On Old Dogs…


Sunday morning, like most mornings, my accountability partner, Myrna, and I went out for our walk. Myrna is Charles’ dog. He adores her. She adores him. But she also loves her long walks, which is where they part ways and I step in.

Myrna is somewhere between 7 years old and Methuselah. We can’t really be sure because she arrived as an adult stray. She takes medicine for the onset of a thyroid issue. Earlier this year she had a liver issue that needed attention. She got over that very well. She’s basically been a pretty healthy dog, but we’ve noticed she’s slowing down lately.

Her eyesight is cloudy and she gets nervous when people or animals move around too much when she’s trying to eat. I’ve noticed she doesn’t want to climb up on the bed as eagerly as she once did. But when I put my walking shoes on she turns into a playful puppy.

We got a late start Sunday morning, and it was 80 degrees by the time we left the house. But she was excited to get out there. Myrna and I walk three to seven miles almost every day. She is always so happy to go along, so matter the route. Sunday was no different. Until it was. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught what I thought might have been a stumble. I dismissed it as a bump in the road, so to speak, and we continued. But, then I saw another stumble. Clear as day, her right back leg slipped out from under her, but she brought it back. She recovered just fine and kept walking.

As we turned into the drive way that leads behind one of the schools on our way, she hesitated to go up. I checked her feet for thorns or stickers, Nothing. But she did not want to go up the small hill required to continue. “Fine,” I told her, “we will walk along the roadway and not bother with the hill.”

She seemed tired, I started to turn back but she clearly wanted to continue. So we did. For the next 20 minutes she stumbled four more times. “We’re going home, Girl.” I said to her. She agreed.

The walk home was laboriously slow, at the last stumble her energy just didn’t get up with the rest of her. I could not carry her, Myrna is a German Shepherd mix, and we still had a half mile to home.

This development saddened me so much. She’s such a good girl, and enjoys her walks so much. As we crept along, taking as much time as she needed, I wondered what the next months would be. Is this just a temporary hitch in her get along that a trip to the vet will remedy? Or is this a precursor to that heartache that is life with a senior dog? And am I ready for that?

Our trip to the vet the following Tuesday was not a good one. The complication of not being able to go into the vet clinic with Myrna because of Covid-19 (the thing which we get to blame for everything right now), just made it harder. After the vet tech asked me for a summary of the complaint, she took Myrna inside. I waited in my car and listened to a podcast on the benefits of 40 day water only fasting (good times) until the vet called me on my cell phone with a diagnosis, or as close to a diagnosis as was possible.

Myrna has reduced sensation in not only her back legs, but her front legs as well. She is not painful, so the problem is likely nerve related. Add insult to injury, Myrna is almost blind. I knew her eyes were cloudy, but blind? How could that be? She can spot a cat from blocks away. No, more likely she can smell the cat from blocks away. I remembered the few times she’s bumped into things I’ve moved. I remembered her hesitation to get on the bed and, when on, her hesitation to get down.

The best diagnosis we could get (short of an MRI, which this vet could not do) was a “brain lesion.” The suspected lesion is causing a miscommunication between Myrna’s legs and brain and is also cutting off light to her eyes causing impaired vision. We can, of course, have an MRI done at great expense, but an affirmative diagnosis would simply be that — a diagnosis. There would be no treatment available that would give Myrna any more quality time. I’m not interested in giving her three more months of life, if that life is spent in some form of medical treatment or recovery therefrom. I am certain, she would agree. At my request an x-ray was taken to check for disc problems. The x-ray revealed some spinal narrowing. This narrowing, called spondylosis, should cause Myrna pain but doesn’t. All the more reason for the vet to lean toward the brain lesion. We left the vet’s office with an anti-inflammatory, a recommendation for supplementation and good wishes.

We are now going into a season with Myrna; her senior season. This is rarely an easy one for pet owners. Our plan is to enjoy her company as long as she enjoys ours. We will make her as comfortable as we can until we can’t make her comfortable at all. She and I will go on short walks, because she loves them so. We will listen to her and let her guide us through this season. This is what it means to love a older dog. It is a beautiful misery.

04 comments on “On Old Dogs…

  • Shari Bitney , Direct link to comment

    “A beautiful misery” indeed. A couple of years ago we lost three senior dogs in a year. The last was dear Phoebe. You helped me know when it was time to let her go, Diane. You probably don’t remember that late-night text exchange, but I do because I was so distraught and my heart was breaking all over again. I’ll be thinking of you and Charles as you navigate this beautiful misery.

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