Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Frustrations of Age

Every time I see Baxter trotting along the beach with absolute glee I am reminded that age need not diminish one's joie de vivre. When we took the dogs to the coast last week, both Baxter and Kirby sprinted with glee as soon as we removed their leashes. But this time out, like the last couple of times, Baxter's sprint was short-lived and he soon settled into an easy lope.   

For a 12-1/2 year old dog, Baxter can still cover a lot of ground pretty quickly, as long as he can run straight ahead, but anything that requires a quick turn is problematic. At the beach, when a couple of younger dogs approached and wanted to instigate a chase, Kirby was quick to take them up on their offer. Baxter, however, seems to have finally resigned to the fact that he just can't play like that anymore. He gave the dogs a playful look and the slightest play-bow, then just took a couple of steps and stopped to watch the action as the younger dogs circled around us. I could hear a hint of a whimper coming from him. He so wanted to engage in that chase, but his hips just said "no way."

It is hard to watch a dog that still has so much verve being held back by his aging body. He can still get up on the couch (thanks to a step my husband made), but we now need to lift him into the car. We've started giving him S3 chews, which seem to have helped put a little more spring in his step, and aspirin (OK'd by the vet for occasional use) seems to ease his discomfort when he obviously over-does it at the beach.

But in the past couple of weeks, for the first time since he was a small puppy, Baxter has been hesitant to climb the stairs. My husband and I each have offices in the upper level of our house, so every morning the dogs dutifully follow us upstairs and then the dogs make the rounds from one office to the other throughout the day. But lately, instead of following us, Baxter stays downstairs and after a few minutes he barks with a rather shrill tone, as if to say "hey, you guys left me down here!" When we go down to see what's the matter, he just stands there at the base of the stairs, as if he were waiting for something. With a little encouragement, he then makes his way up the stairs along with us, and he moves surprisingly well.

I don't know if he's feeling pain or if he's just not confident that his legs won't buckle and he wants someone there to go up the stairs with him, just in case. Either way, he doesn't seem to be suffering any ill effects once he gets on level ground. But all this just serves to remind me that Baxter is getting older, that despite the eagerness of the front half of his body, he does have some arthritis and nerve issues with his hips and back legs and they just don't work like they used to. It is clearly frustrating to him. And, frankly, it is frightening for me. At times it's all I can do to keep my mind from racing to the inevitable.

I was encouraged when the vet told us that, other than his hindquarters, the rest of Baxter's body is very healthy for his age. He eats well, poops well (which sounds gross unless you are a dog person...we know), sleeps well and still likes to play from time to time. He loves lying down on the patio next to me on warm summer days when I take my laptop outside. He revels in his morning walk which isn't quite as fast as it used to be (but I'm enjoying the lack of pulling). These are the things I hang onto, when my mind starts racing forward. 

Baxter is still Baxter. He loves life. And I love every minute I spend with him.