How to Give an Old Dog the Time of His Life
An older dog is never a fully healthy animal after the age of ten or so. Aging creatures need frequent check-ups and attention paid to certain behaviors. My chihuahua-pomeranian mix, Wilbur, was refusing to eat and showed some other health issues so we took a trip to the veterinarian.
The doctor looked him over and suggested some tests. The results came back with a high bilirubin count from a soon to be liver failure. The best we could do is feed him a bland diet and give him a medicine that would help remove free radicals from his system. The rest of the time he had left would come quickly and that scared me.
This beloved companion of mine was just delivered a death sentence and there was no way to predict when that end would come. I was not going to let this dog just sit and rot away the remaining time he had left. It was decided that he needed to spend the rest of his days on comfortable adventures. These are his stories.
A Fishing Trip to the Park
I knew I had to do something for my old friend that involved fresh air, some sunshine, and my presence. Our first adventure happened fairly close to home. August 16th, 2015 we skipped on over to Sunset Park and did some browsing around and a little fishing. Well, I fished, the dog sought out new smells, did what dogs do, and enjoyed a patch of cool grass under his belly.
I relished the conversation. He only listened which suited us both just fine. He was a great companion. He never complained to me, never whined. He just sat there with his smiley face happy to be by my side. The views of the park and wildlife were lovely and the afternoon of leisure did us both a world of good. I caught no fish that day, but those moments with Wilbur were a pivot point on what was to happen next.
This was only the beginning.
Activities for Dogs
Where is your favorite place to take your dog?
Wilbur is My Superhero
Wilbur arrived in my life when I needed comfort and a companion that would help me heal during a dark period in my life. He brought joy to my heart when I was going through some deep-rooted, emotional turmoil.
Dogs are good that way. They are so cheerful and radiant when they see you. The energy level of a happy dog can't help but make one feel better and that is exactly what this canine did for me. Along with laying at my feet when all I wanted to do is stay in my darkness, he brought cheer and hope back into my world. He let the sun in and that alone made him my hero.
His physical challenge made him a superhero. You see, Wilbur travels his domain on three legs. He is missing the left front leg. How he ended up that way will be the subject of a fictional story because I do not know how he was injured.
I often called him my brave little guy. His handicap did not stop him. He bounced on the rear legs and pawed along with the lone front one. He made his way quite well, considering his short comings. The courage this little furbaby showed in spite of the missing limb showed me I could do anything I wanted if I worked up to it and tried hard enough. This fearless, little soul snapped me back to life and I felt I owed him in so many ways.
Adventure at 11,000 Feet
That fishing trip triggered a six-weekend travel string for Wilbur and me. We had to wait for my days off to go anywhere and it was fun thinking about where we might end up next. We needed to visit the mountains, I thought. And so we did.
On September 12, 2015, we road tripped it to the nearby mountain range and set up at the last campsite available. I realized I had camping equipment just sitting and it had been two years since I had done so.
Wilbur was ripe for the outing and jumped into his doggie bed seat and away we went. The road up to Mt. Charleston in Nevada is a sloping, scenic tour of small mountains and beautiful trees. It's hard to imagine this area is near the Mojave Desert. It is a breathtaking ride and a perfect spot for a small dog and his faithful owner to spend quality time.
We set up camp and proceeded to make breakfast. Well, Wilbur supervised while I did all the work. He's a good boss. He never said a cross word to me and he didn't fire me for the varied language I used while setting up my tent frame. I, in turn, paid him in treats from the camp menu. He'd wander occasionally, but kept pretty close to home base. He was on a leash that wouldn't allow him to get far. Park rules.
The park was filled with beautiful views and sights. The mountain air so fresh and full of sunshine soothed both our senses and we enjoyed the roughing it weekend considerably.
When we broke camp, Wilbur went over and sat where the tent had been. It was like he was defying me and telling me he didn't want to leave. I didn't blame him one bit and we were eager for another trip the following weekend, but where to go?
Weather forecasts predicted that Mt. Charlie was going to dip into temperatures around freezing the next weekend so a return trip was out of the question. I thought about where we could go and mentioned it to my immediate friends on Facebook. My gal pal had a great suggestion when I offered Duck Creek, Utah for an idea. She said there was someplace close to her that was just as nice and the same distance. I didn't even think twice about the next destination.
September 18, 2015, sent me further on my own than I had ever been outside of my work life and I doubt Wilbur had ever been out of the county in his travels. We headed north on the The Great Basin Highway along the Nevada I-93. This route is a collection of desert, rolling hills, and range land. The vast skies and natural landmarks are a stark contrast to the city we were leaving. Out of a modern metropolis of neon, glamour, and entertainment, we drove, and into the wilder areas along the Nevada-Utah state line. We would visit Eagle Valley, three hours from Las Vegas.
About an hour and half into our journey, we parked for a few minutes in the Pahranagat Valley area and stretched our legs. Pahranagat is a wildlife refuge and holds several water areas that can be fished. Wilbur loved the opportunity to nuzzle around in the weeds and gravel. This half-way point was bookmarked for a later jaunt and we took to the road and on with our journey. This was the first of two stops we would make on the way to our chosen locale.
The music on the car stereo was Led Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same. As I drove the miles, No Quarter came on and I thought it was a very appropriate soundtrack for what my eyes were witnessing. I wished and wondered if my dog was seeing what I saw. I'd glance carefully his way and surely he was sightseeing, too. He could see the tops of the hills from his viewpoint.
The drive was pleasant and visually - delightful. Wilbur seemed to enjoy the sounds of the music and I chatted with him as the territory and scenery changed from desert roam to hilly, decorative rock formations. I wished he could stand and look out the window like other dogs, but I appreciated his smiley face looking back at me while we traveled.
Visiting Dear Friends and Making New Ones
My dearest friend in the whole world lives in a small town north of Las Vegas tucked deep in the hills. The distance across it wouldn't touch two miles. It is an old railroad village and a roadside stop on the way to northern locations. She and her husband retired there and we had not seen each other in over 9 years. I knew Wilbur would love her home as she has a couple of dogs just his size to buddy up to. She likes dachshunds.
Their yard cozies up to the town park and she sits on her patio during time outs and watches the slow roll of a small town. Deer wander through the streets on a regular basis. Their front area is a large neat lawn with plenty of space for small legs.
She was to be my guide to the destination at hand. She introduced me to Eagle Valley. I followed my friend as she drove up and around the countryside past another small mining town, The road branched off in between farm and rancher's fields. We spied horses and cattle along the route and as I drove I knew we were in for a great weekend.
The drive was a good 45 minutes from my friend's home and I was in jaw-dropping awe when we arrived. The Eagle Valley Reservoir revealed itself in a collection of colorful cliffs and amazing foliage. Fall had touched most of the shrubbery with a gold tint that was rather elegant. The trees and other delightful details meant a lot of great photo ops and a few hours of nature watching pleasure. Wilbur and I were out for a fantastic adventure.
The Spring Valley National Park - Eagle Valley Reservoir GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Camping Out and Real Fishing
This was the first of three outings we would make to Eagle Valley. The campsite was clean, well organized, and attractive. By now, I understood how to pitch the spacious tent swiftly so the dog would not hear my colorful metaphors today. Well, not as many this time. I could set up our home away from home and catch a much-needed nap. Later, we would have dinner by campfire and enjoy star gazing. The skies are very clear at night and the view was a dynamic of stellar lights I had not been able to see in quite some time. The Milky Way could be seen thick as a scarf draped on the sky.
After I rose and torched the coals I needed for cooking dinner, I placed my Dutch oven and set out the ingredients for the meal would need to be prepared to completion. We ate our supper at the camp table and settled in by the firepit for the night to creep in. Wilbur enjoyed some time with me wrapped up in a blanket and being held while I whispered what I saw. I would receive thoughts of this tender moment for the next few months whenever I would sit with him. It is perhaps my favorite memory of our time together.
Early the next morning, it was time to go fishing, but we needed to eat first. I cooked us a fresh batch of bacon and eggs with a side of home-fried potatoes and, after the clean up, carted us both down to the dock for some time by the water.
Wilbur sat by my side on the platform and kept me company. I opened an umbrella up and set it over him for shade so that he would not get too much exposure. I kept a bottle of water close for him and his drinking dish and gave him a cool drink now and then. He was really good about just hanging out.
The fishing proved to be semi-successful. I caught one rainbow trout and gave up after a couple of hours. That fish was enough for dinner and I was happy about that. We went back to the campsite and just enjoyed being outdoors. Wilbur and I walked around a bit and he inspected everything.
We would eventually go several other Southwest locations over the next few weeks. The following weekend was a trip to the Tecopa Springs area and the China Ranch Date Farm. We went back to Eagle Valley and stayed in the Echo Canyon area. The next trip was to Lake Mead, but it was so hot and muggy out there that the trip ended late Saturday and we spent the rest of the weekend at home. The lake's air temperatures were still in the nineties in late October. I could see Wilbur begging me with his eyes to let us go home on that venture.
A trip to Utah took us to the northern area just shy of Salt Lake where my sister lived. Her little girl was to be baptized and I thought it would be nice to be present so the plans were drawn up, the dates set, reservations made.
Wilbur and I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast and soaked up the Utah views. Beautiful place, Utah is, everywhere. I'm glad we drove up at night or we would have never made the ceremony for my niece. Wilbur and I would have stopped every place along the highway.
We wrapped up our travel episodes by touring to the Phoenix area and seeing my dear friend there. It was lovely observing the Arizona deserts in November. The air was crisp and the land packed with Joshua Trees and Saguaro cactus. The cacti forest was fascinating.
Our Last Adventure
And this brings us to the last adventure Wilbur and I shared together. Like I said in the beginning, it was very important for me to share special moments with this dog, because he was aging fast and the decline of his health was encroaching daily. I'm guessing that he was around 14 years old or more. The month before our last adventure, Wilbur had fully developed cataracts over both eyes and was essentially blind. His hearing was gone and the activity levels now were threatened by these changes in his life. He no longer played or jumped up to greet me nor did he leap up on my bed or the couch. Those days were gone.
When I came home at night he didn't hear me at the door. His signal now would be to whimper and cry so I could find him and sooth him. I felt terrible my friend was in such a state now, where he was a vibrant animal was now a pile of cute fur with some big troubles.
I wanted this dog to maintain his dignity and decided that he should get one more trip to a park nearby where we would share a few hours in the beautiful surroundings and bond a little more. By this time in our storyline, Wilbur had lived just over a year from that doctor's visit.
Get your kleenex box because this story is going to get really emotional...
I was getting that ominous feeling that I might come home soon and find my dear dog already expired and it worried me to tears. The nights I worked were long and this thought hovered over me like a specter as I left for home. I could see it in him.
I started to take the time to create a memorial page for him on my personal blog and in the middle of crafting it, I decided that I would call and ask about the surgery needed for his eyes. I was really upset with this. The operation would be a fortune, I just knew it. I knew what my other option was and my heart just choked my breath when I thought about it. I hung up on the vet's attendant when she wouldn't give me a ballpark figure.
The more I pondered this situation and the more I thought about how bad Wilbur's health was getting the more the last option was pulling at me. The next morning, I made the appointment and apologized for cutting the last phone call short. I asked for the 8 am slot on their schedule.
That Friday morning, August 12, 2016, I took care of a few things around the home after work, washed Wilbur's face, brushed his hair pretty, and sat with him for a bit. I wrapped him in a fleece blanket and let the fear slide off of me. I held him and thought about the next steps I was to be taking over the next couple of hours. I packed a bag for a picnic for us and I headed to the park. There was one directly across the street from the Vets office and it would be here that our final adventure would play out.
Our Walk in the Park
I pulled into the park and turned off my car, took Wilbur out and set his leash hook into the collar loop. He didn't want to walk or stand. I was hoping to get a little time with him in the morning sunrise. I instead laid him in the cool grass and sat by him. I had to move us quickly because the dang sprinklers came on and almost drenched the both of us. I managed to find another spot dry enough to spend some time talking to my buddy.
I took pictures of him. I took pictures of him drinking water. I took pictures of him looking side to side and around. I did a full photo shoot of him and then moved him back to the car. I captured his morning in images so that I could remember it as a good moment because what would follow that next hour was a sting I will not get over for quite a while.
In the bag I packed was a small roast beef sub from a popular sandwich place in town. I opened it up and he became alert. Piece by piece I fed the dog small chunks of the savory meat. He ate from my fingers and I talked to him about how special he was to me. I poured a high end bottle of water in his drinking dish to lap up. He had a fine meal that hour.
I watched the minutes tick off the digital clock on my car's dashboard. One by one the minutes pacing the appointment time melted away and I took a deep breath, started the car, and drove across the street to the veterinarian's office. The tears had not stopped falling from the moment I got home that morning.
A Last Kiss Goodbye
The vet's waiting room staff welcomed me in and I stiffly walked through the front door, Wilbur in clutched arms. I signed the registry and they told me that a room would be ready for me soon. I sat until they waved me back and I slowly followed them. My brain was screaming, but I kept as reverent as I could. Our final farewell lay in that room.
I hugged and hovered over that dog and kissed the top of his head repeatedly. I whispered what a privilege it was to know him. I was hoping that I had comforted him and not scared him. He was very calm. Perhaps, he willed it. He let go a long time before I did. Special friends are like that. They help a tough situation go easier.
The doctor came in and asked if I had ever been through a pet euthanasia before. I had requested to be present for it. He explained the two separate injections. The first would put Wilbur in a deep sleep and the second would stop his heart. The procedure would be merciful and it was the most responsible thing I could do for my aging dog. The pain he was in and the loss of mobility had marked the way and this would end his suffering. I loved this dog so very much and it was about time to help him the rest of the way to his next journey.
After a few minutes they asked if they could take him to the back to put the device in his leg that would carry the liquids the doctor would serve. They had him for a few minutes and brought him back to me wrapped in one of their blankets. The front desk gal came in and I finalized the paperwork. I dreaded what was about to happen next. My mind was having trouble wrapping around the procedure I had just signed consent for.
I spent a little while longer in the private room saying goodbyes and I was about to ask the vet to come in and start the shut down, when he came through the door. I placed Wilbur on my left shoulder and looked him in the eyes and told him I loved him one last time. A kiss on his forehead was given and I nodded to begin. This was the saddest moment of our time together, but probably the reason he became a part of my life for the past two years.
The sleep drug was given and the dog went limp. The doctor assured me he was unconscious. I didn't say anything, I just held him tight to my chest and prayed he would go peacefully and he did. The second injection finished the life that brought so much joy to my heart. The lifesigns were checked and he was now just a furry shell. I offered him over to the vet and they took him away. The bench caught my hand as I kneeled my head and knees and thanked God for that small creature. I know he is in a better place and state than he was. The best I could have done for him was now finalized. He could go to his heaven in peace and happiness.
The legacy of this dog and the short time we shared will forever be etched on my mind and cataloged in my photo album. The adventures had and memories built with this furry companion showed me how to venture out of my comfort zone and discover a world I could immerse myself in. Travel is a great way to break away and regroup. It taught me a new way to prioritize my time and cherish the things in my life that I held most precious. Time with those we care for are priceless moments.
He taught me to break free of co-dependency on others and to forge my own path. Together we conquered the small portion of the west that we visited. I will forever be grateful to this tiny being for charming me back to health. He will forever lay on my left shoulder as I reflect back on life and the experiences I hold dear. In time, I will figure out where to lay his ashes. I may decide to hold them in my arms as I am laid to rest sometime in the future.
If you are the owner of an older dog, please, take them places. Make sure they can be comfortable when doing so. Talk sweet to them, they do not have much time left. Take lots of pictures and feed them small goodies now and then. Give them great water and clean blankets. Make the tough, right decisions for them and care for them closely. Most of all, treat them with dignity and observe their grace. They are spirit angels in earthly bodies.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.