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It’s around six in the morning. I wake up to my dog Chacha’s barks. It starts soft and considerate, the kind that accepts belly scratches in exchange for a few more minutes of sleep. Then when she notices the scratches slowly coming to a halt, she belts out louder, more powerful and demanding ruffs – one after another – like one of those walking alarm clocks that won’t stop ringing until you stand up and turn it off yourself.
I have no choice but to get up from my bed, my eyelids still heavy. My dog’s paws, all four of them, tip tap with excitement, her body shivers with joy. Our daily routine has begun.
It sounds like a scenario that every other dog parent experiences except that after I get up, the first thing I do is to wear a surgical glove, grab a cotton pad, a veterinary eye cleanser, and a tube of ointment. It’s time to clean and apply medicine to my 12-year-old dog’s eyes. When she was 11, the vet said that her irritated eyes come with being a senior dog. The ointment was now a maintenance medicine and the cone of shame a permanent accessory.
And then she’s like any other dog again. She would run down the stairs and out of the house to sniff, and pee, and poop, and sniff some more. She would like to have what the other dogs are having but she can’t. She can’t just eat any food. She needs a special diet that costs more than my own. Fortunately, she loves it and would eat with gusto anyway, making me forget that the food she’s eating better not mess with her digestive system or else.
Then she sleeps. For hours. She does wake up for a bit when someone walks by her and brushes her cone or someone drops something on the floor. But unless she smells food or hears a rustling of a bag of chips, she would be asleep until it’s time for our daily afternoon walk. She has always loved walking – running when she was a young pup, brisk walking when she was a full-grown adult, and now leisurely walking with occasional stops.
After dinner, she has medicine for dessert. A small capsule that costs as much as a venti frappucino. She needs to take this for 14 days, the vet said. It appears that she has a hormonal condition that needs to be treated. They found this out after four vet visits, a series of tests, a couple of medicines that didn’t work, and an accumulated vet bill that could buy me a brand new, mid-range phone.
To some friends, this already sounds a lot to handle. But that’s the reality of taking care of a senior dog. I actually still have it so much better than others, having just a small breed with relatively good health for her age.
In her book, Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum, she takes us through what it’s like to care for a dog who’s at the final stage of his life.
Woodrow was a black labrador who liked hanging out by the bench outside of their apartment. So much so that he had become a neighborhood fixture that people looked forward to seeing.
Just like any other dog, Woodrow grew old. Being a huge breed, the perils of old age came earlier than his fellow smaller ones. Wisps of white fur announced the arrival of a myriad of ailments. They appeared one after the other as Woodrow’s legs and hips slowly gave up, too.
This period slowly detoured the author into a whole new direction of caring for dogs. It’s a far cry from potty training, figuring out feeding schedules, dealing with teething, and losing sleep over a whiny puppy. Now, it’s cleaning up soiled blankets and stained walls because of Woodrow’s bowel incontinence, carrying a 90-pound dog up and down the stairs, late night and urgent visits to the vet. Unlike puppy rearing, it’s no longer Instagram-worthy and would definitely not make you chuckle.
Despite the hardships and financial blow, taking care of a senior dog also comes with a gift that keeps on giving. The first and biggest one is the gift of a dog’s long life.
Deciding to take care of a dog is like putting your heart on your sleeve. A dog’s life is already short enough but some circumstances like accidents and ailments can cut that even shorter. The moment you love a dog, you must also accept that a heartbreak is inevitable. So being able to be with a dog until his or her old age is a privilege. A gift, not a burden.
Another precious gift is a senior dog’s constant reminders to always seize the moment. The wake up calls, rough plays, and afternoon walks that we’ve been doing every day may not come tomorrow. To skip one could mean missing out on the very last time.
Not everyone would approve of the kind of pure, intense, and unconditional love that some people give their dogs. Reserve it for people, they say. But to me, it’s this kind of love that makes me a better person. To love and care for someone other than myself and without expecting anything in return? I don’t think there’s a greater lesson in love than that. It’s the closest I can get to empathizing with mothers while not being one yet.
If you have a dog, Blum’s Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog will make you appreciate your dog even more and yourself as a dog mom (or dad). Whether you’re just starting your life together or nearing its end, all of us would agree that no matter what stage, we become closer to being the person our dogs think we are because of them. – Rappler.com