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Old Dog Time
Eggs, Un-scrambled

Toby was bossy, brilliant, single minded, the quintessence of Terrier tenacity. But she was once a puppy, dithering and distracted, thoughts running in every direction. A seasoned dog trainer advised me, the ingénue, that puppy’s brains are scrambled eggs: time and guidance would firm them up. Evie, just past babyhood, rescued us a month after Toby’s untimely departure. She was always a bit airheaded, eggs never solidifying like Toby’s but gelling nicely. Then the unsettling: the senility announcing itself a year ago at 15. The eternal puppy face, with its distinctive pink nose a bit faded and crusty now, doesn’t match the mechanics of her body and mind. Her devoted humans have now become her caretakers as she resides blissfully in the doggie version of la-la land. She stands looking blankly at the wall, engrossed until we bring her attention back, usually with food. Her appetite remains hearty, her meals enriched with antioxidants and life enhancers, an arthritis pill and a powder to prevent flare-ups of the gallbladder issue which nearly cancelled last year’s vacation.

Sleep drugged, I don the massive old down coat and snow boots with lightning speed to get us outside after the 2 am pacing wakeup. I try to know in this interminable, coldest winter of Evie’s long life that the hushed, moonlit, snowy outing with my fuzzy sweetheart is a fleeting blessing, that I’m grateful it’s a Saturday night and there’s no need for a working brain until Monday morning, that I must be patient as we stand in the bone chill while she tries to remember why we came out. Back in the house’s warmth, the pacing may continue, or if luck holds, she’ll doze again soon.

The dozing comes easier now. The strong short legs that carried her on hill climbs, on all weather hikes, propelling her onto the couch to her favorite lookout are slow and cranky, moving tentatively. The cloudy eyes, the small bewilderments, the hearing loss compressing her surroundings are all her present existence, yet she still loves this life way too much to leave it. Grief is for us, not for her: she is blissfully devoid of self-pity, free to live out her quirky dotage as it comes.  We accommodate, assist, hug, and excuse each mishap.

There’s no handbook for this, the Old Dog time, the way to prepare for the suddenly odd activities, the unscrambled eggs, the closing of the circle. Puppy antics, housebreaking, obedience: educational material abounds. We learn that meds exist for this cognitive disorder thing, supplements, pheromone diffusers, acupressure, herbal remedies. They all work for Evie for a time, until they don’t. What we need is an instruction manual for watching our darling, the always-game socialite, our surrogate child, fade before us, progeria-like. Polite sympathy from dog free acquaintances, friends: not the heartfelt commiseration they shared over my Mom’s denouement. I don’t expect them to get it, and I move quickly on to other subjects.

We’ve become the crazy old couple we’d have scorned in our youth, lavishing countless hours and dollars on a dog, willingly. I scale back my strength training so shoulders and hips can handle the pickup and carry without pain. We reserve movies and dinners out for only those deserving of hiring the dogsitter: we’d rather hang out with Evie, checking frequently while she naps that the soft blonde fur still gently rises and falls.

The company of this beautiful little old girl has filled the house, our hearts, seemingly forever: loving background music in our lives. Unbearable to imagine stillness.



Patricia Conway’s work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and Northshore (Chicago) and Odyssey (Greek) magazines.

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Submitted by Linda | April 3 2014 |

A heartwarming story. My almost 17-year old Chihuahua mix has health issues and is senile, as well. Inevitable, I suppose. Alex has been through some major adversity, and yet... no sign of slowing down. He, too, stares at walls and barks at nothing - especially in the middle of the night. He wakes me at all hours of the night to go out, or because he is hungry - or just because he wants comfort and attention. He loves to eat, takes his meds and evens runs around the yard on warm, sunny days. Not bad considering his heart condition, arthritis, missing teeth and almost deaf. Thankfully he can "hold it" for at least 10 hours during the day, presumably because he is just sleeping. They are like our children... complete with the separation anxiety, guilt when leaving and worry when boarding. Fortunately, Alex still has quality of life, even at his very advanced age. He has beat the odds and is on borrowed time. Every day I come home and see him scampering about with his tail wagging like crazy is a day I cherish!

Submitted by Pat Conway | April 11 2014 |

Yes, we need to remember that those sleep-deprived moments are more opportunities to spend with them! I envy these old guys for their happy attitudes despite all they go through.

Submitted by Helene cote | August 12 2014 |

FFor those of you who've loved a dog deeply enough to reel from the loss, you know how painful it is to watch them fade away. The end begins with the many trips to the Vet' to address the successive descent to each new plateau. Then comes the chilly 2am walk, the eerie 4am walk and finally the 6am walk that would herald another day in the company of our beloved Terrier mix rescue, Mr Tuvok. Knowing the end was coming, we had a photo shoot done the year before and so he had the good fortune of gracing the cover of a senior issue of Bark. A fitting tribute. When Tuvok's trachea suddenly collapsed from a pre-adoption injury, unable to breathe outside the oxygen box, I was told I had to make a choice; a tracheotomy or euthanasia. With a Vet' and two technicians staring me down, the room seemed too still and my vision narrowed as the words slipped out of my mouth, "It's time to let him go." I said my final goodbye whispering "it's OK" in his ear, as he struggled to gasp one last breath. I had practiced this moment for months knowing this day would come, I wanted him to feel calm & loved when he heard those special words. I know it was the charitable thing to do, but faced with the sudden power over life the guilt of the decision stayed with me like a stain.

I wailed at the loss but deep down I felt it was selfish to let a good dog heart and home go to waste. There are so many just like him, waiting for a second chance at happiness. Thanks to the adoption Sundays sponsored by the Milo Foundation and the dog store George, a new little Terrier rescue makes our family three once again. Mini is the vision of health and youth, whose personality couldn't be more different than her older brother. Once again we reluctantly rejoice at each birthday wishing time would slow down a bit. Despite the great loss I tell myself I made the more "humaine" choice for Tuvok, knowing I'll probably have to make the same decision again, because I also discovered that it takes a lot of courage to love deeply. And it's so worth it.

Submitted by Pat Conway | August 15 2014 |

I know Mr. Tuvok’s beautiful scruffy face from the pages of our personalized Dog Joy book from The Bark which has Evie gracing the cover. You must have had lots of wonderful years with that little guy---saying goodbye would have been unbearable. Bringing Mini home honors Mr. Tuvok’s life---she won’t replace him in your heart, but she’ll make it grow. Rescuing is a lifelong continuum for us dog folks! I wish you all kinds of joy with Mini.

Submitted by Evangelia Phili... | September 27 2014 |

What a sweet story and so well understood by those of us who have loved and lived with a old dog. Our sweet JRT, Boy-D passed away in July at 17. After years of being the squirrel hunter of the neighborhood, the happy leader of our pack we watched helplessly as his eyes lost the spark and flash of observation and he stared blankly at walls and floor as he entered a room unable to remember why he had entered it. His solution was was to peddle in the hopes that would help him remember. Friends and family urged us to end his life but the loving look in his eyes when he saw me and the content sigh when he curled by my side reassured me that some part of him still knew us.

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