More on Leah

First, I wanted to start off by saying a great big THANK YOU to each of you for all of your kind words both here on the blog, on facebook, and through private emails regarding my LAST POST about Leah’s age, and how it is breaking my heart knowing what will one day be. For those who are wondering, Nick took her for yet another visit to our vet this week, to talk about her not being able to get up very well, to talk about some morning appetite loss, and to aspirate a lump I found right after her last visit (which turned out to just be a lipoma like I suspected).

At the follow up, our vet assured Nick that we haven’t given the new supplement enough time to work, and even if it fails, there will be more options. He feels since Leah is still eating well at other times, and is not losing weight, that her occasional lack of appetite at breakfast is not a major concern. A lot of you reassured me of the same, telling me that my sweet senior may have quite a bit of life left in her and that 12 & 1/2, although old for an eighty-five pound shepherd mix, is not necessarily a death sentence. A lot of you also empathized with me, because many of you have shared the same sadness of watching your dogs developing difficulties and quirks as they advance in age.

Upon thinking these things over, I’m pretty sure I now know the reason why I am having such a hard time watching Leah struggle to stand, or not greet me by the door like she has for 8 1/2 years, or not lay in the same spot beside my side of the bed where she has lain since the day we adopted her…

Aside from Leah, none of my four legged friends have lived long enough for me to see them decline.

Sure, I’ve seen family members’ and friends’ dogs age, along with childhood dogs belonging to my parents – but none of them were my own. My first companion, a cute waif of a cat named Sashi, lived only to twelve, passing unexpectedly while Nick and I were away on vacation. My dad had checked on her only the day before, and she was happy and very much alive – but the next day when we returned, Nick found her lifeless little body lying in her bed. I’m hopeful this meant that she left me peacefully, in her sleep.

Beyond Sashi, I lost track of two other cats, Midnight and Jasmine, after a divorce, and never did learn their fates. For all I know, they might still be alive at the ages of 19 and 17 respectively. And my still-young-at-eleven-years-old, Whiskers, had to be euthanized due to advanced hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the abdominal cavity) within less than a week of displaying symptoms.

As for our dogs, none have even stuck around that long.

Together, Nick and I took a chance on a shepherd mix named Bruckner, taking him home for a trial adoption when we first decided to adopt a dog about eleven years ago. He wasn’t even ours yet, but I’m pretty sure he would have been – as I’d already decided to name him “Chance.” Sadly, he started getting sick within hours of picking him up, and he succumbed to parvo three days later.

And then there was Harley – the first dog Nick and I “officially” owned before adopting Leah. Only one short year (nearly to the day) after entering our lives, our abused Doberman died quite unexpectedly at the early age of five. Like Sashi, he died while we were away, but unlike Sashi who was in the comfort of her own cozy bed, Harley was in a boarding facility – alone. Along with blaming myself for abandoning him at the kennel so we could go away for our anniversary, Harley’s death speared my heart more than I ever would have thought possible. We had just helped him overcome several major issues, some of which we caused, and then in a blink, he was gone. I felt cheated, as if he had been ripped away from me, as if I had missed out on so many fond memories that were yet to come.

Because of these early losses, I always thought I was cursed.

I wondered what it would be like to have an animal by my side well into their twilight years. Seeing them through any hang ups they had before being adopted by us, watching them grow into wonderfully behaved companions, caring for and loving them until it was time to say goodbye, hopefully, of natural causes. To see them live a good life, and pass at a respectable age.

I always thought it would be easier.

Now, I don’t know which is worse…losing an animal before their time, or seeing them decline, becoming shadows of their former selves, their bodies giving out before their minds. Worrying that they might not go on their own, and knowing we may need to face decisions that don’t have easy or clear cut answers.

Perhaps, when I thought I was cursed, it was a blessing in disguise?

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7 Responses so far.

  1. Jodi says:

    Crap, I’ll have to go back and read that last paragraph again, the tears are stinging my eyes.

    It is so hard watching them age, I wonder what they know and how they feel and when the time is right. With our dog Roxanne she stopped eating and I knew she was ready. But that didn’t make it any easier.

    If you ask me it is a blessing and a curse….loving an animal and then watching them wane in their twilight years.

    I wish I had more, but words fail me with this topic. I am however sure someone will have something both wise and comforting to say, so I will send you a hug. :-)

  2. It is hard when pets age and decline or when they leave us too soon. All we can do is give them the best life while they are with us. These days there are so many things that can be done to help an aging pet. It is not like it was even 10 years ago. Vet care has come a long way for senior pets.

  3. Pamela says:

    Wow, you have really had some sorrow in your life.

    I know that we never find it easy to say goodbye to someone we love. We lost Christie at 14 years old and her sister Agatha at 16 years old and it was not long enough. Shadow came to live with us at 10 years old and had died of bone cancer two years later (after being given a prognosis of just a few months). We never had enough time with any of them.

    But there are joys that come with an older dog. As Agatha became blind and deaf, she stuck closer to us. Giving acupuncture treatments to Shadow gave me quiet time to spend with her every morning. We take our blessings when we find them.

    My only solace is that each animal that passes through our lives gives us room to meet more more.

    I hope that you enjoy the time with Leah and that the supplements the vet is suggesting give her a good life.

  4. Barb says:

    I don’t think it’s either a blessing or a curse Donna – when an animal comes into our lives we don’t know how long we will have them for and even if they live to a ripe old age, it’s never long enough for us. All we can do is to give them the best life whilst we have them.
    No matter how many animals come into your heart and leave, losing them due to sickness or old age doesn’t get any easier.
    We are in the same situation as you now with our 13 year old Shih-Tzu; she is 13 next month and we can see her aging before our eyes; we wonder how long she will be with us, and we dread the inevitable. Despite having cataracts in both eyes, she still manages to get around very well, and other than that, has no apparent health issues.
    Vets can do wonders these days with animals in their twilight years, and your vet seems to be on top of things with Leah. Just enjoy her and continue to love and care for her as you have done all these years. There is nothing else you can do; life is bitter sweet sometimes.

  5. Donna says:

    Thank you all for your helpful thoughts and well wishes. I really appreciate each of you taking the time to give advice, share your own experiences with your aging dogs, and express your feelings on loss.

    I’m feeling a bit better this afternoon, and so is Leah – she ate this morning without any add ins, and she did greet me at the door after work, which was a wonderful sight after a busy day!

  6. Teri says:

    While it is very hard to see them age and have to make such tough decisions I also remember my last years with Lucy as some of my most cherished memories. I basically threw out the rule book those years and as a result she seemed to embrace her inner naughty puppy which still makes me laugh as I remember some of her antics. Our walks stopped being about exercise and became about enjoying time together and our surroundings. We planned vacations around beaches because that was where she loved to be. There were tons of struggles as well but she really did teach me to live in the moment and cherish each day. We went camping for two weeks where she swam each day and we enjoyed life. The night after we came home things changed dramatically and we said goodbye later that week.

    Enjoy the time you have with Leah for what it is. Trust her to tell you what she needs and don’t let your fears and emotions keep you from enjoying the moments in front of you.

  7. [...] for anyone concerned about Leah, because of THIS POST and THIS POST – you were all correct in warning me that she will have good days and bad. Sadly, there have [...]

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