Sep 21, 2006

You Can't Teach an Old Dog Anything

Cordelia Mabel is a really old dog. She's nearly 16 years old, which even by "really old dog" standards, is really old. We bought her from our local shelter when she was just 6 weeks old, and our son was two (he's heading off to college in less than a year). Most of our friends' dogs have left this planet at nearly half her age. And while I know it's a testament to how well we have cared for her, how well she's been treated, and how much she is and has been loved, it still really sucks to have a dog who's this old. Cordelia is deaf, almost completely blind, can no longer manage stairs without a nervous fear of slipping on them (which she has done as her hips quite often play cruel tricks with her mobility) and thus remains solely on the first floor of our home, slips in and out of a foggy and confused sort of dementia depending on the day and smells really creepy. Various people have told me I should put her down, but when I see her pouncing to play and trying to jump up onto me in greeting, I know in my heart it simply isn't time yet. True, these playful episodes last only moments, but have them she does and that alone keeps me from making that awful decision a pet owner must eventually make. She's not so far gone she isn't enjoying life.

To be honest, I have my days where I just wish time would move a bit quicker for her, and for me, as selfish as that is (and I feel the guilt to prove it, trust me). With a house full of antique rugs, a dog who is frighteningly incontinent thus also making for exorbitant rug cleaning bills, and a husband who refuses to let me put Cordelia in a doggie diaper ("Let her have some dignity," he pleads. "A dog was not meant to wear diapers." To which I reply, "And a 19th century sarouk wasn't meant to be smeared with dog shit, either."), my patience is often sorely tested. Between Cordelia Mabel and our cat Maia Louise (who has been afflicted with pica since kittenhood and who will attempt to eat anything left on the floor small enough for her to cram into her tiny mouth only to vomit it up shortly thereafter), I am frequently at my wits' end.

A good day involves the dog being aware of where she is and who we are, the cat isn't teasing the dog to within an inch of her life (at nearly 8 the cat is no spring chicken herself, but still has more than enough Oom in her PahPah to work the dog into a senile lather in a heartbeat, which she heartily enjoys doing and of which the dog isn't so fond), the dog hasn't peed or shit on anything, or peed or shit on something and then managed to sneak a bite or two of it before I can clean it, thus vomiting her snack up on another carpet moments later while I'm still cleaning up the first accident, the cat hasn't eaten a) a ball of lint, b) carpet fibers, c) grass, d) a ball of her own fur, e) grout from the loose bathroom tiles, f) the dog's toenails, g) stray bits of chicken bedding from the barn that accidentally was tracked into the kitchen on my boots, h) the ears off a sock mouse, i) loose bits of down from bedroom pillows, j) small bits of straw that have broken off the broom while sweeping, or k) anything but her expensive little cans of cat food to which she turns up her nose and refuses to eat at every meal, every day and then vomits it all up on the stairs where I invariably step in it while barefoot and trying to get quickly down the stairs because I can hear the dog launching another bodily attack in what is usually the room furthest from where I am at the time and/or the room which has the most recently cleaned rug.

I have had Cordelia wander off in a mental fog while I am trying to round up unruly chickens that have escaped from their pen while feeding them, am watering the gardens, or simply have been absent-minded enough to have turned my back to her for more than a minute. For her own safety, I have to make sure she comes back into the house with me, and since she is deaf, I can't simply call to her. For a time I was able to jump up and down and flap my arms wildly at her and she would come when she saw me (I can only imagine what the neighbors thought I was doing), but as she's now blind as well, that's no longer an option. Now I have to beat a path through the woods to find her and only when I am able to walk up to her and touch her head does she return to the yard with me. And being so much shorter in stature than myself, it's far easier for her to move through the brush than it is for me, which leaves me covered in bits of leaves, burrs, and brambles, all of which must be removed from my clothing before I go into the house or the cat will eat every last bit of wood fluff, with the predicted result.

I often dream of what my next dog will be like (since I can't imagine life without a dog), but both guilt over thinking about this while Cordelia is still clinging to this world and thoughts of running another doggie geriatric care center give me pause. When you purchase a pet, you're in it for the long haul, not just until it gets icky and isn't so much fun anymore. And Cordelia deserves nothing less. She wouldn't give up on us and I would never give up on her, young and playful, or old and goofy and everything in between.

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