Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Last Days of an Old Dog

For the past several weeks, my morning routine has changed a little bit.  I stir, say my morning prayers halfway between dreams and wakeness, and then get out of bed.   I trundle to the kitchen, where I start the coffee going, after which I shuffle out to get the paper. 

Then I go check to see if the dog is still alive.

Our Ellie is fourteen, so she's a old old pup, and it's been a month since the vet told us she was dying.  She'd been losing weight, and turning up her nose at food, so we knew she wasn't doing well.  When she got weighed in at her last appointment, she'd lost nearly a quarter of her body weight, and blood work told the tale of kidney failure.

We had a couple of months, roughly.  The word "euthanasia" was laid on the table.  In the meantime, it was suggested that we keep her comfortable, and feed her what she wants.

She wants less and less, generally speaking, but what she prefers is to never eat dog food again.  For a lifetime, she's wanted human food rather than dog food.  All dogs do, as it's the primary reason they started hanging out with homo sapiens sapiens in the first place.  "Dog food" as a concept distinct from human food is an entirely modern industrial concept, a marketer's conceit, although I'm pretty sure that first wolf-dog that stepped tentatively into the light of a fire wouldn't have turned up their nose at a Spratts Patent Dog Biscuit. 

We were giving her boiled chicken and pork for a while, along with pasta and rice.  She stopped eating that a week or two ago, and we turned to fancier fare, to fried eggs, salmon, and tuna, as it was all she'd even consider consuming.  

Even that, now, has often become unacceptable.  She continues to waste away, her once-almost-too-tight collar hanging loose around her neck, the bones of her hips standing sharp under the collapsing tent of her flesh.  Despite a dose of an antinauseant yesterday, her bowl of oatmeal this morning is mostly untouched.  She just wants to sleep, and rousing her gets more and more difficult.  Every time I pass her, I'll stop and watch to see if she's breathing.  I wait.  Then a little more.  And there, finally, the furry chest will rise.

She can still stand, and still walk, although even with the human-strength doses of gabapentin that keep her arthritis discomfort away that clearly has gotten more and more difficult.  Occasionally, she'll have moments of friskiness, as she did bounding about in the snow on our recent trip to more wintry climes.   She always did love snow.  Mostly, again, she sleeps. 

At some point, she'll either pass or...if she seems in pain...we'll gently help her along.  Whatever happens, it'll be at home.  Though our vets have been helpful, she loathes going there, and there's not a chance on God's green earth that we'll take her there for her final moments.  Bright fluorescents, hard surfaces, and cold tile floors aren't the last things any living thing wishes to see, although we humans seem to have gotten a little stupid about that of late.

Better to be home, in her comfy and well-worn bed, with the little patch of wooded yard that has been hers since she was a pup right there where she can see it.

I don't feel about her as I would about a human person.  She's not that, not a "fur baby," which seems an unfair expectation for any nonhuman animal.  She's a dog, and being a dog is enough.  For fourteen years, she's been her own unique dog self.  

Gentle, a little aloof, prone to being standoffish.  She'd greet you for a brief moment, then wander off.  Or not greet you at all, and you'd search the house for her, until you found her off in some corner.  If you called her, she'd come in her own good time, or not at all.  If you threw her a ball, that ball was hers, and she intended to keep it.  Try to pet her, and she'd duck away, unless she was in the mood, in which case a belly rub was welcome, thank you very much.  She was, in those and other things, rather feline.  As her parentage was uncertain, we'd often jokingly say her father might have been a cat, although genetic testing mostly ruled that out.  Mostly.

Cat jokes aside, she is still and has always been a good dog, very much herself, and as far as we're able, we'll make these last days good ones.