15 yo Chessie

15 yo Chessie

This is Chessie, he’s 15 years old. I got him when I was in college; he was a dog pound rescue, a ~4 month old, shy neurotic pup with a lot of instinct to chase things. Back then I couldn’t see much beyond school, and never really expected him to be anything but a companion. But, I trained him, and after graduating, finally had enough money to compete with him. He earned a lot of titles in obedience, agility and even a “PT” in herding (though his desire to “grip” and run livestock limited his further progress there).

He has been a good friend all these years, weathered my many training mistakes, me losing my temper and patience with him many times, and some irresponsible things I did with him when I was twenty-something (like tying him outside my Calculus class one afternoon, which resulted in him escaping and running around, un-capturable, menacing everyone in terror until the police were summoned :-0). We have been through a lot of life together, many houses, roommates, growing up, boyfriends and dog show travels.

But now he is in the twilight of his life. Though still healthy in many ways, his kidneys are on the way to failure. And, his rear end has become neurologically crippled so that walking is very complicated, though not painful. And, he is mostly deaf and senile. And so it goes, I assume that someday soon, I’ll either wake up to see that he has passed away, or I’ll have to choose to put him down.

There lies the rub for me. All my dog show friends reassure me, “you’ll know when it’s time.” But, that doesn’t seem to hold true for me. I lost an elderly cat to cancer a few years ago, and I completely didn’t know whether or not to euthanize. His death seemed imminent day after day, where I figured he only had hours left, so there was no sense in putting him down. But, he’d make it through that day, and the next, and the next. Each day, I’d think, “man, maybe I should have done it yesterday, but it looks like today will be his last.” In the end, I wished I’d done it much earlier; I’m not sure if to save him, or myself, or both, from the trials of the dying process.

One friend offered this suggestion: pick five things that they love, and when they can’t do three of them, then it’s time. Well, hmm, for an old dog, there isn’t much: Chessie stopped wanting to train new material a year or so ago, but he still enjoyed doing easy material he already knew. Several months ago, he stopped wanting to ride in the van though, so opted-out on going to training nights. He used to like to go for a run in the field, but in the last couple of weeks, he’s been opting out on that too. He still does like to eat, and be petted. So, I guess that’s two out of four-where does that leave me?

Chessie eating duck feed

Chessie eating duck feed

I can’t help but notice the parallels to my two ninety-something grandmas. They too have cut back on most of the things they used to enjoy. One sleeps a lot, and watches TV the rest of the time. The other is frustrated by her fading memory and reasoning ability. I recently met a lovely 90 year old lady, who said, not in a complaining tone, but in a contemplative manner, “I never planned on or expected to live this long, and I kind of wish I hadn’t. Just too many things going wrong with my body.” In old age, there is pain, loss of eyesight and hearing, and the unglamorous things- bladder and bowel control isn’t what it used to be, and it’s challenging to maintain one’s desired level of hygiene. And, dementia can cause people to say things that are not always real “Emily Post,” if you know what I mean, Gentle Reader. 🙂

Chessie, too, has lost his social graces- he used to get along well with other dogs and was well behaved with people. Now, he takes food from the other dogs in a demanding manner, growls at everybody to get out of his way, he’s grumpy, and if he falls and I try to help him up, sometimes he bites! Hard! Here is a photo of him having snuck into the duck pen, he’s porking out on duck feed like Winnie The Pooh caught in the honey! His appetite is one thing that remains robust!

I suppose it’s good that we have, with animals, the option of euthanasia; to prevent them from needless suffering at the very end. But, it’s a heavy burden both to cope with the living part of end-of-life care, as well as be the one who has to decide when euthanasia is the appropriate choice. One part of me is anxious for this phase of life to be over, another part dreads that happening. I guess you just take it day by day, and hope you make the right decisions.
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