My father passed away in June 2015. Suddenly, my mother, who had been his main caregiver, was now at home alone in the old family house. So when an acquaintance told her about a 10-11 year old Westie who was looking for a home, she decided to take him on. His previous owner had 3 dogs, and the owner found herself having to move to a condo when her husband also passed. She could not bring all the dogs. Charlie ended up at my moms.
We could not have asked for a better match. He had enough energy and spunk, was clean, and my mother took to him immediately. As he did her. Her lakefront property allowed for walks to the beach, outings to friends, crossing the road to sneak onto Whitlock. Charlie loved it when I would call her after my exercise class at St. James, and she would drive to the parking lot across the street, and they would walk with me and my dogs. This occurred for about a year.
But the senior years are similar to a babies years- the changes happen swiftly, but in this instance, more cruelly. Charlie and my mother were ageing at a similar rate. After a bit of time, it became harder for my mother to make it for 8 am for the walk. So the routine changed- I called my mom after class, but instead of joining me for a walk, she would just open the door and wave at me as Charlie ran to my car. Every once in a while she would join me, but the frequency became less and less.
Another year went by, and now my mother and Charlie were slowing down in other ways. The visits with friends were reduced, most of the day was spent sleeping, with small periods of excitement, and many cups of teas. The only outings that would occur were when my mom would drive to my house, and Charlie would love to lie on the couch as we would watch whatever Netflix show was the flavour of the month. All episodes of the Crown, Call the midwife and now Anne with an “E” were watched. But then my mother had to give up her licence, which meant further seclusion and inability to get out.
Both began to lose their hearing, and eyesight became reduced. So now the walks are reduced to bi-weekly, and rather than calling my mom, I just show up. I wake both of them up, say “hi” make a quick cup of tea to give to my mom, who is inevitably still in bed, before taking Charlie. He is usually sound asleep and does not hear me either. He walks slower, and we use sign language to communicate where he is to follow. Obviously one of his few faculties that remain is his sense of smell, and sometimes I have to go back 100 metres to tap him on his shoulder, to get him to follow. Yet he enjoys the outings, as does my mom, although it takes more time. He has arthritis, so his knees are a little wonky.
Eating has become a challenge, as with most seniors, they seem to want sweets rather than proper meals. So the routine of feeding him is as follows- I bring my dogs in so they clean up his bowls that he hasn’t touched, feed them all, and then suddenly he has an appetite. Just like people, they are social eaters, and do much better with company. At the same time I clear my mom’s fridge of uneaten old food, and we eat a meal together.
Dementia happens in these old dogs, and now at 14, he can be found staring off in space. Sometimes the two of them seem to be staring into the same space! Fortunately, he is still clean, and as care has increased with my mother, he gets out more times during the day, which is a relief for me. They are each other’s constant, and each other’s best of friends. In fact, a dog with a senior is often their only friend left.
I am not sure who is going to go first, but having the two “going senior” at the same time has allowed me to have a perspective that many don’t get to appreciate. They may call them the “golden years” but as a veterinarian, I don’t see the gold, just the change.