You don't realize how fast puppies grow until they are grown. All the shoe-stealing, furniture chewing, ankle-biting and potty-training that seemed to have no end finally disappear and you realize you now have a grown up dog. A dog who has learned how to fit into your life comfortably and who brings you joy everyday. Year after year, your wonderful dog just gets better as your relationship grows.
And then, one day, your young dog is old. It seems to occur suddenly, even though you'd been noticing the gray hairs multiplying around the eyes and muzzle for some time.
I wish I could turn back the clock. Max was a typically silly German Shorthaired Pointer puppy who would fetch a ball or frisbee until your arm fell off. He and I competed in hunt tests and Rally together and, as a certified Therapy Dog, he brought smiles to many nursing home residents. He was my go-to demo-dog for Canine Good Citizen classes.
Steady, easy-going and reliable, and always eager to please.
Max is fifteen now. He suffered a stroke just weeks before his fourteenth birthday and we thought he'd reached the end of the line, but he bounced back remarkably well and is still enjoying life in his own way. Max sleeps most of the day. When he's not sleeping, he's getting in the way of the other dogs, who will sometimes growl at him. He can't hear their warnings so we are quick to intervene and keep him safe. Max can't jump onto the furniture anymore. I help him onto his favorite spot on the couch, but as soon as I walk into another room he gets up to follow me, just as he's always done. He insists on being wherever I am no matter how difficult it is for him to follow. It's heart-wrenching to see him struggle so hard when I'm only leaving for a moment, but he steadfastly refuses to stay in his comfy spot if I'm not there.
Max asks to go out sometimes, seems to forget why, then happily comes in the house and poops on the floor, as if that's where he's expected to go. We can't scold him. He's obviously mixed up. So we just clean it up and sigh and we keep protective pads under him in case he has an accident in his sleep. For some time now he's had to wear a male wrap at night because he can't make it to the yard first thing in the morning. We've purchased many extra dog beds since one or more get soiled daily. Between the pads, the beds, the wraps and area rugs, "dog" laundry seems to be never-ending. Max wears a special harness so we can help him up and down stairs and a friend loaned us an adjustable raised food bowl so he wouldn't lose his balance bending down to eat, which is one of his favorite thing these days. He might not be able to hear, but he can smell when a treat bag is opened in the next room! Max still loves going for walks, too, and smelling everything there is to smell. Although we don't cover much distance, I try to stay out as long as he wants to since these walks provide great mental stimulation.
It grieves me to hear of old dogs whose families surrender them to shelters so as not to have to deal with the geriatric issues. Caring for an old dog can certainly be a challenge, one you probably weren't thinking about when you brought that cute little puppy home, but it's a responsibility that should not be shirked. If you have never cared for an old dog, start reading early on about common changes to expect as your dog ages so you can be prepared for what the senior years may bring.
When I look into Max's eyes, they are still bright. He still wants so much to please me. And after so many years of friendship, as long as I can keep him comfortable and happy, I will. Because when I look into Max's eyes, I still see that little puppy who melted my heart fifteen years ago.
Now he is my old puppy.