He’s fifteen today.
Most people can’t believe it when I tell them how old he is.
“But he has so much energy!”
“He doesn’t have any gray hair!”
“Are you sure he’s fifteen?”
(Yes, I’m sure.)
Sometimes, though, I don’t believe it myself. He doesn’t seem like a typical fifteen-year-old dog. He still has so much energy, jumping up and down when I come home or pick up his leash to take him on a walk. Sometimes when we’re on a walk, he runs as fast as he can through the grass, taking leaping jumps off curbs or over cracks in the sidewalk. He still loves to cuddle with me and he sleeps with me every single night, snuggled as close to my side as possible.
He shows his age in other ways. Like his irritability. I feel bad when friends want to pet him or hold him, and he just snaps at them. “I’m sorry,” I tell them. “He’s just a grumpy old man.” To get him off my bed in the morning, I have to wrap him like a burrito in my comforter and place him on the ground. Otherwise, he’ll bite me when I try to pick him up. He never used to do that. He used to wake up the minute I woke up, desperate to go out and happy to be picked up by me. It breaks my heart that he doesn’t do that anymore. I miss those early morning cuddles.
He cannot hear anymore and he’s losing his eyesight. To get his attention, I have to touch him or hold something right in front of his face. Once, I used my (very noisy) paper shredder right next to him while he was sleeping and he didn’t wake up once. His lack of hearing is helpful in the fact that he doesn’t yap like crazy anymore or get scared of fireworks, but I miss that yap. I miss comforting him when the fireworks scared him.
It’s possible that he’s developing dementia. I don’t have a diagnosis from the vet, but when I mentioned this new thing he’s been doing (sitting, staring at the wall, and shaking), she said it sounded like dementia. So, I googled “symptoms of dementia dog” and Dutch fit nearly every symptom. Pacing around in circles, staring at walls, walking into corners and staying there, waiting at the hinge side of the door to go out, trembling for no reason, forgetting house training, being withdrawn… Dutch is exhibiting all of these symptoms. It’s scary to think of him having dementia, of being the sole caretaker of a dog with special needs. But then I think to myself that if there’s anyone who is more equipped to take care of a dog with dementia, it’s me. I can give him the attention, the love, the support, the guidance he needs. I can make sure he’s comfortable and happy and safe. I can give him extra cuddles when he’s feeling scared. Bring it on, dementia.
Taking care of a senior dog means getting less sleep. At least a few times a week, I’m up with Dutch in the middle of the night for 1-2 hours because he needs a middle-of-the-night potty break, and so we go outside and he does his business. And then it takes him another hour (or more) to get settled back in bed. Usually, I have to let him pace around the apartment for a while before he’s settled enough to come to bed. Those are not fun nights. He used to have no trouble sleeping through the night or settling in bed, but old age has made everything a bit more difficult for him.
Back in December, Dutch had blood work done and I found out that his liver enzyme level was high (in the 600s, when normal is around 100). The vet put him on a liver supplement and when we rechecked after two weeks, his levels had dropped to the low 200s. Success! The vet recommended doing another six weeks of liver supplements in the hopes that would drop his liver enzymes back to normal. When we rechecked after those six weeks, his levels had shot back up to the 600s. So, yesterday, my mom and I took him for an ultrasound to rule out any serious diseases. (I desperately didn’t want to be alone for this appointment, just in case the news was terrible.) Thankfully, Dutch just has “gallbladder sludge” (<– term coined by the vet), which causes his gallbladder to press on his liver. This is why his liver enzyme levels are high, but he’s not exhibiting typical symptoms of a dog with liver disease. It was the best news to receive. He’ll be on a medication to dissolve the sludge, which hopefully does its job and I can stop forking over $40 every month for a liver enzyme re-check. 🙂
Dutch isn’t the same little puppy he was when I picked him up from my cousin’s house back in January of 2009. (Okay, he wasn’t a puppy then – he was nearly seven!) He’s changed. He’s a little more grumpy, a little less snuggly. But neither am I the same girl who picked him up that day, my eyes lighting up when I saw his tiny little body bounding over to me. Mom and I put him in his carrier to drive him home, but within 30 minutes, he was in my lap and we were falling in love. His cries from the carrier destroyed me and I wanted him to know he was my boy. We were his forever family. He was safe with us.
And he’s the absolute love of my life. He’s my joy, he’s my center, he’s my home. There are some dogs who are just, you know, dogs. You love them and they make you happy. But then there are dogs who burrow themselves inside of your heart. They become an essence of your soul. You are not you without them. Dutch is so much more than a dog. For me, he is the best, most pure relationship I will ever have.
It’s probably why I’ve been chronically single since that fateful day in 2009 when I held him in my arms for the first time and he covered my face in sloppy, stinky kisses. I can’t do better than him. Why would I even try?
Happy birthday, my little buddy. You’re a grumpy, ornery old man and I love you with all my heart. I can’t believe I get to call you mine.