I am sitting here tonight with our 13 year old greyhound. For a dog of her size, the equivalent human age is 96 years old. On occasion, she still acts like a puppy, but those occasions are increasingly rare. Most of the time, she sleeps, and when she isn't sleeping, she seems anxious much more frequently than she has those puppy-like moments of joy.
I remember when we first got her, fresh from the track. Anybody who thinks greyhounds are "forced to run," as I've seen some descriptions, should have seen her then! She missed the track so much that she wore our fenced backyard down to bare dirt along the edges of the fence, always running in a counter-clockwise direction. We even had to remove a couple of shrubs that she kept cutting herself by not quite avoiding. I happened to come across a website with the bugel "call to the post" which they'd had at her track when the dogs were paraded in front of the grandstand. When she heard it, she started jumping around with her tail madly wagging, clearly wanting to run.
Those dirt areas have long since returned to grass. We used to take her to the dog park, where she would match herself running against all the other dogs, and would outrun them every time, and tail wagging, go looking for the next dog to match herself against -- until she totally exhausted herself. But she eventually got impatient with the roughhousing of the younger dogs, and clearly didn't enjoy that anymore, so the trips to the dog park stopped.
More below the squiggle.
Her exercise then became a short daily walk on a leash. At first, she enjoyed "meeting and greeting" other dogs, but more recently, she clearly has no patience with them and their sometimes overly-enthusiastic greetings. The daily walks continue, but with an effort not to encounter other dogs.
She was on a couple of different kinds of medication, and was on a kidney diet. But then she got to the point of refusing to eat her food, and her body weight was wasting away to nothing -- well below the weight she was at the track, and even more below the weight she was once she was retired. We figured that since she was clearly going to die if she ate nothing, we'd tempt her with some different kinds of premium canned food. She's been eating well for the past several weeks, but even though her caloric consumption is decent, she's begun dropping weight again. And she's developed diarrhea -- including some incontinence. She's good for no more than 4 hours between trips outdoors -- which is why I'm awake at this hour. I have the late shift and my wife has the early shift of letting her out.
And we've got a decision. Do we take her to the vet to find out definitively what's wrong with her, even though it will be traumatic for her (she HATES visits to the vet) and it's unlikely that anything can be done to really improve the situation for a dog her age? Or do we simply make her as happy as possible for as long as we can? Or do we decide that the most merciful thing is to give her a humane exit while she still has somd dignity? I'm not really asking for advice, since nobody else is sitting here, but mainly thinking out loud.
The reason that I posted this is that if we're fortunate enough to make it to old age, we will all go through the stages that our greyhound is experiencing, and we need to think about what we want, AND WE NEED TO COMMUNICATE OUR WISHES TO THOSE WHO MAY BE MAKING THE DECISIONS FOR US AT THAT POINT. My mother broke a hip and then developed pneumonia just as she was moving from the middle to the late stages of Alzeheimer's at the age of 93. She had made it abundantly clear, when she was still mentally competent, that she would not want hospitalizations, IV antibiotics, or artificial hydration or nutrition at that point. But even though I KNEW what she wanted, refusing to permit her to be hospitalized one more time, or to be given IV antibiotics, was the most difficult decision of my life. I don't know what my decision would have been had she not made her wishes so clear, but I know positively that my anguish would have been much worse at the decision that I had to make.
If you care about those you love, PLEASE prepare a health care power of attorney and advance directives, and urge your loved ones to do the same. You don't need a lawyer to do this, since the forms are available online from all (or almost all) state attorney general's offices..