Friday, December 22, 2006

The Road to the Rainbow Bridge is Paved with Poop

I have a very old dog. He had back surgery several months ago to repair a herniated disk and he's not back to full strength; he has quite a bit of trouble walking. So today we took him to a doggie spa with an underwater treadmill so he could get some exercise while being supported by the water. Amazing! He seemed to enjoy it and it was a kick to watch the underwater video and see his back legs moving again almost normally. We're hoping that a few sessions a week will strengthen his legs and improve his quality of life. He's almost thirteen, and some might question our decisions, but as his neurosurgeon said before he performed the surgery, "Just because he's old and paralyzed doesn't mean he should be put down." We agreed. Seven months later, he's still here and, more importantly, still happy.

The physical therapy vet said that while most people want to do right by their pets, there are lines some people will not cross. Helping a one-hundred-pound dog stand up, holding his butt as he climbs the stairs, picking up his poop and cleaning him after he drags his butt through it are not the most pleasant tasks one could engage in. Still, I never imagined that I had a choice in the matter. When I adopted him, I took on the responsibility for his care through the rest of his life, whatever that may look like.

Apparently many pet "owners" (these people would consider themselves owners, not caregivers, companions, or mommies and daddies) decide they don't have to be there for their dogs and cats when they pass a certain point, mostly, when they become incontinent, meaning they can't make it out the door before the turds start dropping or the pee starts flowing. Also meaning if you need me to clean your butt, you're out of here.

These people suck. They will put an animal to death rather than expending a little (or a lot of) energy and time to help them along. If you are one of them, listen up. There are products out there to help make this part of your animal's life a little easier on you. Buy them. Use them. Slings, pee pads, wipes, even doggie diapers are available if you can't deal with a little poop on your Persians. As you might imagine, there is a ton of information on the Internet about old pets. Informing and educating yourself is part of being a pet caretaker.

I also don't think there is a price tag on my dog. Credit cards are made for emergencies, and that includes back surgeries and physical therepy sessions, and whatever else he needs. When you get a young dog, buy some health insurance so you don't have to look at him or her some day and say, "sorry, I can't afford this, bye." Some people who don't hesitate to put a $4000 plasma tv in their living rooms wouldn't dream of spending a couple grand to keep their dog around for five or six or ten more years.

Or if money is not the problem, would you then kill a gentle, loyal creature just to save you some inconvenience? Would you be able to look him or her in the eye, knowing why you're putting them down, as they look at you, thinking you're doing what they need you to do?

My dogs are extremely important to me. I've had three in my life, all as an adult. I never had one as a kid. I shaped my own feelings about what is right and how animals should be treated. My first one lived to be fifteen and a half. As a large dog, that means she was 106 when she died. One hundred and six! She was deaf, couldn't stand up without help, and didn't realize when she had pooped in her bed, but none of that impacted her living. She was alert and happy until the day she died.

I still think of her nearly every day, after two years without her. It's hard not to when there are two dogs that look like her still living in my house, along with many photos and reminders and oh, yeah, that urn of her ashes on the bookshelf. I've not been able to do anything with them, and I don't know if I ever will. I know she's gone and these are just ashes. I know they're not her. But I haven't felt a need to throw them or spread them or bury them. I know I'm not keeping her around by keeping them in my house and I don't think she's waiting for me on some multi-colored bridge somewhere this side of heaven. She's gone and I still miss her. If I've been drinking wine, I will get weepy about her. Can't help it. I'll do it again when it's the next old guy's time to go. And he'll let me know when that time comes, just like she did.

Until then, we clean up after him. We help him up the stairs. We stand him up when he can't do it himself. And we take him to physical therapy a few times a week. Someday, someone will have to do it for me. If he could, he would. Someday someone will have to do it for you, too. If you have an old dog, do yourself a favor and keep him around as long as you can. The rewards are beyond measure. And you know they would do it for you. Now go give Sam, Max, Buddy or Molly a hug. Tell them it's from Claire.

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