The Autumn season is present in more than one way in our lives right now. My parents are affected; after all, they are 91 and 92. But so, too, is their dog feeling the effects of aging. She is both an inspiration and heartbreaking to watch.
Sandy came to my parents more than a decade ago. She was at a shelter and a family friend made the match. Sandy is tan with a few darker areas around her feet and ears. She has some terrier in her, but she also has several other splashes of canine DNA. Her teeth have always been bad. At her advanced age, there may be four teeth in her mouth. My mom moistens her food and makes sure she has soft treats to allow for her inability to chew.
About a year ago, Sandy started to get a bit bald in spots. Now her entire tail is pretty much hairless. In addition she has a black square just above her tail, remnants of a skin irritation and the subsequent veterinary treatment. They never have determined what caused the loss of fur or this particular irritation.
More recently, though, Sandy has begun to cough, mainly in the morning and at bedtime. My suspicion is her heart is involved. Her groomer suspects the same (my mother believes the groomer more than me!). The rest of the day she acts fine - eating, drinking, playing with her toys. At her age, my parents are not inclined to put her through a lot of testing, so a definite diagnosis won't be forthcoming (I have discussed her symptoms with the vet, however, and she pretty much agrees with my thoughts).
This week brought a new twist and has me worried. Twice now, Sandy has "fainted." Once in the morning just as she got up for the day, the second time as she again stood to start upstairs to bed. As my mother describes it, she simply folds over then, in less than five seconds, is awake and moving again (in my mind, I think of it almost like a fainting goat!). She doesn't seem to be in any pain and her quality of life hasn't changed.
Still, I know that her time is growing short. As much as I hate what I know will inevitably come, it also breaks my heart to know Sandy will be the last dog my parents have in their home, as they are simply no longer able to care for animals safely. I watch my mom's eyes fill as she says she knows Sandy "won't be around" much longer. I listen as she mentions more frequent accidents in the house. I nod to acknowledge what each of us does in similar circumstance, that is, make accommodations to ensure our animals still feel safe, secure, clean and loved. And I know that very soon Sandy and I will make one last trip to the vet, as my mother has long since turned over that particular duty to my care.
And so, as the days become shorter and the night falls earlier, I hold my parents and Sandy close to my heart. I hurt for them and marvel at the lessons Sandy is still teaching each of us - to bask in moment, to play often and with total abandon, to savor our meals and treats, to relish the touch of others, and to love fully each and every day.