August 18, 2011

Old Dog

People frequently tell me there's no way they could ever raise a service puppy, because it would be too hard to give them up. Each person knows what they are able to bear, so I completely understand the sentiment behind that statement. Having raised both service and pet dogs, though, I find it much easier to lose a dog to life than the inevitable alternative.

Ruby is my sweetheart. But Kiva is my soulmate. We met Kiva when she was six weeks old, took her home at eight weeks, and then, since her sixth birthday, I've had a kind of odd relationship with her aging process. I think that no matter how much we celebrate with cake and presents, no one really enjoys watching those canine birthdays rack up, because we unfortunately get so few of them. But I've come to love each birthday as a celebration of what she's had rather than a worry about what she'd have left.

When Kiva got cancer at six years old, I never thought I'd see her reach seven or eight. She did. And then she hit nine. Nine is the number I always really hated thinking about in a dog; to me, it's the age that signifies the official beginning of what a friend calls, "the worry years." But she had survived cancer and hit nine and I felt jubilant.

Ten? I was triumphant. Eleven, ecstatic. Twelve was the birthday where I absolutely rejoiced. She had lived six years past her sixth year. I had been given the remarkable gift of a second lifetime with her.

Now that Kiva is thirteen years old, it's the extra cherry on top of the cherry on top. As she so patiently taught me (while I agonized over her cancer diagnosis and she exhiliratingly lived her life despite it): "Dude. Put down the tissue box and enjoy each day." And I really do. But there are some realities about my old—and I can't tell you how grateful I am to be able to use that word, that she made it to old!—dog that I've recently had to face. The most challenging is what her veterinarians believe is a degenerative spinal disorder. It's been gradual but steady and it's difficult to watch the back half of your dog in terminal disagreement with her front half.

She's still eager, curious, and playful, though. And hungry. For chicken and cheese and life. We've changed her activities to match her capabilities, but we've never altered the fun. Old dogs still love fun as much as pups do! So maybe it's two short walks a day rather than one longer one. No more strenuous mountain hikes, but lots of good, brisk swims. She still wants to play catch, but I put her in a "down" and toss her soft line drives now, keeping all those paws safely on the ground.

And we've kept our tradition of shaking off the summertime blues with a roll in the snow. Last July, we took Ruby and Kiva to St. Mary's Glacier here in Colorado. It was a bit of a walk up to the snowfield, but at that time, Kiva could handle it.

This year, we took a weekend road trip up to the Snowy Range in Wyoming instead. We enjoyed easy access to crystal lakes, cool green meadows bursting with wildflowers, and frosty snowfields. Wyoming is delicious this time of year!

And not just for senior dogs. Here's Kiva's over-the-hill mom...well, trying to make it over the hill. Yep, that's me wiping out and about to land smack on my butt as gracefully as possible.

A great time was had by all. As long as Kiva still wants to have fun, we'll find it for her. It's just become time to discover it in different places and ways.

I want to thank two wonderful people who are helping me navigate the challenges of Kiva's senior years. Their advice and friendship have been invaluable to me.

Jenny Kachnic is service pup William's mom. Besides sharing the joy of her service puppy with me, she cares for my Kiva with gentle massages and is very knowledgeable about the issues and challenges facing dogs (and their owners) during the senior years. Her upcoming book, Your Dog's Golden Years, will contain chapters from 18 canine professionals with information and options to help senior dogs live longer, happier lives.

Chandra Conway writes the blog, Daley's Dog Years, a great resource for advice on senior dog health, and information on the topic of canine degenerative spinal issues. I'm grateful to Chandra for her warm encouragement and for sharing the knowledge she gained during her search for treatment and therapies for her chocolate Lab, Daley.

For information on how to help improve the lives of homeless senior dogs, please visit The Grey Muzzle Organization.


Tamara said...

Bittersweet post...but mostly sweet :) So glad you and Kiva are still finding ways to enjoy life.

Sheila and Bob said...

Everyone that has ever loved an animal has had to face this.

We often why why we keep putting ourselves through this, but the love and companionship returned to us far outweighs the heartbreak we all must face.

Sheila & Bob

Berts Blog said...

Well this is our first time visiting your blog and we find what you wrote to be so great as My Vickie is at the same place with her precious Jamie.

We will continue following you so we can learn more ways to make Jamies life as fullfilling as possible.

Jamie served as a search and rescue dog for 12 years and now as you so wonderfully put it, her back legs are not working with the rest of her body, but her heart and soul and spirit cannot be stayed.

Thank you so much for your wisdom and words.

Bert & My Vickie

scotsmad said...

Lovely post. Kendra is now heading towards 13, with Cushings, but still enjoys pottering around and joining us when she wants.

XXXOOO Daisy, Kendra & Bella

♥♥♥ The OP Pack ♥♥♥ said...

With an almost 13 year old senior pup here who has also lived despite multiple bouts with cancer, we can so relate to your post. For some reason that we won't even stop to wonder about, our boy Phantom is having a pretty good spell for the past couple of months. We will take it and love it and love him every day we have.

Great trip - love the photos. And YOU are so not over the hill: You should see our Momster.

Woos ~ Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

Boondocks and The Love Shack Pack said...

Such a great post!!

There are different joys (and adventures) in each stage of life for canines and human. The point is to live and enjoy living.

Boondocks & The Love Shack Pack

Mogley G. Retriever said...

Thank you for reminding us about the bond that we so often have to break for the good of man and dog. And a special thanks for reminding us of the joy of old dogs. They are the gift that keeps getting better with age.

The invitation is still out to bring Kiva by for a swim.

Mogley G. Retriever

Sugar the Golden Retriever said...

Woof! Woof! This is such a wonderful post to read. My mom was very joyful as I turned 10 (last 8/10). She always says I inspire her. She always fond of my puppy years but she absolutely treasuring every moment of my senior years. Will definitely check out the book. We are blog friends with Dailey's Dog Years. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

Fiona, as typed by Dr. Liz said...

I hear you. My (well, it was my husband's, but since I married him for her, she became mine) miniature poodle lived to be 20, and was quite active until she was 18.5, and less active, but alert and happy until a few days before she gave me the greatest gift of leaving me in her sleep (she hated vets). I look at the two girls we have now, young and healthy, and while I know it won't last forever, but having had old dogs before I had young dogs, I appreciate the youngsters and know I can handle it when they get old. It'll make me sad, but I know I can handle it. I'm so glad you are having good times with Kiva.

-Dr. Liz

rottrover said...

Bert sent us over. A wonderful post. We'll be following you, too.

-Gizmo, Bart and Ruby (yep, Ruby!)

NanaNor's said...

Hi there, I just came over from Bert's blog and I see you are in Colorado. I'm wondering where or if you live near me...I'm a small town near Fort Collins/Greely/Loveland. Thanks for your post about aging dogs-I've got one that is on his final time frame and each day is a day of grace.
I'll be back to visit.

Whisppy said...

I teared up as I read your post. My dog, Whisky is 11 so she's also in her "worry years" although there's nothing to worry about as she is doing very very well. The only one worrying seem to be me!

May Kiva and you continue to find way to enjoy life! :)

PS/ I came over after reading about your post from Vickie (Bert's Blog).

STELLA from Down Under said...

Hello All, what a wonderful post. We lost our 'old girl' Kara two and a half months ago. She was nearly thirteen and had wonderful health until a few months before she went. Your post was very special. Thanks. No worries, and love, Carol (and Stella)

KB said...

You expressed so many of my feelings absolutely perfectly. I'm so happy that you and Kiva are finding ways to have fun this summer. You are a perfect example of how a person can find ways to give a dog a joyful life despite the challenges of aging.

Our dog, Acadia, was my soulmate. She, too, had spinal problems (a huge disc herniation that left her almost paralyzed in her hind end). She spent the last year of her life in a doggy wheelchair, and she reveled in zooming around our forest with wheels! I never guessed ahead of time how much she'd love her wheels.

I hope that you and sweet Kiva keep loving this summer. My sweet K turns 8 this fall, and I'm already grasping at every moment that we can enjoy together out in nature.

Erin said...

Well put. We recently lost our dog to cancer at age 10. We were told after her diagnosis that she would have about 4-6 more months, we were so grateful that she proved everyone wrong and lived a year longer than that. It helped so much to think that we had an extra year with her (despite the 5 or so years that were stolen from us) It made everyday feel like a blessing.

1000 Goldens said...

We are so happy you have your Kiva soul mate, and that she was blessed with a loving family who gave her so many great adventures that most humans don't even get to experience. Please put a smooch on her snooter for us.

Bailey Be Good! said...

I found my way to your blog, and thought I'd say hello. Hellooo!

My furry sister, Nala is going to be 13 in 3 months, and so far she's doing great! Your post was really beautiful and I wanted to thank you for sharing. :)

Woofs & hugs <3,

~Bailey (Yep, I'm a girl!)

chandra said...

As you said, any age for our dogs that can be considered "old" is cause for celebration, but I've got to say that I think 13, for a large dog, is the COOLEST and your description of it as "the extra cherry on top of the cherry on top" is perfect!

Love the pics and thanks so much for the shout out! It is really a pleasure to read about Kiva. Thanks so much for sharing your special relationship with her!

-Chandra at Daley's Dog Years

leamaxwell said...

Agreed--Kiva has has a wonderful 7 years beyond her cancer, and who could ask for anything more? Well, you can! We've been living with Tahlula's IVDD and spinal paralysis for about 3 years now--it's worse because she has bad knees/hips on top of the paralysis, but we've made it this far avoiding surgery. She's had good days and bad days and she worries the heck out of me. But, like Kiva has taught you, we learn that each day is meant to be enjoyed, not lamented as one of few remaining.

Is Kiva on steroids? I'm unclear as to the official diagnosis, but I may have some helpful lessons learned.

Amy said...

I'm so glad all of you "old farts" are still out having fun. At our age, you're lucky you didn't break a hip! LOL!!

Beth and Alfie said...

Beautiful post. Dogs teach us to treasure every moment!

Laura Potts (PetSafe) said...

Wow. I just found your blog as I was looking through the Pettie winners. And this post alone speaks to why you won. I have been brainstorming a post so similar to this about my dog Lincoln. At 11 (and 2 major back surgeries), it's still a blessing to have his happy bouncy face greet me every morning. But it's tough to see him age. Your blog truly captured what I think most of us experience with our beloved furry friends.

annie said...

Such beautiful words, all so true. As an oncology nurse I am keenly aware of the frailty of life, but I naively assumed our first Golden, Spencer would grow old with least for a decade. We were devastated when he died of lymphoma at age 4. Now the moments are even sweeter with Riley Rex, who rescued us a year ago at age 2 1/2. I hope for the white-muzzle years, but savor the love today. Bless you for sharing your heart and working so hard for the pups and those they serve. ::Jeanne::

Taffy and Angel Twix said...

Great, touching post! Having just gone through this with Twix I totally understand. Kiva is very lucky to have you as her mom. When I had Max (a black and tan doxie) he lived until he was about 17 and I always expected Twix would live that long too. But, as my vet has told me many times, each dog is different. I feel so lucky to have been able to share my life with the dogs I've had/have. Thanks for sharing your broken heart needed to hear it.

Ruby's Raiser said...

Thank you, Tania Kindersley -- Blogger ate your comment, but I rec'd a copy in my inbox:

Just discovered your lovely blog. I too have a venerable thirteen-year-old lady, a black lab/collie cross. It's all so much the same as you described: the two short walks, the gentler games of catch. Every day, the thought of her great age sort of breaks my heart, but the very fact that she is still here is like a present. I really loved this post; thank you.