My dog loves to walk more than she wants to eat. She knows all the cues to indicate I’m getting ready to go for a walk, including recognizing the bleep on my phone of the text message from my walking buddy Kris when it’s time to head out. I love taking her for walks too. But, at about 10 years of age and with a full length black fur coat, she is no longer able to walk the three or more miles I can do in the heat of the day. Her vet has limited her to less than two miles and her own deteriorating endurance for the heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer mean that she misses out on most of my walks these days.
We have a fenced back yard, but if she is allowed to run freely without the presence of a human, she’ll jump the fence and be gone. So, on days when I can’t take her walking, I take her outside to ‘play’. That’s a new word for her and she loves it! She sprints to the back fence line to flush out the critters who thought they were safe in the shade of the bushes and vines there. Birds fly, squirrels and rabbits speed off in all directions, and some sort of critters head underground so Lizzie can sniff and dig trying to find them. She tries to jump up the trees to play with the squirrels or maybe fly with the blue jays. She sniffs, snorts, and generally makes a real nuisance of herself to these critters who thought the back yard was their domain.
Sadly, after less than ten minutes of this vigorous play time, she’s done. She’s happy to head back inside the house to plop herself down on the A/C register and deprive the rest of us of the cold air. It’s clear that she is no longer up to that three mile walk in the woods in this kind of weather.
This marks a milestone in our lives with this dog. She is now or soon will be ten years old. We adopted her in August, 2005 when she was 12-15 weeks old. I wanted a dog to motivate me to walk even on days when I didn’t want to. And, that she’s done. She still exhibits puppy-like behavior a lot of the time, but it’s clear that she is ‘sundowning’ each evening and showing her age. This breed (flat coated retriever) typically lives 11-14 years according to the vet. It’s hard to think of this family member being so ‘elderly’.
A good friend had to put down her beloved Max this past weekend. He suffered from bad arthritis, could no longer go on his beloved walks, and had difficulty squatting to ‘take care of business’ in the yard. I received a tearful call from my friend asking my opinion since Max still seems happy much of the time. I’ve been down this road before. My beloved Jasmine, a cockerpoo who was totally ‘my’ dog, became ill in 2004, shortly before I was due to be away from home for about a month then moving to a new house. I couldn’t put a sick, old dog through a month away from her own home and routine and then move her to a strange, new home. It became clear to me that although she had some quality of life, it was time for me to be the mom and make the tough decision. I truly feel it’s better to preserve some of the dog’s dignity, not waiting until the poor animal is completely devoid of quality of life, before helping her on to whatever comes next (doggie heaven).
While Lizzie misses her walks and I miss walking her, I believe that once the weather is cooler, she can resume longer walks. When she can’t, she’ll still be with us as long as she is a happy mutt. When she is no longer happy and/or healthy and is suffering from loss of her dignity, the tough decisions will be made. But, we will honor her by rescuing another dog who loves to walk, who will keep me motivated and moving, who will be loved as a valuable member of the family.
And, I will think of Lizzie in doggie heaven with Jasmine who also loved her walks. Jasmine was my very first walking buddy more than 15 years ago. She motivated me, loved me, and loved her walks in any kind of weather. Her ‘niece’ Lizzie is much the same kind of dog. If we are really fortunate, we’ll rescue yet another dog who will love to walk and want to keep ‘mom’ motivated. Jasmine and Lizzie will never be forgotten. Their faith in me will never be taken for granted. They will move over a bit to allow another dog to come into our hearts.
I love the old AA prayer which I can only paraphrase here:
Oh God, please let me be the person my dog thinks I am.
I wish I was as good as my dog thinks I am!