Title:  Tale Waggers Roses in November  Image: Arthur at 13 


November, 1997
I look out my window and realize that Michigan's gray November weather is here again. An early snow blankets the yard. Still, in the midst of the bleak gray and white landscape, I catch a glimpse of bright color. A rose is still blooming. It isn't the fanciest rose. It doesn't have the most lavish scent. The blooms aren't lush and full. Yet this is the first rose to bloom in the spring and the last to surrender to winter - blooming in the snow long past frost. This, I think to myself, is what old dogs are like.

Arthur will be 15 in May. The average life span of a cocker spaniel is 12 years. Earnest was healthy and active until just days before he died. Tristan died suddenly - only 8 years old. Arthur is my first experience with an "old dog". His hearing went years ago. The eyes are cloudy. His once thick and curly coat is sparse - the texture of dryer lint. Muscle tone is gone. His body is bony and fatty tumors jut out here and there. His movements are arthritic despite daily medication. We hobble toward the kitchen each morning for the pills that keep us moving - my old dog and I.

I remember when Arthur was the fastest dog in the pack, tearing through the yard and leaping into the air. I remember when his eyes were bright and his ears were thick and long. I remember when he could hear me whisper "treat" across the room. But somehow, he is dearer to me now than he ever was. He is like a well-loved teddy bear - worn around the edges. We have a long history together and each day I panic at the thought of our home without him.

He's made the most of what he has left. He still guards the house part-time - relying on the motion sensor porch light to alert him in the evenings and leaving the job to Emma in the daytime when he naps. Daytime visitors must wake him up to say hello. Each trip outdoors brings a full circle of the perimeter of the yard to gather information and check for intruders. He still guards the bathroom door, but sometimes he falls asleep on guard and ends up guarding the door for hours not realizing his person has left the bathroom and tiptoed over him. On rare occasions, he will even chase a squirrel, although those bursts of speed are few and far between these days. Once in a great while, he will even pull on a toy or wrestle with Papa for a few seconds. He still has every bad habit he ever had, except his intense hatred of cats. I knew Arthur was really old when one of the vet's resident cats touched noses with his crusty old dog nose. He never even made a fuss when Duncan came to stay. I never thought it would make me so incredibly sad to see Arthur behave in a civil manner. His newly mellow nature seems ominous.

He's a survivor, my old dog. He's battled health problems for most of his life. By the time he was 5 year old, arthritis had damaged his hips so badly that surgery was required. Allergies brought runny eyes and nose and the ear infections that eventually took his hearing despite constant medication. He's lost Earnest, then Tristan, his best friend in the whole world, but he goes on. Some days I think he's near the end and the next day he suddenly rallies. Last Thanksgiving he would barely leave his bed, but at Christmas we had a house full of company and he magically came to life again.

His blood tests show everything is working perfectly normally. Sometimes I dare to dream that he'll be one of those miraculous 20-year-old dogs you hear about. We've foisted two pups upon him in the last two years and each time he seems a bit rejuvenated. Maybe the stimulation is good for him. Maybe the aggravation is keeping him alive…

February 1998...
The past few months, I've watched with dread as signs of weakness grow. His potty needs are urgent and we often do not help him outside in time. His hips are so weak he cannot stand on the slippery kitchen floor without sliding, spread-eagled, to the ground. Once down, he struggles mightily to regain his footing. Often he needs a lift. Still, he skips into the kitchen and eats his food with gusto. He even makes a few attempts to open the refrigerator.

This week, he seems to have some problems remembering where doorways are. In the night he wanders through the bedroom bumping into things until I guide him to the door and out into the yard. Sometimes he forgets how to get back inside and I'm out in the snow in my nightgown hefting him through the door. He wanders off in the middle of dinner. He misplaces himself. It makes me cry to think that Arthur, the cleverest of all dogs, is now fighting to remember where he is. The vet has put him on a vitamin supplement that has shown promise in treating senility. I hope for the best, but I know the day is closer now. The day we say goodbye. Maybe he will rally again. Maybe we still have some time together.

Maybe he'll still be blooming in the snow next November.

March 1998...
Before I could publish this article, Arthur's condition became so severe that we made the terrible decision to let him go in peace. He paced in circles 20 hours a day. Eating and drinking became nearly impossible. The last day he fell, over and over, as he wandered into walls and furniture. He could not sleep. Finally he was crated, but he bloodied his mouth ramming into the crate. Even sedated, he found no peace. He fought bravely, struggling to his feet and barking in confusion at how his body had betrayed him - my courageous friend.

Next November will be very cold indeed...


Tips for Living with Senior Dogs


Copyright 1998 - 2007 Elizabeth Cusulas
Tale Waggers - Stories for Dog People
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