By Grace Acosta
I had always assumed that I would take care of my mother in her old age, but at 80, she’s still going strong – in some ways, stronger than I.
My dog, Parker, however, just turned 14 and is fading fast. But in my mind, he’s no less a member of the family than actual blood relations, and merits the same degree of care I would give any human. Perhaps that’s an anthropomorphic point of view, but that’s just how it is. So while he’s never been neglected, in his current decrepit state, Parker’s getting more attention than normal.
The important thing is that he’s made it this far. However, along the way he’s lost some hearing and developed a cataract, arthritis and several visible tumors. He doesn’t walk well and staggers around with little control over his stiff hind legs. My new nickname for him is “Grandpa,” as in “Come back in the house, Grandpa, time for bed,” or “Ready for your meds, Grandpa?” or even “I think Grandpa needs Life Alert – he’s fallen and can’t get up.”
Grandpa has become something of a stubborn old buzzard. After years of his cooperation, allowing us to walk with him in safety, he’s suddenly decided that he can cross busy intersections in whatever fashion he chooses. As I navigate him through proper crosswalks, he’ll veer toward the actual corner he wants to reach, even if that means heading toward it at a diagonal. He strains against the leash; I attempt to hold him back without making him topple over completely. He’s like a senior in a wheelchair, waving a cane at his ultimate destination, yelling, “Dagnabbit! I’m going over there! For heaven’s sake, point me in the right direction!”
At home, Grandpa is prone to ignore me when I call, partly because of legitimate hearing loss, partly because it’s a nuisance for him to respond. He refuses his vitamins (even enveloped in a thick wad of cheese) and water – in a bowl, that is. Twice daily, he hobbles painfully out to the yard, stands by the garden hose, and stares at me to signal that he’s thirsty and would appreciate the water released at this time, thank you very much.
It all sounds so adorable, this eager-to-please puppy turned recalcitrant geezer. Some realities, however, have been less so – like when a sudden muscle spasm in his neck caused him so much pain that he actually ran away from home and couldn’t be located for several minutes. Or his new habit of sequestering himself in the farthest corner of the house to escape what he used to live for and thrive on – being in the midst of our family.
There are days when I get tired of looking after him and worry about getting him outside because it’s become difficult for him to lift himself up and walk. There have been times when I got there too late to assist and had to clean up the mess he left behind. But I’m mostly OK with it all. I chuckle over his certitudes and self-assertions because they’re harmless enough. I exercise patience and compassion. I respect his frailty: I know I’m vulnerable, too.
Most importantly, I’m grateful for health and vigor, for irreplaceable memories of a bygone day and for those small, dwindling moments that still remain – more precious now because I know we’re at the end. Taking care of Parker has afforded me these valuable, important lessons.
All that from a lumpy, limping, fussy old hound. Who would have thought?