The gray muzzle and paws certainly are a telltale sign, but the two-handled harness stretching from neck to tail usually prompts one of these reactions in the vet’s waiting room: How old is your dog? Or: Awwwwwww, followed by a sympathetic look.
Some people ask more questions about my chocolate Lab, who is patiently stretched out on the floor as we wait. Others smile or look the other way.
Buddy is 15 years, 11 months old. I started celebrating my big guy’s birthday milestones in months _ rather than years _ in July 2017, after I rushed him to the emergency vet at 3 a.m. on a Thursday, two hours after I got home from work..
Emergency surgery to correct bloat saved Buddy’s life that night. Although he was 14 at the time, the vet who did his surgery said age is not a disease, and she was right.
I think often of her words. Buddy was an active senior who raced across the backyard to snag his favorite soft-disk toy until he was about 13. His age likely contributed to somewhat of a slow recovery from the bloat surgery, marked by an unwillingness to eat and stiffness from inactivity complicated by arthritis.
Thankfully, my boy came through with the help of outstanding vet care, medication, appetite stimulants to get him back on track, hydrotherapy and generally good health.
But somewhere along the way, as Buddy recovered, it hit me for the first time that, despite my efforts and his exuberant spirit, my beloved dog was nearing the end of his life. I was determined to help him make the most of his senior years while being mindful of his quality of life.
We celebrated his 15th birthday last December with a trip to the dog beach. Although arthritis was starting to slow him down, Buddy had the energy of his puppy days that afternoon as his ears flapped in the breeze and he excitedly sniffed the sea air. I thought of all the times over the years that he sprinted full speed into the waves or crazily chased a football along the sand and wished we could have gone more often.
Since then, our lives have become more challenging. Over the past year, our daily walks became shorter and shorter as Buddy’s endurance waned, and now we go no farther than the yard. But we can sprawl out on the cool grass, Buddy can enjoy his treats, and we are happy.
I have been forced to confront the reality that every pet owner sadly knows: Our friends’ lifespans are way too short, and although Buddy has romped well past the average lifetime of a Labrador retriever, it doesn’t make what we are facing any easier.
Now, we make weekly visits to the vet for kidney checks, acupuncture treatments, or both. I spread out pee pads where he sleeps because we can’t always make it outside in time. His mobility harness has been a godsend, and I can’t imagine us without it.
Buddy also has overcome a nasty urinary tract infection that kept coming back throughout the summer and into the fall. Despite careful monitoring, kidney issues followed, brought on by the necessary antibiotics to defeat the UTI. After the kidney scare, which initially resulted in a reluctance to eat and necessitated three days of hospitalization and IV fluids, Buddy has rallied to enjoy hearty meals of steak and ground sirloin with his prescription kidney diet.
He’ll happily take his pills with peanut butter. He enjoys stretching out in his giant fluffy bed, which I’ve nicknamed the bark-a-lounger. As I share our story, I find that most people have gone through a similar situation with a pet or know someone who has. It helps greatly to talk about the good days and bad days.
I’ve learned how important it is to gather as much information as possible about your pet’s condition so that you can make the best decisions. Write down questions for the vet because it’s easy to forget them. Follow your instincts and, most important, cherish every day that you and your best friend can watch the sun rise or set as you offer him treat after treat.
Buddy has brought me so much joy over the years, and I am thankful that we still are together.
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