Being the mom of a senior dog, I have found it to be more work than the puppy years. When we picked Champ from his litter, I couldn’t have imagined all the life he would bring into our home, all the memories he would be a part of, and how many Meyer Babes he would welcome into our family. I also couldn’t have imagined how difficult these years could be.
He’s 13. That’s ancient in dog years, I know. If it’s true that dogs age 6 years for every human year, that’s 78. My vet’s number is saved in my phone like a pediatrician’s number in a new mom’s phone, and I call my vet more often than I call my doctor for myself, or my kids. If I notice a change in his behavior or habits, I’m on the phone with my vet.
“Hi, it’s Champ’s mom. Can I get him in for his allergy shot?”
I don’t know why I say “it’s Champ’s mom”. I could just tell them my name. They know who it is. I’m just a crazy dog mom, I guess. Crazy dog mom, human mom, cat mom. So, maybe just shorten that up and generalize it to crazy mom now.
Champ is allergic to everything. He’s always had to take allergy medicine, but in his older years, he’s graduated to getting them more regularly, and stronger doses. He eats special dog food that we buy at our vet’s office, it’s crazy expensive, and super bland for him (nice adjectives, Meyer). But, it really helps with his allergies, so it’s worth it. This also means that since it’s so bland, and his body is used to it, if he gets into any table food, watch out. I mean it. Watch. Out. It will end up in scrubbing the floor, because it doesn’t stay in his body very long. Making sure he doesn’t get table food is no easy task when you have kids, but we’re all getting better at it.
Champ has heart disease that he takes medication for. This is probably my fault, I used to be very YOLO about Champ’s diet. Plus, we have kids. So, there were years where he survived off of goldfish crackers, and half eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because his overly exhausted mombie of a mom forgot to feed him, or forgot that he was out of dog food. He had my back though, and took care of it himself by snacking on whatever he could find.
Arthritis has set in for him in his hips, and he takes medication for that as well. He struggles to do the things he loves to do. His games of fetch are slower, don’t last as long, and followed by a lot of sleep. He asks for help to get where he wants to be. Yeah, he asks, I’m his crazy mom, remember? I know which whine is translated to “I want up there with you.”
He can’t hear. He doesn’t come running when we open the bread bag, or when someone is at the front door anymore. Some doggie dementia has set in; he recently started answering to Jerry. I was telling Andy a story about my friend Jerry, and every time I said Jerry, he turned his head like I was talking to him. So, of course, the Meyers aren’t letting this one go, and we occasionally call him Jerry the Geriatric. He can’t remember where his food and water is, on a daily basis. He searches the house for it, barking at all of us, until one of the kids takes him to it, and he happily eats his food, or drinks his water.
With all of these obvious changes going on in my Old Man River, I know the inevitable is upon us. He’s still happy, and his health is managed with our vet. Andy and I have had hard conversations about his quality of life, and what we will do if and when Champ lets us know that he’s ready to go. In a perfect world, Champ and I will have a heart to heart, and he will let me know in no uncertain terms that he has lived a beautiful life, and he is ready to go. I also know that it’s completely possible that I will come home from school to find him gone. And, I don’t know which one would be worse.
He has always slept at my feet. Whether I’m up late working, or on the couch watching TV, or in my bed, Champ sleeps right next to my feet. This morning, I woke up to find a suspicious amount of foot room. I was confused when I didn’t see him there, but in an awkward position on the floor next to me. With laser, crazy mom focus, I looked at his tummy, to see if it was moving. It wasn’t. I said his name, and he didn’t wake up. Panicked, I whispered to Andy, who was just waking up for work, “I think he’s dead!” I scrambled to the light, and fell to my knees next to him, patting his tummy to see if I could stir him. Nothing. His eyes closed, I cupped his face in my hands, talking to him, asking him to please not be dead. Devastated and tears in my eyes, I buried my face into the side of the bed. This, finally stirred my sleeping dog. Confused, and annoyed, he laid his head back down and went back to sleep, and Andy was fully awake now, and laughing at me from bed. My insides felt like Jello, and I crawled back into bed, laughing at myself, but thankful that Champ is hard of hearing, and not dead.
These are the years that are hard, and honestly, I don’t hear much about from other dog owners. Andy and I have joked about finding him a old folks’ home for dogs, because sometimes he is so much work. This is the snippet of Champ’s life that I couldn’t envision when we watched him play with his litter mates, and he had all of his teeth. Sometimes seeing Champ age hurts my heart so badly, that I think I could never go through this all over with a puppy again. But having a dog, a companion, a family member like Champ, means going alongside him through ups and downs that 13 years of a dogs life brings. Getting old isn’t easy, but Jerry, err, Champ, is aging as gracefully as he can, and his crazy mom is embracing the senior years.