

If asked how she is doing, I would say, “She’s an old dog, but she’s doing great.” I wouldn’t say, “She’s deteriorating.” So why are we so much kinder when we describe elderly pets, than when we describe elderly parents? Why is it so much easier to care for pets we love as they age, than for people?

We see caring for elderly family members as an obligatory,  unwelcome burden. We get angry with the physical tasks of caregiving, embarrassed by loved ones’ lack of hygiene, frustrated by their increasing need for support. We are so saddened by the diminution of who they once were, it is hard to accept or take pleasure in who they are now. Yet, we have none of these emotions with our elderly pets.

Recently, I overhead another conversation. A group of siblings were talking about a tiny dog, now 14, with whom they had grown up. “We put up a gate so she doesn’t fall downstairs. She’s incontinent and pees on the rug. She’s lost weight, her hair is thin, she’s lost most of her teeth. But she still plays with her toys and scampers around. She’s a happy little dog.”

We care for our elderly pets with patience and compassion because we remember who they were, and we accept who they are. Although there is loss when animals age, there is not sadness in the caregiving, and there is often joy. Yet human aging is so enmeshed with anger and sadness, it is hard to find joy. It seems we’ve internalized ageism — those of us who are aging and our caregivers as well. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe an old dog can teach us.

9 Responses to “Dog Gone Aging”

Helen DennisJuly 13th, 2016 at 7:15 pm

Margit. Wonderful piece with much wisdom and insight. Thank you. Regards, Helen

Michelle BishopJuly 13th, 2016 at 7:22 pm

Dear Margit, Your articles are so caring and thought provoking. This week I have visited with my son’s father-in-law who has been suffering with ALS for nearly 5 years. Fortunately he had great insurance prior to this past January and has been able to live at home with his loving wife. His money has run out and tomorrow Joe is going on hospice. It has been very difficult for the family but they are an inspiration to me. They have lovingly taken care of Joe and helped him participate in all family events. His grandchildren have been very close and learned a great deal observing Joe in a hopeless situation while his wife,sister, sons,and daughters, and home healthcare nurses worked to keep this wonderful man alive and as active as possible during this time. Today is a very sad and difficult day for the entire family. Once the hospice care begins, there will be very little left unsaid. Their loving care has been extraordinary! I am honored to have known Joe and so blessed by each of his loved ones. Honoring the loved one who is aging or fighting a losing battle with a disease is the best we can do. No one wishes loved ones to have to become our care-givers, but to really be a caregiver takes LOVING care and compassion as well as patience.
Thank you for this blog.

Judy CoplanJuly 20th, 2016 at 10:22 am

You write so beautifully yet simply, always great to read your posts!

Margit NovackJuly 20th, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Thank you, Judy. I am so glad you like them.

Your story stirred up a lot of emotion for me. I lost a dog and both parents and cared for each of them with vast amounts of love. I felt no anger or embarrassment, but I was glad I had the time to attend to them or to get them the help they needed. So much depends on who the dog was or who the parent was and how they declined. Just like childbirth differs widely from one to the next, so, too, does death.

I experienced the protracted excrutiatingly painful demise of my once high-energy upbeat mother over a period of many years. Her death came as a relief…her suffering from cancer and a plethora of other illnesses was ended.

Dad, on the other hand, went swiftly and without too much fanfare. Although he was 94, I felt he could have had many more good years…but pneumonia took him. The feeling of what might have been was sad for me.

And then there was my beautiful pedigree poodle, Simone, the one Mother named her dog-grooming salon after, who grew up alongside me like a sister. In our home dogs were as beloved as people and my feelings for her ran deep. I still have her framed portrait, taken in a photography studio, by my bed. With seven years to every human year, when she was 16, it was as if she were a 112 year old person. Like your dog, she had lost the mobility in her hind legs and was barely eating. I was home from college when I witnessed her keel over and I shrieked because I thought she was gone. Mother was able to swoop down and revive her, but her days were numbered. I was back at school when I got the call that it was over — one of the saddest moments of my life.

Each person is different and so, too, are their feelings about this deeply personal journey. Enjoy your loved ones while you can.

Margit NovackJuly 24th, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Hi Billie
Thank you for sharing your heart-felt memories about your parents and Simone. You write beautifully.
Special pets capture a special place in our hearts. We love other pets, but no one replaces them. Our cat Tiger died at 21. I wrote several blog posts about him. There will never be another Tiger.

[…] Novack of Moving Solutions, a senior move expert, wrote a touching article entitled Dog Gone Aging.   In it, she talks about the people who describe their aging parents as […]

Your dog may make you less likely to get heart disease. Dog owners walk more and have lower blood pressure than people without dogs. Heart attack survivors and those with abnormal heart rhythms who own dogs live longer than people with the same heart problems who don’t have dogs.

I have an elderly white German Shepherd. When we walk her, half the passers-by say “Oh, what’s wrong with her??” The other half say, “What a beautiful dog! She’s just beaming love!”
Nuff said.

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