I have had my dog Ein since he was four months old. He is nine years and four months old now. If you are reading this blog you must be no stranger to the ways that dogs lodge themselves into our daily routines, our hearts and souls. The ways that they grow with us, the ways that they change us and the ways that they support us as we go through life. Ein is no exception. Ein was a bundle of anxiety when I got him and I was in college and stressed out about life. I always loved animals and nature but I was never what you would call an “active person.” Ein changed all of that. We started exploring the local county park and the rest is a tale I have told before. Hiking trails were a place that we could escape life together, and we did. What started with casual 30 minute strolls led us to the mountains jutting up around the local wild river. We would stay there for hours swimming, hiking and gazing out over every new place that we explored. And so it has been for years. Six feet, two heartbeats. Paradise. Peace.
Until the middle of April this year. Perri and Molly tornado’d into Ein and he started limping on his front leg. It would not go away. We went to the vet and tried medication but the limp persisted. When the vet examined Ein she asked me if he had any problems with his hips. I was surprised. Of course not. We took x-rays. Ein’s hips took my breath away. To say they are dysplastic and arthritic is an understatement. And it did not just happen overnight. And if that was not enough, the vet showed me the bone spurs growing in his spine. Rear leg paralysis is a possibility if that condition persists. I was gutted. I started Ein on joint supplements, pain medication and some at-home PT exercises to help strengthen his rear legs. The front leg limp would go away, and come back again. I could see his right rear leg, his most dysplastic hip, being held stiffly and never with weight on it. I had to cancel an agility trial and a rally trial that I had been looking forwards to participating in with Ein. Long hikes were certainly out of the question. I felt like everything that we loved to do together was over.
A few months later in June, Ein and I attended our annual Corgi Group picnic. The corgi picnic is one of the highlights of my year, every year. There is the hot dog bobbing contest, there is the musical hoops contest, there is the silent auction of doggie and corgi items, there are baby pools for wading in, agility equipment to play on and there is lots of food and lots of corgis! Ein and I never do the hot dog contest, because he has always been afraid to nose into the water for the hot dogs. And the competition is stiff! We have never stood a chance. Musical hoops was always our game. It is like musical chairs, except that everyone walks around a ring of hula hoops and when the music stops, you get your dog to sit in a hoop. For Ein, who has always been good at heeling and auto-sitting when I stop walking, this game was a cakewalk! We have won it probably four times.
This year Ein had a hard time getting his rear end into the baby pool. He woke up limping on his front leg and stiff in his rear, so I didn’t think musical hoops was something that we should be doing. All those years of going to our picnic and enjoying those two things above all else, and suddenly his hip dysplasia is sticking its ugly face in there, reminding me that my dog is not who he used to be.
I went back over to Ein’s x-pen by myself and really felt like crying. It might seem stupid to some. But nine years of this dog, nine years of my little badass that nothing could stop. My little scrapper who was picking fights with german shepherds at the dog park “just yesterday.” And suddenly he is old. I was still figuring out how to deal with that. My dog who could hike 12 miles over a boulder field is having trouble stepping into a baby pool. Through some twist of fate my x-pen was next to a corgi and owner that I have seen coming to the picnic every year that I have been going. Except this year, her dog’s entire rear end was paralyzed because of degenerative myelopathy, a condition common in corgis. He was her agility dog. I have always noticed corgis on wheels, corgis in strollers, or corgis who were half lame at the picnic. But not until this year, when my own dog was going lame, did I become hyper aware of what causes these wonderful dogs to be confined to a wheel cart or a stroller.
The end result was that while I enjoyed the picnic, it was a bittersweet day for me. I enjoyed being my normal shutterbug self and taking 84 photos of all the picnic-goers (Click here to see the Flickr Album). I enjoyed the food. I enjoyed spending a day out with Ein. But I allowed his mortality to make me feel sad. I became worried that he may likely have degenerative myelopathy as well. A friend of mine who recently lost her beloved doberman at only 7 years old to osteosarcoma told me that she regrets missing out on her dog’s “old dog years.” That I would regret it if I continue to mourn Ein before he was even gone. And she was right.
I am a busybody going in a million directions with training, agility trials, therapy visits and hey! also a full time job. I felt I had no time for Ein. But a lot of that had been because Ein’s recent grouping of diagnoses made me feel so sad that every time I looked at him, it was all that I could think about. I allowed myself to shut down on him, because I was so overwhelmed by the shock and pain of my dog growing old.
No more. It had to stop.
Kelsey sent me an Ein-sized exercise peanut and it had been sitting around for a week or two. Since I decided to stop moping, I inflated it and we got to work and Ein had so much fun. It is a new game, and it can be an every day thing. So what if we are doing it to strengthen his wrecked hips. He is having fun, and so I am having fun.
I must embrace this time. I must enjoy it. The last dog that I had pass away was 9 years old when he died. He was fine one day and died overnight. No warning, no old dog years. He was just gone one morning when I woke up, he died in his sleep. No exercise peanuts, no supplements, no cozy orthopedic dog beds and shorter walks. He was just gone. I haven’t lost Ein to cancer, or a heart failure, or a tragic accident – I still have him. He is still here and happy and he is still my boy, and just because his body is starting to deteriorate doesn’t mean that we can’t find new ways to enjoy our relationship.
I bought him a lifejacket. Swimming his fantastic exercise for the hips. The dog is working his joints in the water, but there isn’t any impact. Ein has always loved swimming for his ball, but he tires easily and starts sinking into the water and coughing. I have always chuckled a little over doggie life jackets. My dogs can swim just fine, they don’t need that stuff. I used to think the same thing about training classes though, and look at me now. When I watched my dog be able to swim out after his tennis balls for … I don’t even know how long, I lost track of time, I regretted not doing this sooner!
And if Ein can’t be the musical hoops champion every year at the Corgi Picnic anymore, we are going to have to start training towards being the hot dog bobbing champions! I think that he will be a fast learner.
It has been since that picnic in June that I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and Ein. We have worked harder on our PT together, we have been taking short walks together, I have been making time to take him swimming and the supplements and medication are doing their job. I have committed myself to enjoying this part of our life, whatever that may mean. We went camping in late July and I did something that I was afraid to do since April. I took Ein on a swim and a semi-long hike around the lake where we were camping. Just the two of us. He stayed sound. He was amazing. He was happy. And so was I.
Stop worrying. Let’s hike!