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October 9, 2014: OldER Animals

Today I took Jenna, our 13-year old Australian Shepherd to the veterinarian. This was so that I might get an accurate weight reading. We suspected that she’s losing weight, and we were right – she’s lost five pounds in the past month – she’s now down to 40 pounds. This isn’t a dangerous weight for an Aussie, but I am concerned because it is dropping.

On the drive to the North Star Veterinary Clinic, she shook all over, and her teeth chattered. She’s never liked being in the car – it’s a tradeoff, for she gets to be with me or Pete, which is now most to her liking.

As I watched her shake, it occurred to me that she now has old dog status. She used to accompany me on trail rides, but she now only goes a short ways, then turns for home. However, she will go around the loop with us if we are taking the horses for a walk.

So gone are the days when she would amble along, always within sight, always ready to turn back if a moose or bear was in the area. Jenna has always suffered some from separation anxiety, but now this has gotten more acute. We can’t be upstairs with her downstairs, or downstairs with her upstairs, because she will bark, bark, bark – this is her way of asking for assistance up or down the stairs. It’s a real pain the ass, having to deal with this, but either Pete or I stop whatever we’re doing and lead her upstairs. She doesn’t even really need a hand – she just thinks that she does.

All of the above rightly indicates that because Jenna’s getting on in years, that she’s going to need increasingly more time and attention. I have no problem doing this, for this is a part of the deal. I was also fully aware of this when we took her on at age seven. I would have liked to have gotten her at an earlier age, but this wasn’t in the cards.

Jenna is lucky in that one or the other of us is usually around. My being here for her is in fact in my job description. Some might scoff and say “you need to get a real job, but really, what is a real job? If the sole criterion is that such a job is one that pays, well then the whole concept of work needs to be re-examined. Or, it may very well be that animal caretakers should be government subsidized, the argument being that we are making the world a better place by tending to the wants, needs, cares, desires, and ultimately, urinary and excretory tracts of our four legged friends.

The above does raise two very important questions, these being, is tending to Jenna and other older dogs lives justifiable, and to what extent should I, or anyone else go in doing this? There are no black and white answers here. I think that we will make Jenna’s life as comfortable for her as long we can, by ensuring that she gets adequate food, water, and exercise. Also, as importantly, companionship. When the day comes in which she appears to be in constant pain or needs prolonged assistance in peeing or pooping, we’ll then have her euthanized.

In the meantime, I am modifying Jenna’s dietary habits. We’ve been giving her two cups of food a day, morning and night. I’m going to give her three cups, adding one at noon, and adding salmon to it. I suspect that what will happen is that she will eat what she thinks is the right amount, and no more. This is fine – I just want to see if I can get her to eat a tad bit more.

I’ve always said that one of life’s greatest unfairnesses is that our animal’s lifespans are shorter than our own. But as I wrote the above sentence, I realized that it isn’t at all unfair. What this means is that we are in a better position to tend to them until the twilight of their years. If it were the other way around, and our lifespan was shorter than theirs, they would be in a bind. Nature is accommodating, and so we should be too.

Next: 270. 10/10/14: The Writing Life: Lessons Learned