Friday Five Minute Word Grab (although this one went on very long.)

The dog poses a conundrum. Old and gray, arthritic, deaf and blind. Stumbly, sleepy and sweet. But so, so beloved.

He came to us at eight years old. We’d never had a dog like him. He waited for us to go through doors first. He wouldn’t begin eating until we did. He never jumped up on people. He obeyed our every command and bore strong evidence of intense training.

A good part of his life had been spent in show rings, performing for crowds and judges, for the prestige of his owners. He’d won top dog in the nation two years running in his class—obedience.

At first sight, even in the ad, we’d loved him. His floor length mixed gray and black fur, his happy tail, his shining brown eyes—hardly visible through his bangs. After we took him home, I quickly noticed his extraordinary sense of perception. When in a mixed group of adults, he went first to those with gray hair like his, and usually to the shyest, weariest. He didn’t impose. Merely stood near and waited for them to acknowledge him. If they didn’t, he laid down beside them, keeping them company, like the companion dog he was also trained to be. When children visited, his tail wagged higher than usual. When they sat down, he made a beeline for their lap and stayed there until they stood.

Schapendoes live between twelve to fourteen years, canine experts say. He’s fourteen now. In the last years, our walks have shortened. All he wants to do is go home. Outward bound he heels perfectly. But the moment we turn to return, he pulls so hard on the harness he almost puts my shoulder out. No scolding or tugging helps. It’s simply ‘Do not collect a hundred dollars. Home or bust.’  So we rarely go for walks anymore.

He stumbles sometimes. His disabilities get in the way, even though he still enjoys getting outdoors. Curiously, after a good poop in the backyard, he dashes through the house like a spring lamb before collapsing on his mattress.

He piddles on the deck now, rather than step down the two inches to the grass. The cats try to provoke him to playing, but he’ll have none of it, and with groans vacates his bed when one of them tries to snuggle.

He’s lost nine pounds since his last visit, we learned on the most recent one. I can feel every bone in his spine. It hurts to pet him. Vitamins and changing food hasn’t helped. Drinks water like the bowl is bottomless. Paces, paces, paces every evening, drooling and finally turning around at least twenty times before coming to rest. For both my husband and I he has become a trip hazard, appearing suddenly and silently in front of us. I recover footing easily, but I’m worried about my husband, whose mobility issues already cause him to fall easily.

We’ve had to make this choice before, with other pets. Time? Not time? How do you know when to make that last vet visit? It wrenches. Feels so wrong to decide ‘yes, we must’ when, on a clear summer day, Cash acts like a puppy, racing (albeit stiff-legged) through the yard, around the trees, simply for the love of the dash. But it feels so right when we witness the thinning, the pacing, the stumbling, the groaning, and when his confusion causes him to lose his way.

They say a dog will make you happy every day of your life—but one. That day is coming. Soon. And I’m already sad.

Lord, thank you for all the happy days. Please help us—and him—on that other one.

In the beginning…Cash.
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