I’m just back from the gym, where I ran into Joan,* my one-time dog-walking friend. I haven’t seen her in at least a year, but I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately, and not because I miss our walks. I really like Joan, but got the sense she viewed our outings as exercise opportunities for the humans — she wore a pedometer to make sure she was getting in enough steps — rather than, primarily, dog-oriented occasions. They often felt to me a bit like forced marches.
Still, Frankie and Sarah, Joan’s miniature poodle, were kindred spirits. Neither was especially interested in interacting with other dogs, including each other. I don’t think they sniffed each others’ butts or otherwise greeted each other more than a couple of times in the two plus years that we all met twice a week. Each was careful to keep on the far side of his/her human.
It was a slightly odd but agreeable arrangement and I didn’t mind the exercise.
But when Frankie couldn’t keep up the pace, I bowed out.
A Human with Frankie’s Disease
What I’ve been thinking about was the subject of many of the conversations that Joan and I had: Joan’s mother, Mary, who had Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years. Mary was otherwise quite healthy and Joan, a nurse, was vigilant about her care, not only making sure that life threatening issues got prompt attention, but also arranging for less urgent treatments such as dental work and cataract surgery.
Of course, even with better eyesight, the once vital Mary could no longer read, and didn’t understand much of what was happening on TV.
In addition to monitoring her health, Joan spent a lot of time shifting Mary from one nursing home to another; one had a staff member that seemed iffy, though of course Mary wasn’t able to say if there was really a problem, another grew too expensive for Joan’s budget. She and I often talked about how we would not want to live that way, a burden on others and with no quality of life. We acknowledged that, aside from making sure our Do Not Resuscitate orders are observed, there is no legal way for anyone to help ease our way out of the world.
Not so with our pets.
What I once wrote
I finally screwed up my courage and looked up what I wrote about the topic in Am I Boring My Dog five years ago (!), long before I was actually faced with any tough decisions:
How do I know when “it’s time”– and what do I do when I’ve decided?
It’s ironic that we’re often forced to make end-of-life decisions for dogs, who can’t tell us what they want, but are prevented from carrying out the wishes of humans, who can. But if we’re powerless to design the deaths we might desire for ourselves and for our human loved ones, we can provide them for our pups, shielding them from prolonged pain and suffering. Dogs in turn have the advantage of living in the present, so they don’t anticipate and fear the end in the same way we do (or at least they don’t write turgid novels or make pretentious movies about it).
I don’t disagree with my earlier, more innocent self. I did not, however, anticipate the possibility of the problem being mental rather than physical. It’s difficult enough to figure out when our pets are in pain. The mental discomfort of canine dementia is largely uncharted territory.
Or, I should say, I’ve found guidelines on various sites but they don’t really apply to Frankie.
For example, they ask questions like:
- Does your dog still enjoy interacting with other dogs? Um, no. Never did, never will.
- Does he still enjoy going for walks? He doesn’t seem to mind, once I get him on the trail, but he enjoys the car rides there about as much as he did in the past: Not at all. (It’s too complicated to explain here why I have to drive him to his walks.)
Other questions are more relevant, but they have trick twists.
- Does he still enjoy his food? Yes, but he has trouble finding it.
You get the picture.
My quality of life
I don’t believe that Frankie is unhappy now; he sometimes paces a bit and often spaces out, but he doesn’t whimper or cry and he seems more annoyed than upset about bumping into things. People who have known him for a long time and see him outside the house don’t have a clue that there’s anything wrong with him; he still has his little prancing walk, though it’s a bit slower.
Mostly, he sleeps.
I’m the one who is sad, who makes constant comparisons — for example, with the Frankie of just six months ago who used to be able to play for 15 minutes with the squeaky carrot, until I got tired, and who now forgets the game after 15 seconds.
Yet for those 15 seconds he’s wagging his tail happily, not saying to himself, Boy, I used to be able to go for a lot longer (which would explain why dogs don’t need Viagra).
And so, today, I try to remind myself that I don’t miss those forced marches with Joan and Sarah. And if Frankie could remember them and could report back to me, I’d bet he’d say that he didn’t especially like them either, that he found Sarah the poodle a bit snooty and standoffish.
*Joan is not a blog reader or much of an internet user in general; she was always a bit paranoid — or should I say prescient? — about being spied on. I nevertheless changed her name and that of her dog (who doesn’t use the internet much either).