Update on the Ancient Dog

Well, the Vet came and went yesterday, but Harper, my one thousand year old beastie, still remains. He said to us, “You know? Every time I see your dog’s name on my patient list I think, ‘Oh, god. This is it.’ And every time I see her, I think, ‘You know what? Maybe not.'”

So that’s our answer right now. Maybe not. I’ll take it.

In the meantime, we’re managing her pain and giving her fluids, in hopes that she starts eating and drinking more regularly on her own. She’s sleeping a lot, but she’s not in any kind of visible distress, which is good news.

The Vet said to us yesterday, “So, outside of the last couple days, which have been admittedly terrible, how would you describe her quality of life?”

“Well,” we said, “she eats her food and drinks her water and is super excited when someone drops something on the ground so she can taste it. She loves her yard, and loves chasing the rabbits and the squirrels. When she can see them. Which isn’t very often. Sometimes she chases nothing because she thinks that there might be a squirrel there maybe. She likes it when one of the kids takes her for a walk, and she really likes going for a hike.”

“She hikes?” the Vet said.

“Sometimes,” we said. “Not as far as she used to go, but she went five miles this summer. Slowly. With breaks. But she made it.”

“And she’s twenty years old.”

“At least.”

He listened to her heart and listened to her lungs and felt her belly and looked in her mouth. He looked at us. “Honestly, it could go either way – you never know if a dog gets it in their head to circle the drain. She might have decided that this is it. Or maybe she just feels crummy, and this is her feeling crummy. The main thing is getting her through the next couple days. But, given all that? There’s a good chance she might rally.”

My husband thinks he has money on her. Maybe I should put money on her.

In any case, I really appreciate all the prayers and well-wishes from yesterday. I think she heard them and I think she felt them. She’s resting comfortably right now. Is that rallying? I don’t know. I’m just trying to get through the day. And that’s what it will be for a while. One day at a time.

I told my kids that every time we think, “This is it,” with our dog (and believe me, there have been lots of those), what we feel is relief. And we should feel relief. But we also have to remind ourselves that each time this happens, it brings us closer to the actual “this is it” moment. Our dog has lived longer than most dogs. She is older than my oldest child. She is older than my marriage. But she won’t live forever. None of us will.

And maybe that’s the point. Life is fragile, and fleeting. A dog’s life; a person’s life. We are precious because we are fragile, and because our time is brief. We mark the spot where we were and lived through our connection, our kindness, our affection, our love. Our dogs do not build cities or write policy or make war or give speeches or build bombs or write books. And yet they leave profound and lifelong impacts on the people who love them. And we treasure them forever.

“We may get to keep Harper for another day or another week or another year, but the way we remember her will be the same. She will be the bad-breathed beastie who loved you best and most. And we will hold ourselves lucky to know and have known her.”

And really, that’s what any of us hope to be known for. The one who loved best and most. The one who was kind. The one who cared. The one who was ever present with an open heart. So that is what I carry with me today. A bit of Harperishness in my heart.

10 thoughts on “Update on the Ancient Dog

  1. It’s unbelievable that Harper as lived 20 years! I loved reading your account of his life with you and how your remember him. You’ve wanted me to carry a little bit of Harperishness in my heart too. I love dogs and have two of my own. I’ve been at the same point as you with a few dogs already, and my thoughts and prayers go out to you! Christine

  2. I am so glad that you can spend a few more days (weeks? months!?) with your Harper. I’ve been in your situation a couple times, most recently six years ago when I had to make that awful decision for my black cocker Ryker. The grief was there to show me how much joy I had experienced…and now I only remember the joy (mostly). You and your family are in my thoughts…

  3. I am so glad to read this post…yesterday’s made me cry, although it was wonderfully written. I am glad she had rallied, for however long. Stay, Harper….I almost feel like you are one of my own dogs. I am thinking of you and your family and will continue to do so.

  4. This is heartening news and I am very happy for all of you.
    I have been reading Mary Oliver because she helps me at trying times of which this is most definitely one. My uncle is dying. My family is waiting to hear.
    And I found this which reminded me of my old dog and thought I’d share it with you because Mary Oliver often expresses the things I feel deeply but can’t find words for:

    “A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house but you do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the trees, or the laws which pertain to them.
    …A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing.”

  5. Breathing a sigh of relief. If she’s not eating have you tried tempting her with tomato sauce (ketchup to you I guess); parmesan cheese; warm her food so she can smell it better (apparently aging pets have diminished senses of smell and taste); and present small amounts of other novel and smelly foods, such as baby food, cheddar cheese soup, pizza, Alfredo pasta, fast food hamburgers, bacon, braunschweiger, or add a drop of smoked flavoring to other foods. I have taken bits of this from an article in the Whole Dog Journal, V13, #1, January 2010. We also use Jack Mackerel in cans – it comes with either mackerel oil (which is drained off) or in tomato sauce. Sometimes scrambled egg with some cheese melted into it – that sort of stuff. Anything to tempt them. I would never try stuffing (force feeding) an old canine companion – sometimes they just don’t want to eat.

    Please give Harper a gentle hug from me – our last Gordon Setter died 5 years ago today – she went happily and peacefully at home with us and with some nice music and candles on her favourite bed with all her other canine siblings. I think it’s important for the others to be there because then they can check her out, know she’s gone to the Bridge and they’re just not left wondering where she’s disappeared to – anthropomorphism – maybe and I think they know and feel a lot more than we really know.

    Love, hugs, gentle hugs and ear scritchies for the girl.

  6. So glad you updated your post. I had read my 8th grade students the previous one as it was so achingly lovely. They were so happy to hear that Harper is still with you. Enjoy her while you can.

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