My dog is getting old.
Hazel started limping yesterday for seemingly no reason. Interestingly, I had been thinking about how she hadn't done the little hop-skip she did for a while after her knee surgery in quite a while. Note to self: stop thinking. Just don't do it.
She had her knee surgery back in May, but the hair on that leg still has not grown back. The areas where they shaved her for IVs has completely filled in, but her right leg is still nekkid. I don't like it. Not one little bit. Vet is not concerned. Me on the other hand...
I do enjoy tickling the soft spot that is covered in freckles that connects her leg to her torso. It's soft and she wiggles when I caress it. This is sweet.
Her eyes are getting cloudy. This is perhaps the most obvious sign for me. It's not always noticeable, but when I do notice it, at least one of the cracks in my heart splits open a bit more. She doesn't always run right to the door when one or both of us gets home. Lazy? Over us and all our stupid coming and going without her? No. Usually in a super deep sleep and didn't hear us. I've had to do a gentle touch to wake her up a few times and whenever I do, she starts wagging the tip of her tail like the little sweetie she is until she is fully awake and either lays back to welcome scritches to her warm belly or jumps up to wiggle and squirm for full body pets. She sometimes wanders around a bit aimlessly (I think she got that from me), uninterested in toys or playing bitey face or tug. She wants more food and snacks but weighs less than ever, having not really re-gained much muscle mass after her surgery. Her fears are more generalized, though thankfully, more easily managed. (Say what you will about the pharmaceutical industry, Prozac for dogs ™️ is a game changer.)
What has not changed is her sweet nature, her contempt for squirrels and her dedication to being president of the local Neighborhood Watch Association. Her disdain when I interrupt her from keeping tabs on everyone is palpable.
She also remains a devotee of walkies and her loud judgment of other dogs on the same route has dissipated unless the other dog is small, has long hair, is large, has short hair or otherwise exists. This is an exaggeration and I take it back lest I jinx our ever increasingly pleasant walks. It's just the small ones with long hair these days. But mostly, we walk, she rushes forward for the next good sniff, she pees on everything and looks up at me to make sure I am still there in a way that makes me feel like she has reached in with her soft gaze and hugged my literal heart.
Since her surgery, I have backed off on a few things: I no longer have her jump in the tub for baths, giving her what I call "birdbaths" instead in which I lather her up with warm water and soap and wash her with washcloths while she jiggles and shimmies under my touch. We both still love Pit Bull Burritos when we are done. I swoon at her cuteness and she beseeches me for the special treats that wrap up the process and mean she can go cover herself in dust again by rubbing her entire body on the rugs. All of the rugs. Every. Single. One.
I don't do her nails as often as I used to, something my former dog trainer self would have been deeply ashamed of. Since she injured her leg and had surgery, I mostly like to leave her limbs alone, doing occasional maintenance and not feeling bad about it. I still do get deep satisfaction when they are freshly Dremeled in a "You still got it, kid" kind of way and am amused that she seems to prefer Temptations for cats as her snack of choice as we file away. And it's still a bonding time when we work on them, I'm just more cautious in general. A $5,000 surgery and 7 months of constant surveillance and worry can do that to a person.
But, if you came to visit, she'd still greet you in a frenzy and then run to suckle on her blankie. She would cuddle with you, look at you adoringly and maybe, in a fit of joy, go grab a toy to shake around for a bit. Then she'd come back, ask for some more scritches and then probably take a nap butted up next to you so you could share each other's warmth. Only if you've known her for a long time would you realize that these rituals are shorter, though thankfully, no less in their enthusiasm. Other than the nap, of course, those seem to have become more satisfying. Which, same girl, same.
Hazel will be 12 in 2023. I've lost dogs at 10 and I've lost them at 13. We're in the zone. I'm hopeful that her messy mishmash of genes serves her well and we get more time with her than any of the other dogs I have loved. Even so, I am highly aware of the changes I have seen in the past year. In the meantime, I will continue to revel in the way people in my life look at her and say "this is my kind of dog" because she has such a trusting heart and dives into love with gusto, wagging her tail, looking at them with her soft eyes and making them laugh with her quirkiness, whether it's heading upstairs for what I call her Greta Garbo "I want to be alone" time, rubbing her back under the coffee table as if she's dancing while they scratch her butt or stealthily stealing a napkin or paper towel (the only items she ever steals) when she thinks no one is looking.
I've spent a lot of time the past few months thinking about aging animals. Losing MooMoo, after making keeping her healthy and happy for the past 2 years my literal job, made me keenly aware of all the little signs. It made me keenly aware of the big love. In case you missed it, MooMoo was my deskmate, Zoom meeting partner, tear absorber, a being whose sweetness, like Hazel, made my life better every day. I miss her more than I would have ever thought possible. She had her own desk for meetings, though she chose to sit directly in front of the camera for those, but purred peacefully next to me on her desk bed while I wrote every day.
As for Hazel, for now, I will continue to revel in things like the way she knows it's time for a walk based on things like when I go to the bathroom. How she runs in from outside and sits next to the counter where her bins of treats are waiting for a reward. Sometimes these rewards are unearned, but like, who cares? I mean, she, her existence, her being her is the real reward so she can have all the goodies her cuteness warrants. She's a good, nice dog with a penchant for dried salmon. This, I am more than happy to oblige.
Anyway, I am not really sure what the point of this is. Other than I was driven to write it. Writing about animals comes easier to me than anything else, so I gotta go with it when the inspiration hits. I guess I just also want you to know that it goes fast. Much faster than you expect. And the bittersweet aspect of an aging pet provides the opportunity for some deep introspection: what do I want this to look like for them? What do I want it to feel like? What am I willing (or able) to do to keep them comfortable and happy? Do I know what joy looks like for my animal? Are they still experiencing it? Will I know when they are not? What will I do then? None of us likes to think about these things, but in my experience: 11 animals in, doing so makes the time you have with them richer, it makes their trust in you something to truly marvel at, it makes the softness of their fur under your hand slow you down and breathe a little deeper, it makes looking into their eyes and feeling the connection a gift of true wonder. You and this other species, together. Safe. Loved.
In order to avoid ending on such a maudlin note, here's a PDF of my Ebook on canine nail care. It used to be my thing a while back, and now I just like to share the Ebook for free from time to time, because why not?