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The End of an Era: Losing Part of Yourself

The End of an Era: Losing Part of Yourself

My heart is broken once again. I have lost another love so dear to me. On Friday, April 10th, not long before midnight, my beautiful sweet 13 year old Siri passed away in my arms. I have written about her struggles recently. Aging is a harsh reality that loving dog parents would prefer to do without. First her mobility was compromised with increasing restrictions placed upon her body. And to add insult to injury, her brain betrayed her and allowed dementia to take hold. Dementia meds helped greatly with the latter but an ever rotating protocol of medication, supplements and other treatments could not reverse the lack of strength on her hind end.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, Kenzo and Trent showed increasing stress about her condition. It was interesting to note the completely opposite choices they made to deal with the situation. Trent chose the loner position, opting to retreat to the second floor where he knew that neither could venture. Kenzo opted to spend nearly every moment near her in some way.

After a medication error on my part a couple of weeks ago, where I accidentally gave her his Tramadol, I rushed her to the ER because of the contraindication between that medication and her brain medication. It was a confusing and chaotic time with my hysterical phone call to the ER and fast exit from the house. I returned an hour and a half later with Siri in tow, with her having thoroughly enjoyed the car ride. Upon seeing Siri be carried back in the house with the help of her harness, Kenzo promptly plopped down on her mat set up along side of her and offered a huge grin of relief.

20150415_SiriKenzo1200Her condition deteriorated since that day (unrelated to my mistake) and I was torn about what to do. She was not in any obvious pain but her quality of life was so back and forth. But she smiled so brightly with any attention; it was obvious that she was still happy enough. When she started refusing most meals a week or so ago, I suspected that she would not be with us much longer. I made an appointment to have my vet see her to help me decide whether it was time and then canceled it because I wanted her to pass at home. I tried to make arrangements to have my vet come to my house but she wasn’t available for a home visit until several days later. I no sooner made that appointment then she surprised me and not only ate a full dinner but had a dessert of Wag-Gurt. The happiness that small success gave me cannot be overstated.

The next day she refused food once again and my reality set in more starkly. I started to worry about leaving the house for fear of returning to her having died alone. I tried to arrange for other vets to come sooner, without success. I was not willing to end her life in a vet’s office. I wanted her to pass in comfortable surroundings with her “brothers” nearby.

The last day of her life, I agonized about leaving for the three clients I had scheduled. I was frantic and sobbing constantly that day and could not have functioned at my job anyway. My clients thankfully understood. I spent the day lying with her on the floor. We laid on her mat and padding in the sunlight shining through my kitchen door and my sweet girl smiled all day. I had not seen her look that happy in weeks. After the dinner she refused, we moved into the living room as usual. She had trouble getting comfortable and I lay besides, her holding her close. She seemed to settle finally and then got restless again. She suddenly started moving her head to one side and with a great gasp, she went limp in my arms. She was gone. I sobbed uncontrollably while the boys slept nearby, seemingly fearful of confirming what they expected that I couldn’t accept sooner. I don’t think that I have ever felt more alone, with my two living dogs and my dead dog in my arms at almost midnight on a Friday night. But the power of social media is great. That same connection is available by texting close friends. Within seconds of my cry to the world, I had offers of immediate help from those close by and emotional support from those at a distance.

After being reassured that she would be fine overnight, I cleaned her up and covered her body leaving her head on her pillow. I surrounded her with her favorite things. I lit a candle and anointed her with essential oils. I urged the boys to pay their respects but they were not ready. They remained where they were. We slept restlessly that night.

A good friend arrived the next morning to assist with getting her to crematory. As we paused before taking her to my car, I wanted Kenzo and Trent to say their goodbyes. They both came and sniffed her and Kenzo bowed to her. A touching gesture to be sure, I wish it had been caught on camera.

My house is so empty even though it is full with my two boys. Siri was one of my original crew who started me on the path that brought me here. She taught me so much about fearful dogs. She came so far from where she started, as one of seven puppies rescued at six weeks of age, from a woman whose Rottweiler mated with the neighbor’s German shepherd. She threatened to a co-worker to drown them and that co-worker’s internet plea led to all seven of the “dwarves” finding their way to a network of foster homes, with four of the puppies ending their initial journey at my house for fostering. She is the one who never left. A dear friend has two of her surviving brothers.

Everywhere I look, I see her contributions to my life. Her “big balls” that she carried around constantly from room to room, until the last 6 months of her life, are scattered in various rooms. The products of our final months together are abundant. Laundry baskets with freshly cleaned towels and hospital pads, a full doggy pharmacy with every possible medication and supplement that could ever be needed by a senior dog, disposable pee pads by the pound, her Help Em Up harness draped over a kitchen chair where I laid it to dry after washing it that fateful night. I wanted it to be dry by morning so I could move her from her bed to her regular daytime spot. It will not be needed now. Her orange Kong, so uniquely colored and chosen just for her, will go unused and tucked away in her memory. Her ceramic bowl will not be needed. Her leash hasn’t been used in months. Even taking her with us on the car rides, it wasn’t needed. She could not walk by herself anyway.

Every moment brings another memory. So many things that I miss: how she would bark at the boys when it was time to come downstairs in the morning, her chasing me and barking when I ran around with them at the cemetery off leash, calling her Baby Button, her head tucking under my chin after sneaking a quick kiss when I greeted her after returned from working, seeing her and the boys play so vocally in their upstairs playroom, seeing her eat snow and grass with gusto, walking her with such ease because she was perfect, having her “tell off” one of the boys because they were too careless with their body awareness, how she used to bark fiercely at anyone who had the audacity to come too close to my Xterra. I vividly remember the way that she acted when Kenzo first arrived to live with us, hiding under the end table for a bit every evening until she finally came out to “put him in his place”. They were fast friends from that moment. She was once deemed imposing by a past boyfriend. She lived fully and deeply and with a zest. She was imposing. She aged gracefully and with kindness. I will miss her so much.

There are of course things I won’t miss. Mountains of laundry, worrying myself sick when she wouldn’t eat, the calluses on my hands that developed from carrying her with the harness and most distressing, worrying about whether I would come home and find that she passed away without me here. I would gladly take all of those on again to have more happy healthy days with her.

I have just two dogs now. This is foreign territory for me. Every evening, I get the supplements gathered in a small cup, to go with their breakfast. Every evening without fail, I count out three pills for each rather than two and I cry a little. Every workday I start to prepare 3 Kongs and then catch my breath, a huge lump where my throat should be. I know this will pass. But what won’t pass is how much I miss Siri and that is okay. I want to know that I loved her that much.

So many people offered me so much support. I cannot properly thank each one of you. But this particular sentiment really resonated with my soul so I share this with you all. Thank you Rachel, who so recently went through the same heartbreak, for knowing how this would help.

Aaron Freeman, You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4675953

Please feel free to share your own losses below, coping strategies, remembrances, etc. And love your dogs fiercely. Every. Single. Day. Their time on this earth is far too fleeting.

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The Golden Years: Having a Senior in a Multiple Dog Household

The Golden Years: Having a Senior in a Multiple Dog Household

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This blog post is very late in coming. I have had a lot of upheaval in my life in the last eight weeks or so. With apologies to those who subscribe, it was not the fault of the holidays. My mother passed away very unexpectedly only two weeks prior to Christmas. My mother was a senior citizen and while human rather than canine, obviously, there are similarities in care of both species. So I am taking this opportunity to add some very personal experiences to this post. Having a senior canine in your life can add such joy but it can also be fraught with worry.

Siri just turned thirteen years of age just four short days after my mother passed away. Like my mother, her age really started to show about six months ago. She has grown increasingly confused about day to day situations, but thankfully has shown some improvement on that front with some natural mental clarity remedies. She is happy to comfortably rest for hours around the house now instead of showing Kenzo who the boss is. But make no mistake, if the big lug bumps into her too harshly, she will take some of that fuzz off of him in a heartbeat! Preventing the bumping into is my job, however.

Like my mother, who was in assisted living until about six days before her passing, Siri increasingly requires hands on care and attention. I help her up and down stairs. I also help her get up from a lying position, particular when she is lying on hard surfaces like the kitchen tile floor. Sometimes I have to repeat her name in order to help her remain focused on her task such as moving forward towards the door to potty. The comparisons are so similar with my mother’s increasing needs as days passed. The supervision required was more hands on, as it is now with Siri.

A multi-generational multiple dog outing

A multi-generational multiple dog outing

In particular, what I have realized is of vital importance is the need to keep the mind engaged. That goal alone can result in more animation in your senior regardless of the species. Siri cannot move around well enough any longer to engage in physical play. But she relishes her puzzle toys and her rolling treat ball. With her rolling treat ball, she actually motivates herself to stand longer than during any other activity aside from walking. It’s a joy to watch. She grins with happiness after during this. I noticed the same difference in my mother when she was engaged with something she enjoyed versus just sitting and watching TV. Engaging the mind does so much towards keeping the body functioning better. I am convinced of this.

It’s hard to watch the dogs we love get older. They never live long enough and we almost always outlive them. I would much rather bear the pain of watching them get older than having to leave them alone by checking out first. So enriching their golden years is such an important responsibility to me I hope that it is to you as well.

With a multiple dog household, there are special considerations for the safety of the senior members. Of course, individual requirements depend on the dynamics of each household. In my case, I walk all of my dogs at once. We go outside of my basic neighborhood to walk so leaving anyone behind is not an option and would stress Siri considerably. In the summer, we just took shorter and slower walks. The beginning of summer was when Siri really began to slow down. So we adjusted our walk protocol accordingly. None of my dogs enjoy the heat much anyway so it all worked out.

When the weather starting cooling off, we changed the protocol again. We routed a shorter walk for Siri, and then returned her to the car to rest, while I took the boys for a longer and faster walk. That worked out really well for all of us. Siri gets just enough of a walk to get some necessary physical exercise and mental stimulation. And Trent, Kenzo and I get needed aerobic exercise.

As mentioned, Siri no longer travels up stairs by herself anymore so that has been another adjustment. I support her behind while she heads up any set of steps, though here and there, she feels spunky and does the steps up to my bed on her own. She maneuvers down steps on her own, though her confidence level varies with the day so I typically walk with my hand on her or stand below her to boost her feeling of security. The protocol depends on whether we are descending inside steps or yard steps.

Most of the time inside of the house, both Kenzo and Trent are fairly respectful of Siri’s space, taking some care to not knock her over. But exiting the house into the yard and exiting the car can often make them forget their manners. We practice the Wait cue most of the time for these scenarios so politeness can be at a maximum. I use body splitting to prevent most accidental bumps.

They do look out for her well being because we are a family and families do that. I noticed that especially when a friend visited who had not been here before. Kenzo was a bit wary of this friend until he watched her help Siri move around. He clearly approved of what she was doing. But this kind of family atmosphere does not come automatically to all multiple dog households. As with human blended households, it is up to the decision makers in the home to set the standards and guidelines so that the crew knows what is expected of them. Consistency and guidance are your keys to success with smooth interactions. Keeping your senior engaged in the crew is a vital part of quality of life and enrichment. I hope to keep Siri around a lot longer before she goes to keep my mother company.

Feel free to share how you help your senior to feel safer, happier and more comfortable.

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