Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | October 20, 2011

Are the Dog Days Almost Over?

It was eighteen years ago this month that my husband and I hopped in our car in Boston and headed up to southern Maine to embark on a new adventure. It was a beautiful fall weekend, with the foliage in full New England glory. We headed north, then turned slightly inland, taking in the scenery as we went. We followed our handwritten directions (long before the days of smart phones and GPS) and arrived at our destination: a place with the charming name of Puddleby on the Hill. And the name didn’t lie: it was perched atop a gentle knoll, with sweeping views of the southern Maine landscape. But we were not there to leaf peep. We were there to get our puppy.

I never had a dog growing up. One of my brothers was allergic. Bad enough that he was older and teased me and always got the front seat, but he also had to destroy my dream of having a dog? As a result, I was forced to make do with compromise animals. You know, fish, gerbils, rabbits. The pseudo-pets.

My first rabbit was as close as I got to a “real” pet. She seemed smart, for a rabbit, and while I couldn’t teach her to do tricks, I managed to get her to walk on a leash. Alas, she came to an untimely end, the details of which are a little unclear, but the story involves a large animal prying open a hole in her cage. The replacement rabbit, unfortunately, was a dud. It was lazy and showed no signs of intelligence. For the most part, it just ate and pooped.

I was insanely jealous of friends with dogs. In fact, when visiting my friends’ houses, I’d often spend more time playing with the canines than the people. I dreamed of the day when I would grow up and be able to get a dog of my own. So, it should come as no surprise that one of the first things I did as an adult was to get a puppy.

Driving home from the breeder, all those years ago, we learned quickly that she was timid and easily terrified. She’d never been in a car before, and the poor thing was quaking with fright. I held her in my lap to comfort her, but she managed to crawl up out of my arms and onto the back of my neck, where she hid behind my hair for the entire ride home.

As new parents, we were smitten with her. We planned to have her sleep in the kitchen, but we caved quickly to the sad and desperate whining and brought her into our room. And thus began a lifetime of bad habits. Fortunately, her timidity made her easy to train. She was petrified of cardboard boxes and paper bags, so if we wanted to keep her out of a particular room, all we had to do was put a shoebox in the doorway, and viola! Instant pet gate.

She quickly settled into our home. She’d sit on the window seat in our living room, watching the birds and squirrels outside, confused and fascinated. Like most dogs, squirrel chasing was her favorite activity as a pup, but she also loved running through piles of leaves, burying herself under the mounds that our oak and maple trees had shed.

When we moved into a small apartment in Boston, she had to abandon frolicking in leaf piles, but she quickly learned to enjoy long walks on the Charles. She and I would stroll down Newbury Street, early in the morning before any of the shops were open, then cut over to walk back along the river. She didn’t get a chance to chase many squirrels in Back Bay and much to my dismay, she never seemed the least bit interested in catching the mice that filled our apartment.

She moved with us from place to place, adapting to her new digs easily enough. Likewise, she coped well with the arrival of our children who inevitably pulled her tail, yanked her hair, and sat on her back. She never whined or complained.

Eventually, however, her health started to falter. Her age was catching up to her, quickly. We thought her time was limited. To diminish the impact her demise would have on the kids, we got another puppy, a replacement dog. Who’s now three and half years old. The Old Dog, much to our surprise, just kept plugging along.

The arrival of The Younger Dog made us realize that The Old Dog was, well, stupid. Within a day, The Younger Dog had figured out how to open every door in our house, something The Old Dog hadn’t managed in all those years. She also figured out where the dog food was stored and how to get at it. Every day, we’re grateful that The Younger Dog doesn’t have opposable thumbs. We’ve taken to hiding the car keys, just in case.

But having The Younger Dog around seemed to energize The Old Dog. She perked up. Of course, things were up and down. For a while she was having fainting spells, which have subsided for the most part. However, too much excitement still knocks her out. We no longer give the poor thing treats, lest she might keel over.

Which brings me to the issue of quality of life. Is life worth living if you can’t even have the occasional dog treat?

Of course, it’s amazing she’s still here at the age of eighteen. Eighteen and three months, to be exact. But her eyesight is starting to go, and she’s been deaf for quite some time. She frequently can’t stand up, and walking requires more effort than she seems to have. I came into the kitchen the other day to find her stranded – her legs had gone out from under her and she was unable to move. She never wags her tail anymore.

I know the time has come to make the tough decision. Heck, we probably needed to make this decision a while ago. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. The Voices of Reason – my kids – point out that it’s selfish to keep her alive just because I’m too chicken to do otherwise. And yes, I’ll gladly confess that I’m chicken, but what do you expect from the owner of a pet who’s terrified of shoeboxes?

I just have a hard time letting go of things, as a walk through our basement or a look at my closet would confirm. I’m also not so great in the decision-making department. So, this plays on my biggest weaknesses. I keep hoping that one morning, I’ll wake up to find that her hearing is restored, her eyesight is back to normal, her legs are functioning just fine, and she’s able to stand up and sit down with no effort. Maybe she’ll be able to have treats without passing out. Possibly she’ll even wag her tail again. I can dream right? But in the meantime, I guess I have to start learning how to say goodbye.


  1. I think you can rely on her to tell you when it’s time. That’s what everyone has told me, anyway – “S/he told me with her eyes it was time.”

    • Heidi, you’re probably right. Of course, there’s a part of me that just doesn’t want to see it.

  2. Crying and laughing at the same time! We will miss that sweet little doggy, she was after all Hayley’s first friend! Thinking of all of you and knowing how hard it is to say good-bye to such a big part of your life. Love you!

    • Thanks Lauri. She’s a good dog. Not too bright, but a good dog.

  3. Sweet post. We had our old Sarge for 17 years. As Heidi above said, he told us when it was time. The moment when we knew he wasn’t just old, he was suffering. The sad part about loving pets is that their life span is shorter than yours, so you have to face a difficult goodbye. But all the love is worth it.

    • “But allt he love is worth it.” Very well put. I’m sure you’re right, we’ll know when it’s finally time. It seems like it’s getting closer every day. much to my dismay. Thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: