I opened the passenger side car door ready to hook the leash onto my dog harness. But instead of leaping out like Caddie used to do, she moved over to the driver’s seat. A clear “No. I’m finished hiking for the day. Thank you very much.”
This was the second of two trails that I had planned on hiking that day. I told her it was a short and easy trail. It had “wildlife” in the name, so I knew she’d love it. Yes, I tried to reason with a dog, but I knew she would enjoy the hike. And that she wasn’t really too tired for this easy one.
It’s not fair that a dog’s life is so much shorter than ours. But loving a geriatric dog comes to those who are lucky. The last dog I had – Charley a mostly yellow Labrador mix – did not live until old age. He was lively and fun one minute, and the next he had something odd happen. A cancer diagnosis gave him one more month of living. Charley was only seven when he died, about middle-aged for a Labrador.
However, loving an older dog means they slow down well before you do. Caddie is a mostly Catahoula/blue heeler mix, which means she is high-energy. But now that she is creeping into her 13th year, that energy is condensed to shorter bursts.
When I pack for a hiking or camping trip, she still sniffs my gear to see if her gear is there. And if it’s not, I get the stink eye. She doesn’t realize the trail I picked out is going to be hard on her.
I’ve heard of people who “retire” dogs. Either send them off to a family farm so they can enjoy the outdoors at their own pace or get an adventure puppy and let the old dog stay home. But that is definitely not for Caddie. For me, the bond between canine and human is stronger than the need for constant “type 2 fun”.
Loving a geriatric dog allows you to sometimes slow down and smell the roses…or piles of poop. I still go on harder hikes, but I also go on slower, easier trails with Caddie. Because she is an active breed but also an old dog, I try to stimulate her mind. One thing that I like to do is take her on what I call “sniff walks.” On these neighborhood walks, we walk slowly. I let her dictate where to go and explore all the places she wants. This allows her to move her body and stimulate her mind at the same time.
I also try to explore shorter and easier trails so she can still get some trail time. She can watch and sniff wildlife, and explore new lands, but not strain too much. And of course, we take little breaks.
A few weeks ago Caddie suddenly didn’t feel well. “I’m not ready to lose her,” I said. I’ll be ready when she’s always in my way – when I’m cleaning up urine and messy diarrhea because she’s lost control of her bowls.
I know some people, especially people who are not dog people, may consider me crazy to think it’s a blessing to have to clean up dog poop. But when a dog gets to this age, it means they’ve had a full life. And a dog’s life may seem short to us, but it’s a lifetime to them.