Be Gentle: I Know My Dog Is Old (article)

Share advice for keeping your aging dog happy and healthy

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bitches love- pantaloons
Barked: Thu Mar 10, '11 1:42pm PST 
Be Gentle: I Know My Dog Is Old

A call for improving our etiquette with older dogs.
By Susan Seligson

Like everyone else in a society loudly lamenting a decline in civility, I recognize there are new breaches of etiquette every minute. On any typical day, cell phones alone account for the rudeness factor going off the charts.

But I believe there is one type of impolite behavior among adult humans that goes pretty much unchecked. I’ve been guilty of it myself and slinked away feeling really stupid. It just isn’t something that makes it into the etiquette books and it apparently isn’t even worth Miss Manners’ fleeting consideration.

I am referring to the blunt, utterly uncensored and often just plain mean things people say to us about our dogs (by “us” I mean dog people). My close friend Pam has a 12-yearold German Shepherd who is visibly aging. So are the rest of us, human and canine, but to what person would you ever be so crude as to say the following: “Is that your mother? Wow, she looks awful. She can hardly move!” Yet this is the unsolicited blubbering my friend endures from strangers, all day long, about her old dog. I empathize because I’ve been through this three times, beginning with our family Beagle, Sam, who lived to be nearly 17, mostly out of spite.

“How old is he?” People would ask this unrelentingly about my now-departed Irish Setter, Amos. I didn’t mind telling them that he was 12 or 13. “Wow. They don’t live much longer than that, do they?” How tacky is this?

But it gets worse. When my big, hairy mutt, Louie (we called him our “Bavarian crotch-smeller”) was old and frail, someone once asked me, “Have you thought about putting him down?” First of all, that’s kind of like asking a woman in her 40s (this also happened to me), “Have you ever thought about having children?” “Gee, there’s an idea! Why didn’t I think of that?” When your dog is old and sick, the end is pretty much all you can think about. Your heart is breaking and you’re preparing yourself to come to that decision in a way that spares your dog unnecessary suffering while giving yourself time to feel as peaceful as possible about letting him go.

People assume they can say anything they like about a stranger’s dog. While they’d (I hope) refrain from saying, “Excuse me, but it looks like your husband is losing his hair,” when Louie was suffering from Cushing’s disease, strangers constantly took it upon themselves to point out his hair loss. “Do you know your dog is losing his hair?” And what can you do except mumble, um, yes, this is my dog, he’s part of my family, I’m nearly always with him, I bathe him, I brush him, he sleeps with us, and throughout most, if not all, of these activities, I am looking at him! And it’s always too late when you think of how you could’ve said, “Do you know you have a wart on your chin?”

Pam is at the point where she dreads walking her dog in public because she knows passersby will make insensitive comments she can’t bear to hear. Out in the world she is thoughtful and tender enough not to remind everyone she encounters that they are mortal. Like the rest of us, she can tell when a person’s on his or her last legs, but she keeps herself from saying, “Gee, you sure are slowing down” or asking the person’s daughter, “So how long do people in your family tend to live?” When approaching people like my friend, it helps to remind oneself that she knows her dog is old. She knows it every waking second of every day.

The last years and months we share with our geriatric dogs are among the most bittersweet times in dog lovers’ lives. We know, from the moment we choose these guys as puppies or meet their limpid stares at the animal shelter, that our hearts will be torn apart some day. What makes it so much worse is that the older they get, the sweeter they get, and when they reach absolute critical sweetness—you simply cannot love them any more than you already do—they grow completely exhausted and die. So a person patiently coaxing an old dog on his increasingly shrinking route is someone who could benefit from a little compassionate restraint. Like a simple hello for the owner, or a tender pat on the head for the doggie emeritus.
Dr. Zira-In- Memory

Welcome to the- planet of the- monkey dogs
Barked: Thu Mar 10, '11 1:56pm PST 
I read that article in Bark and I totally agree. My dogs are not ancient at all 12, almost 10, 8 and 1/2, almost 8 and almsot 4 but people often comment about them getting old. Ive been out with the 3 oldest and have had people say Oooh there are old! Ive only ever lost one dog and was a senior foster and while I loved him to pieces, I was not as close to him as the other members of my pack. Still his death was awful, though very expected and in many ways a triumph that he lasted as long as he did, the others will be much much worse. Of course I knew the day I got the dogs the inevitable would come. Its part of owning dogs, and the altnernative me passing before the dogs in my late 30s or 40s doesnt appeal to me much. I also know I will have more dogs and I will love them just as much as these guys, though I am sure differently. I do wish people would be more sensitive though, I sometimes think that owners of young dogs are clueless. I also think many owners of senior dogs simply stop taking their dogs out, it seems like I run into so few other middle age or older dogs, its always the puppies or young adults
Nakita Mae- Angel Girl

Live to dock- dive!
Barked: Thu Mar 10, '11 9:39pm PST 
I am always amazed when I go to the pet store (never Petco or Petsmart ick!) and someone just has to say "wow, your dogs look good for their age" Hellooooo....do you know them and how old they are?? They always have to comment on how Kayak is grey on his muzzle (he is 7 but has been grey since he was 4, family genetics) and then they comment on Nakita has some grey on her. Really, why does everyone have to go right for age.
I think all dogs are wonderful and senior dogs are just the best, they have given so much to us and add so much love to our days and they only ask to be loved. They definately add wisdom to the younger ones in the pack.
If I was a real snob I would have to snap off at the people about, Oh, look at the lines on your face, and boy oh boy, is that grey in your hair? but since I am not, I just smile and say isn't it wonderful how great they are? We are blessed to have them.


bouncy pup
Barked: Fri Mar 11, '11 3:50am PST 
I feel for you, how can people be so cruel and insensitive. My dog buddy is 15 he's losing his sight and hearing he gets a little confused. His arthritis is affecting his bad legs a bit. He still has some quality of life, don't know how much longer we will have him.
The other day I took him for a short walk which he still enjoys and someone said he is limping has he seen a vet. I said of course he has, it's his age and his arthritis.
Don't stop taking your dogs out just tell people to mind their own business.

Work? What's- that?
Barked: Fri Mar 11, '11 4:49am PST 
What really makes my blood boil is not so much when they point out the ailments, but when they inevitably go on to suggest that you euthanize an old dog basically because they have become "inconvenient." They are "too much trouble" to care for so they say just kill them. Then they tell about the time they murdered their dog for being "too much to deal with" as though that will somehow make it better and not more appalling.

It's sick and disgusting frown. I wonder how they would feel when they get old and have various age-related impairments and people started telling them they should be "euthanized" or rather murdered in this case.

A dog is a lifetime commitment...they give their whole to you their entire life, it is really too much to ask to give a little back to them when they need help in their twilight years? Is your dog a piece of fuzzy furniture or is your dog a true family member?

I get there is a difference between euthanizing a dog that is miserable and doesn't want to eat or play or get up or anything like that, and one that simply have geriatric problems that need managed, but it seems like in sooooo many cases they are murdered, not euthanized.

Nothing makes my stomach turn more to hear about a dog who is otherwise enjoying life being taken for that last trip to the vet just because they have become inconvenient for their owners...shouldn't their dog have meant more to them??? :'(

Edited by author Fri Mar 11, '11 4:53am PST


bitches love- pantaloons
Barked: Fri Mar 11, '11 5:58am PST 
Oh gosh, Samson, the rescue I adopted Nicky from just saved a dog in that situation. Took their NINE year old dog into the vet to be euthed and is perfectly healthy but doesn't like being left alone for long periods of time. Ugh, it's sickening.
Bingo-In- Memory

Appreciate the- small things
Barked: Fri Mar 11, '11 6:04am PST 

I agree its the recomendation for "convenience" euthanasia that makes me nuts. When we took Bingo in he had cancer (slow growing in his spleen and was not a candidate for a spleenectomy due to other health issues and it showed signs of liver spread). He also had degenerative spinal condition which made his back legs weak and at first he could walk short distances (very short). We got him a stroller and a wheel chair. Eventually his back legs worsened to hte point he was draggign them inside (not an issue as we had hard wood floors). He was fecally incontinent from day one and became urinary incontinet. We kept him in an x pen with papers and cleaned him daily and were able to minimize skin break down. Through all this he had a great appetite and enjoyed playing and going out to the end.
When Id take him to the vet or out int he stroller some people where ncie and other people would say "why are you letting him suffer like that, if he cant walk he has no quality of life." Id explain that he ate, was allert, and even played. They said but he cant go to the bathroom outside, and thats the route of it they didnt like the idea of the cleanup. We did say goodbye to Bingo as soon as he lost the interest in eating and began to feel uncomfortable. However, to do do sooner would have been about convenience for my husband and myself and not Bingo's happiness
Melvin--Gone- Too Soon

Too weird to- live, too rare- to die
Barked: Fri Mar 11, '11 7:45am PST 
I agree entirely--when my heart dog, Bradley, was 10 and hitting his last few months, I decided to let him go one last time to his favorite outing, the Renaissance festival--I didn't know he was in his last few months, I just knew he wouldn't be able to again. He had really bad arthritis in a leg he broke racing (and, again, unbeknownst to me, the beginnings of bone cancer), so I put him on the max dose of his pain meds and he was limp-free for almost the entire time. When he began to limp is when the trip was over, and as I was leading him out I heard "wow...how could she bring that poor dog here? Look at him!" It still haunts me and made me second guess to this day bringing him, even though I knew he spent hours pain free and happy.

He died two months later and I truly believe that was one of his last 'happy' days, but...just how cruel that comment was still gets to me.

I nap, therefore- I am.
Barked: Fri Mar 11, '11 9:10am PST 
Unfortunately many people do view dogs as just that, a fuzzy piece of furniture, fashion accessory or disposable toy. I do everything I can to make my dogs whole lives happy ones because they give us so much. But take a look at any craigslist and you'll see so many wonderful animals that people are just throwing away for convenience. So sad. But it makes sense that these people who are so quick to get rid of a pet would think nothing of insulting mine about his age. shrug

Here\'s my Wubba- - now play with- me!!
Barked: Fri Mar 11, '11 9:43am PST 
Bailee is not even 2 and already I think about her senior years and dread the day that she passes. I've had to put a dog down and it was awful. I was 19 and my parents were away in an area that had zero cell phone reception so I had to take my 9-year old dog to the vet, decide what tests to do, pay for everything myself, get the results while home alone, and make the decision to put him down, all before my parents came home. I'll never forget it. I've never really thought about what people say to older dogs because like someone else said I never see them out in public. Our neighbor does have a blind poodle but she's sooooo sweet. She barks at first because she's scared but she just wants love. I hope I've never made an insensitive comment to anyone (I would never tell anyone to put their dog down, that's beyond rude!) but I'm sure I have. Thanks for sharing this article.
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