Our dog Chelsea embarked on her final journey this past Saturday. While it was very sad for us all to part after so much time together, we were ready for her not to have to endure the painful trials and tribulations of being a 15-year-old Springer Spaniel in severe decline any longer.
Dementia, kidney failure, debilitating hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis all had been taking their toll on our geriatric toddler in recent days.
Rhonda and I made the difficult decision to halt Chelsea’s suffering this past Saturday. We were extremely heartbroken but comforted at how peaceful her passing was with the help of Chelsea’s vet, Karen.
We will have remembrances, pictures and movie clips of Chelsea that will last the rest of our lives.
In life, our pup (she still looked like one in her face) was a constant reminder to live life graciously and to the fullest—to not complain, to comfort one another and to delight in each other’s company.
In death, Chelsea freed not only herself from the ravages of time and age, but gave Rhonda and I our own set of freedoms to live life anew once more.
We will miss her dearly, it will take some time to heal from our loss (the house seems really empty now), but we will remember what she taught us.
The following is a story I had written this past November. It is offered here in memoriam and tribute to our beloved Chels.
Dog Gone: What Dogs Can Teach Us About Aging
Chelsea (“Chels”) is a lady who is growing old. She is at risk of falling. She can only hear the loudest of sounds. Her eyesight is not what it once was. She is aging gracefully, however, and in the process teaching us all how to do so.
Chelsea is our family’s 14-year-old Springer Spaniel. She makes us think of our own mortality when we have not ever done so before. Rhonda, my wife, and I are in mid-life and understand we should now realize we are closer to our old age than to our youth. As she ages, Chelsea shows us it is only natural (at times) to feel afraid and unsure as we age.
She likes to keep an eye on us while lounging on her bed. Whether I’m making my lunch of peanut butter sandwiches or Rhonda is juicing breakfast, Chelsea is watching our every move while we are within sight. Being aware of the here and now reinforces that fact there are no tomorrows guaranteed for any of us. Remaining engaged with what we’re doing is Chelsea’s way of reminding us to live in the present.
One of the most important things Chelsea has gotten us to consider is the importance of learning how to read lips. While other fur-baby parents are able to speak to their beloved four-legged, canine children, we have no such luxury with Chelsea. She could hear us at one time, but now we have to gently approach her and wait until she sees us to keep from startling her.
Though she cannot hear us, we chat at her while we are doing our morning rituals. Sometimes she winks at us. Sometimes she pulls her ears close to her head and looks at us adoringly like those women in Cialis commercials. This look of love compels me to give her a hug and kiss her floppy ears reassuringly. She usually growls approving sounds when I do that. If that is not love, I don’t know what is.
We are not as sure-footed as we age and dogs are no different. Rhonda and I can still navigate our hardwood floors pretty well without slipping. Chelsea, however, has problems with them. Rhonda and I have adapted the house to help make it more Chelsea-proof—that is, we have taken to putting down rugs and runners in highly-trafficked Chelsea areas. When Chelsea slips and falls on one of these rugs or runners, she is able to pull herself back up to her feet. When she falls on the hardwood floors, though, she needs a helping hand.
Chelsea never liked being handled “back there” in her younger days. She once told me (in so many words), “No one touches me back there unless we’ve gone on more than three dates!” Now that she is older, she accepts some assistance knowing she will be unable to get back up on her feet on her own. We try to only give her the help she needs. Chelsea suffers from hip dysplasia, so to manipulate her hind quarters area unnecessarily can cause her undue pain.
Humans have a way of voicing the trials and tribulations of aging in a not so complimentary fashion. We feel our aches and pains as we age. Ungracefully and unlike Chelsea, we often respond to our aches and pains with profanities. Chelsea does not curse when she slips and falls, but if she could, we feel she would be as entitled as any person is to do so. As people, we may not be overly worried about our cussing in the morning that drowns out the snap, crackle and pop our bodies make greeting the day. After all, no one can hear the curse words if we are alone. Still, it is not the behavior of someone who is aging gracefully.
I work with older people in a local senior living community. Many of the residents’ biggest fears concern falling. Bone fractures in senior citizens are dangerous. They can be deadly when infection from a broken bone compromises their ability to recover fully.
Paul Newman once said, “Growing old is not for sissies.” Well, Chelsea is no sissy. She just needs a helping hand and has come to accept this. She does not bark at us or shout obscenities. All she does is look at us a certain way, and we understand she is ready to be helped. It is spiritually and physically gratifying to be able to “lift her up” when she needs assistance. Her unconditional love is the sweetest reward we’ll ever need in return.
Rhonda and I understand clearly the value of companionship and assistance as we watch Chelsea age. We appreciate having a caregiver around to make our days manageable and the best they can be. Being together and helping one another is part of what makes life worth living in the first place. Thanks for showing us the way, Chels.