Last year the lady who works with our vet warned that fifteen is an extremely good age for this breed of dog and that vague symptoms I’d noticed were indicative of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Until then Kimberley and I had been unaware that this could affect animals.
Although Daisy’s appetite remains unaffected, her muscle tone deteriorated and this combined with occasionally sunken eyes makes her look gaunt and malnourished. Changes in her behaviour have been the most obvious indication that all is not well. She sometimes seems to forget where she is and spends ages standing in corners, apparently quite content but just standing. She also wants to be as close as possible, particularly to me. When it happens during the morning rush, or while I’m busy up and down the length of the kitchen preparing a meal or washing dishes, it becomes extremely frustrating. Last week I tried to avoid walking on her and accidentally picked up a roasting pan that had just come out of the oven instead of the adjacent dish. Yelling was an instinctive reaction to the pain but all it did was leave me feeling lousy – and with a red hand.
Possibly the hardest new habit to cope with is her nocturnal restlessness. She sleeps soundlessly during the day and evening, at the most acrobatic angles at times as she adjusts to her location, usually on a cushion alongside the freezer. I hate closing her out of my bedroom as that’s where she wants to be when I’m there, but I’m losing track of how many times I’ve had to function on a minimum of sleep after she’s had a disturbed night. Up and down she’ll pace, down the passage and back, around the bedroom, up and over a packet of clothing awaiting disposal, bump into the bed, and then a cupboard door, before going back down the passage. And then rustle around in a pile of shoes for an hour or two before she’ll settle down. Twice now she’s bumped the bathroom door and been closed inside until we found her in the morning – fast asleep at last.
She hasn’t become incontinent like most dogs I know of, odd drips or ‘leaks’. In fact, I’m not even sure that she is incontinent. On occasional nights her bladder just loses all sense of moderation or fair play and she’ll lose what looks like litres of urine. It doesn’t smell but the sheer volume indicates that it has to be from her bladder. She’s always been a meticulously clean little dog and we’ve often been amused by the hours she spent ‘house-keeping’ her kennel.
She has become stubborn about going out on her pre-bedtime “pee break”. In fact, these days I more often than not have to push her out of the door, although it is only going to be for five or ten minutes. Even a matter of a few months ago, she and Storm and I would go for a short walk around the garden ; she’d break first and do her bit which immediately prompted Storm to rush up and do his bigger-and-better-bit on top of it. Cool, then we’d all go back inside and prepare for bed with beaming bladders.
The most worrying aspect at the moment is that, after a lifetime of communal living and navigating parking lots of sectional title developments, she has become completely car-unsavvy. Thankfully our two fellow tenants are very understanding and keep their eyes peeled for her when they’re in their cars. She and I have developed a routine and I know to watch out for her next to my door when I drive out of the garage in the morning, and she stands behind the car on my righthand side so I can see her when I reverse in at the end of the day.
The distrust of cats that marked her earlier life has been replaced by acceptance and even fondness for Kirby and they are often seen parked off on the lawn next to each other. On cold evenings he even gets away with curling up next to her on her cushion. One particularly cold night we found him curled up halfway on top of her.
Fortunately there is no question about her quality of life. Her appetite remains keen, some days her eyes are as bright and shiny as they’ve ever been, she is in no discomfort that we can discern ; and so we all adapt as she goes through changes we can do nothing to alleviate.
Right now I’m screaming inside.
The only light side I can see is telling colleagues on the mornings after broken nights that I’m grey and haggard because my dog’s getting old. I’m only fifty, she’s almost fifteen.