The past week has been hot. I say that completely recognizing the fact that had I not moved 2,000 miles east last summer I would be complaining that there was still snow on the ground at my old house. Still, even for the much warmer place I now live, 89 degrees on June 1 is HOT. Add in the humidity and I have been rather uncomfortable, even in my climate controlled home. My approximately 14 year old dog has been downright miserable. She’s an Austrailan Shepherd/Border Collie mix who has long hairs and a substantial undercoat. Her age and spinal issues make brushing her out an impossible task because we are not willing to put her under the stress and discomfort for the hours that it would take every week, so she’s sort of a hairy mess. She’s not matted or unkempt in any way; she’s just dang hot.
I decided it would be wise for her to get a haircut.
Now, let me tell you a little about Dog the Older and her history. I treat this dog as well as I would treat any human because she’s pretty damn amazing. A lot of people say that about their dogs, but I’m more right than they are because my dog is far superior to their dogs. If you have a dog that you love dearly, I am sure you know exactly what I mean. She’s smart, empathetic, loving, funny, and a great date. We have had her for 12 and a half years and for the past year and a half we have had to start preparing ourselves to lose her. She began to have trouble with her lower spine and needed medication to treat and manage her discomfort. It was at that time that we discovered that her former owner had not just crated her for what we knew to be over 20 ours a day, but she had also clearly been beaten as a puppy and had spinal damage to prove it. She had a rough early life and she deserves better.
It would be lying to say that she was not a factor in our decision to move. We talked about how she would handle the new climate, how she would handle the altitude. We talked over how we would transport her from Colorado to Pennsylvania and how we would help her along the way. We made a special appointment to talk it over with our vet. We researched and vaccinated and prepared her as best we could. The move itself was somehow exhilarating for her, as our vet had predicted it would be. She came alive in new ways with new smells and adventure. Our first few months here were much of the same for her. And then she was her “old” self again.
In an effort to reclaim her youth one more time, we adopted a puppy. Husband was skeptical and I was pushy and got my way, and luckily it was one of the odd times when I was completely right. Dog the Younger brought out a puppy side that we had never been fortunate enough to see in Dog the Older. While we had witnessed playing with a few other dogs in the past, she now engaged in active play, even initiated it, multiple times per day. She wrestled and ran and bounced and shared, and it was wonderful. Then, the heat came and it seemed to all go away.
So, I decided to give her a haircut. I got out Husband’s clippers and found a guard of appropriate length. He didn’t think she’d stand for it, but she allowed me to shave her hair and give her a medium length cut, letting herself air out a bit and giving her a little more freedom. She looked like a puppy! I had really not noticed how long her hair had become as part of her aging process, nor had I realized how little she was shedding anymore as she became elderly. Although she hated the actual act of being shaved, once I was finished she began to play again and was back to her crazy “new” self.
I realize that every time Dog seems to be fading on me I try something to get her back. I keep fighting her aging so desperately, keep discovering new ways to give her the energy to stay with us. The remedies have been lasting less and less time as we go. This dog has been a great friend to me, and I am terrified of losing her. It occurred to me today that when my mom was diagnosed with cancer and initially said that she didn’t want to undergo treatment I had little problem accepting that from her. I was upset and scared, but I also knew that she had every right to choose her time and to have what she thought of as her dignity in tact. As callous as it sounds to compare her life with that of Dog, it made me wonder: without her ability to communicate with me, will I offer her the same grace?
Taking all of that into account, here is what I learned this weekend: every life is precious and every living being deserves their own way to live and to die. When the time comes I am going to be as brave as I can be in letting the ones I love go and enter the next phase of existence. I will offer them love and peace, and I will not force anyone to stay when they tell me, however they can, that it is their time. I hope it’s the right thing to do.