Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Sheepdogs Turn 75

Duffy (Foreground, black ear) and Mike (white head) at Mt. Airy Forest with Sophie

Dear George,
Our Old English Sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, are ten and 3/4 years old this month.  If you count one dog year as equivalent to seven human years, that’s about age seventy-five.  Such a shock.  When we got them as two-month-old puppies, we were 60 times as old as they were.  Now we’re all the same age.  People on the street are always amazed when they ask how old the dogs are because they have the looks and manner of youngsters.  However, they’ve clearly become senior citizens.  In the past they’ve always come rushing when I arrive home and put my key in the lock, but now they usually don’t hear the key.  They’re less keen on going out for walks, and they struggle more in climbing up the stairs.  Mike, in particular, prefers to hop up with both of his back legs together.  Duffy has taken to barking at the top of his voice whenever Katja calls to me from the other room.  I’m not sure if this is a matter of jealousy, excitement, misguided helpfulness, or simply a muddled mind.  Despite these frailties, though, we adore the doggies more each month that goes by.

We took the Mike and Duffy to the animal hospital recently for their annual checkup, and the vet said they were doing well for their age.  One of the technicians gave us a flyer for a special “Wellness Exam for Senior Dogs” which included testing every bodily organ for every known malady that could possibly inflict an older dog.  It would cost about $1200 for the two dogs and reaffirmed my belief that the sole motive of our animal hospital is making exorbitant profits.  When the vet came in, I mentioned to her that we’d been taking Mike and Duffy to a dog chiropractor to help with their arthritic hips.  She said that was good, then added that their hospital has a new liquid form of glucosamin/chondroitin for arthritis that can be injected monthly and is more effective than the pill form (which she’d previously prescribed for the dogs).  Injections would cost $1260 for the two dogs per year. Since their pills cost about $75 a year, that struck me as a little extravagant.  Katja was all ready to write out a big check.  When I disagreed, the vet excused herself from the room, and my thriftier but less generous voice won out.

A few months ago we took a day trip with Duffy and Mike along the Ohio River and stopped for a mid-afternoon lunch at Augusta, Kentucky.  We were pleased to find that the town’s best restaurant allowed dogs at their outdoor patio tables.  We’d only been seated there a few minutes when Mike decided to throw up his entire breakfast on the slate floor next to our table.  Moments later a couple came in and began to sit down next to the mess.  I warned them off, and, when a waitress came by, I explained that we’d had a mishap and that I’d be glad to clean it up if she could bring some paper towels.  I guess these are the risks that a dog-friendly establishment takes.  I couldn’t even remember the last time that Mike had thrown up, and it was ironic that he selected the only dog-friendly restaurant he’s ever been to for such a clearly unfriendly act.     

After Katja’s shoulder replacement surgery in the autumn, the nurse said we definitely shouldn’t allow the dogs in the bed at night because of the risk of their bumping into Katja and dislocating her new shoulder.  Katja didn’t think such extreme action was necessary, but I went ahead and built a barricade around the bed of desk chairs, laundry hampers, waste baskets, and small end tables.  The dogs were entirely bewildered and sat at the edge of the barricade each night staring at us soulfully.  After three or four nights Katja couldn’t stand it anymore and removed all the impediments while I was out of the house.  The dogs were visibly grateful.  In fact, they turned out to be extremely well-mannered in the bed, perhaps sensing that Katja was injured (or that missteps on their part would result in permanent banishment). 

Our bed is fairly high off the floor, and, while I’ve been helping Mike get in for some time, it’s only been lately that I’ve been doing the same for Duffy, his more agile brother.  The hitch is that, whichever dog is in the bed first (normally Mike), that dog starts barking incessantly when I start to lift up the second dog.  That, in turn, elicits a lot of counter-barking by the second dog.  It gets so noisy we can’t hear a word on the TV.  I don’t normally take the uproar too seriously since the dogs calm down once they’re both laying down in bed.  Recently, though, their standoff was more intense than normal, and, the moment I hoisted Duffy up, he launched into a vicious attack on Mike.  Katja grabbed Mike, I grabbed Duffy, and we pulled them apart.  Once they’d settled down, Katja checked Mike for bites.  At first she didn’t see anything, but then she discovered a large bloody gash just under his left eye.  We took Mike to a neighborhood vet first thing in the morning, and the vet said it was lucky that Duffy had missed the eyeball.  She put a liquid with dye into Mike’s eye to see if his tear ducts had been torn, but they were o.k.  Because of the wound’s location, the vet gave us an antibiotic in the form of tear drops since any medication was likely to wind up in his eye as well as in the wound.  I’m still lifting the dogs into the bed at night, though I’m definitely more cautious and alert to the hazards.

When we arrived home a while back Katja walked into the dining room and was startled to find one of the Venetian blinds from the living room window lying on the floor, some 25 or 30 feet away from its normal location.  Then she noticed that a sofa end-table had been tipped over as well.  We surmised that one of the dogs, probably Duffy, had gotten up on the leather chair next to the living room window and somehow gotten tangled in the Venetian blind cords, pulling the entire apparatus off the wall and dragging it across the room.  It must have been terrifying, and we felt badly that we hadn’t been there.  I tried putting the Venetian blind back up on the wall, but it appeared to be damaged.  After some pushing and pulling and bending of its various parts I was pleasantly surprised that it seemed to be working again.  This seemed to have been an entirely freak accident, and I’m trusting it will never happen again. 

I try to take the dogs out for a 1.4 mile walk each day, though that’s slowed down in our wintry weather.  Mike never wants to go along, and he retreats to the leather chair in the living room as soon as I start to put their collars on.  He seems to think the chair a safe place where I won’t see him.  I go and get him, and he growls at me, but I’m usually persistent.  Outside I need to drag both dogs along for the first half a block or more.  They usually start moving on their own by the time we reach Morrison Ave., three blocks away.  When we circle around and get back to the other end of Ludlow Ave., Duffy goes into a panic mode because of the possibility of encountering skateboards in our business district.  Panting and straining at his choke collar, he pulls Mike and I all the way home.  I’m just glad the dogs can still do a reasonably long walk, especially Mikey with his arthritic hips.  I’m sure it’s good for my joints too. 

Sheepdogs are large dogs, and their life expectancies aren’t that long.  Vets tend to estimate ten years, while the average report from owners is 12.48.  I am going with the owners.  In a way, it’s comforting that we humans and dogs are all growing older together.  The dogs, of course, are aging at a quicker pace than the humans.  I see an important part of my current mission as making life as enjoyable and rewarding as possible for the doggies in their remaining years.  That might be a lesson that applies to human beings as well.

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