Friday, November 5, 2004

Elderly pooch hobbled, but still loved

Married with children

By Patricia Gallagher Newberry
Enquirer contributor

The days are dwindling for our dear dog.

Halfway between his 13th and 14th years, ol' Bingy the bassett hound is in decline.

He's slow and stiff, with wobbly back legs. He's lumpy and bumpy with benign cysts or scars from their removal. He's dropped several teeth. His hearing is shot. He won't go out and then he won't come in.

Last week, my husband wondered aloud if dogs can develop Alzheimer's. I think Bing's just stubborn, like a curmudgeonly old neighbor. "I'm 131/2," I imagine him thinking. "I'll take as long as I dern please to walk down the stairs, dadgummit."

He's certainly earned the right to be a little cranky.

Our first baby, Bing was played with each day, walked each evening and welcomed to the foot of our bed each night.

Then came the first human baby and a little less attention. Then came a new house, a second baby, another new house, and another baby.

With each change, poor Bing's station in life slipped ever lower, with days passing between even acknowledgement that we owned a pet. Some days, I would ask the kids, "Has anyone seen the dog lately?"

The pup was primed for revenge when we made our latest move, about a year ago.

He found easy targets in the kitchen, making sport of tipping over the garbage can and nudging open the snack cabinet as often as possible. Finally stymied by new latches on the cabinet doors, he now lingers in front of them and makes me play dodge-a-dog when making a meal.

Over time, we've made peace with our pal's peculiarities.

We know he fears no stranger and so we don't expect protection.

We know he sheds like crazy and so we vacuum as needed.

We know his eating habits - he must bark at his food and we must yell at him to stop - and we indulge him in his ritual.

We know his breed is prone to obesity and so we feed him low-fat chow to counter the cookies he steals from children.

We know he won't stop dancing at the door until he's had a walk.

We know that a walk is a slow sniff-and-search mission.

We know, in his condition, that he'll need a boost up the stairs at the end of the walk.

At his age, Bing is off the canine actuary charts, which call for bassets to live between 10 and 12 years. We accepted months ago that we'd entered the "kind comfort" phase of dog ownership, seeking not so much to extend his years but make them happy and pain-free.

I had long planned to write "An Obit for Dog" to mark Bing's demise. But as the end nears, I recall what people often say when parents or spouses die: "I wish I'd told him I loved him more often when he was alive."

So, today, I offer a pre-passing tribute to an old and fading friend: I love you, Bingy, bumps and all.


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