In Praise of Elder Dogs

This blog is created in celebration of the elder dogs, of any breed, who've touched our hearts. You are invited to add your own reflections, or, if you wish, track the progress of your own elder dogs. ("Elder," BTW, is defined here as 10 years or more, except in breeds known for shorter lifespans, such as the Great Dane.) Send your stories and photos to me at branta(at)

My Photo
Location: Hunt, Texas, United States

I've been privileged to share my life with five unforgettable Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. This blog was inspired by Cooper, my first, whose indominatable bright spirit triumphed over his limitations. Every day of his life, till the very end, he woke joyously, happy to greet the day. I would wish the same for all of us!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Update - June 2009

I'm happy to announce that this seemingly long-forgotten blog, established largely to document the later life and demise of our beloved Cooper, lives again.

We'll be soliciting photos and stories about elder dogs, with "elder" loosely defined as 10 years or older, except in breeds (such as the Great Dane) whose life expectancies tend to be shorter than others.

This is your opportunity to share your stories of elder dogs, living or at The Bridge, who've touched your life in some meaningful way.

If you have a photo or story to share, please send them to me at branta(at) Thanks!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gracious People, Lovely Dogs

We went to a dog show in a nearby city yesterday and met some delightful people. Because of a tight schedule, we were able to stay for just a few hours. Despite the two-hour drive (which included getting lost in the city) each way, we were glad we went.

One delightful surprise was meeting someone who had been a perfect stranger (I thought!) but turned out to know Cooper from our postings on the Hoflin Cavalier mailing list and through this blog. She recognized his picture on my shirt and even knew to refer to him as "Little CheeseBoy," a name we'd come to call him during his last few weeks. What happened was this: once we realized his time was short, we through all the usual dietary restrictions to the wind and let him eat whatever he wanted -- in minuscule quantities, of course. But like many dogs, Cooper lived for cheese ... so cheese he got.

I continue to be grateful and amazed, and sometimes a little surprised, at the warmth and kindness of Cavalier people we meet. Here are more of them, both from yesterday's show:

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tessie's New Life As An "Only" Dog

Our new life -- a life without Cooper -- has begun. I can't tell you exactly when mourning slipped away. But I know there was an afternoon last week or even the week before when, after finishing an hour of pool exercise, I realized that a whole hour had passed without thinking of him. There must have been a moment when, for the first time in so many years, we didn't instinctively, automatically, reflexively listen for his breath or tread carefully to avoid stepping on him in the dark. There must have been a moment when the depression lifted, when happiness displaced despair, but I can't say when or where we were when that happened.

We enjoyed a bit of cheese at lunch today and smiled as we remembered Cooper. We can now say his name without tears. I can handle his collar without breaking down.

Gradually, very gradually, Tessie (13) has been easing into her exciting new role as an "Only Dog." Initially, after Cooper passed, she was as distant as ever, keeping largely to herself and emerging only for meals, at which she did all she could to out-eat her brother. Like most elder dogs, she slept much of the day and night, often oblivious, it seemed, to where I was. Now, however, she stays close day and night, enjoying all the pleasures and privileges of only-dogdom -- a first for her.

As I move about the house all day, she comes with me ... not obsessively, but as Cooper used to do. As I work at my desk, she dozes in a Moses basket by my feet. Sometimes I inch my foot closer to feel her warm muzzle against my leg.

This is the quiet, reserved, even subdued dog I thought would never emerge from her brother's shadow. Initially, as we grieved for Cooper and she stayed remote, I found myself grumbling, "This is like not having a dog." But with the passing days -- and again, I can't tell you when it began, whether in a moment or gently over time -- Tessie stepped into her new life and we reached out to welcome her.

We have a new dog. And she has new people.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

His Work Continues...

Cooper's made the local papers! Please see

The young reporter did a terrific job, and thanks go to the Kerrville Daily Times for helping us get the word out: first, that "old" doesn't mean "dead," and that it's never wise to underestimate someone else or what they can do. Thanks to the Kerrville Daily Times for keeping Cooper's mission alive -- sharing hope, optimism, faithfulness, and fervent commitment to living life as fully as possible, for as long as one's privileged to do so!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Hidden among the many messages of comfort and encouragement we've received was this small press release from the Media staff (probably Jack Russell terriers, LOL) at the Rainbow Bridge. --Editor


RAINBOW BRIDGE -- A great, multicolored cloud of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels has gathered in the outdoor pavilion at the Rainbow Bridge to celebrate the arrival of a new resident, Cooper (a.k.a., "CheeseBoy"), 15, of Hunt, Texas. The pawty has apparently been in progress since Monday afternoon, when Cooper gulped his last bit of gorganzola just as his spirit was being freed for the journey.

Cooper later reported that the journey was quick, painless, even easy. "There's cheese here," he explained, "and girls. Girls, girls, girls -- beautiful girls!" Best of all, he added, was having back that which had been taken from him in his earthly sojurn: mobility, youthfulness, and the ability to fully appreciate and enjoy the company of all those beautiful girls.

Cooper is survived by his sister, Tessie, also of Hunt, Texas, who had reportedly been using him as furniture during his last days and has, according to their human mum, still shown no signs of noticing his absence beyond an interest in his cheese.

He leaves behind a devoted immediate family in Texas, Virginia, Heidelberg (particularly Lia and Eva), and innumerable friends -- both human and canine -- around the world.

While the will has not yet been read, a normally reliable source has suggested that his seemingly limitless stash of cheese will likely be consumed over time by his human family and his apparently ungrateful sister, who will now have to find something else (uh, like a pillow!) to lie on.

Memorial donations may be made to the Cavalier Rescue organization of the donor's choosing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Death with Dignity -- and Cheese

As Cooper was passing, my husband John and I were looking for, and seeing, different things. What John saw was a stouthearted little soldier dying with dignity, even raising his paw to the vet as he was about to receive the injection. This was not a cheap, cutesy, anyone-can-do-it "gimme-your-paw" trick, something that Cooper never did; John saw it as the eloquent gesture of a brave fellow who had come to understand that his work here was done, or that if it were not done, it would be taken on by someone else.

I was by John's deft, near sacramental administration of cheese (see previous post) and Cooper's readiness to accept it. The Brave Little Cheeseboy's gone to the Bridge, and our lives are forever changed.

Somewhere out there is Cooper's successor. Tempting as it may be to run out and try to find him right now, we'll wait and let him find us, just as Cooper did. The best dogs do that, I think: they find us, rather than the other way around. We go to the shelter, the pound, and one speaks to us from behind the wires. We read the postings at the vet's office and a small, scribbled card calls to us. A friend say, "A breeder I know these puppies you might want to take a look at."

Like Cooper's dying, it will happen in God's own good time. Meanwhile, the next time we sit down to a bit of cheese, we will remember this Little Man, this Grand Old Man, who touched our lives and so many others.
Thank you, Little CheeseBoy....

Cooper's at The Rainbow Bridge

Cooper's Last Photo - February 20, 2006.

Cooper passed to the Rainbow Bridge yesterday afternoon at approximately 4:40 p.m. It was the right time, and the veterinary clinic staff, though new to us (our regular vet was out of town), couldn't have been more sensitive or supportive.

To my surprise, just as the vet was about to administer the anesthetic, my husband said, "Wait," and pulled a small plastic box from his pocket. "Give him these," he directed, "let Cooper go to The Rainbow Bridge with cheese on his breath."

Inside the plastic box were three tiny fragments of gorgonzola I'd left with John when, exhausted from lack of sleep, I'd left Cooper in his care. As I dozed, John had has private time with Cooper. He offered the cheese, but Cooper didn't seem to know what to do with it. It was then John knew that today was indeed The Day. He woke me when Cooper stirred, ready to poop for what must have been the fiftieth time since this all began.

We were touched to have with us, at the unfamiliar clinic, the vet tech (Megan) from our regular vet's office, who'd closed her office early to say goodbye to Cooper and be with us at the end. [Tuesday: We have received more e-mail messages of condolences that we are currently able to answer. Please know that if you are one of the many who have extended condolences, or have thought of doing so, we appreciate your kindness very much and will respond when possible.]

The house still smells of the adventures of the past few days -- like poopy towels and fabric softener and dog shampoo from all those baths. Tomorrow it will smell like any other house, and Tessie will be, for the first time in her life, an Only Dog.

We are immensely grateful to all who have written privately and via the Hoflin Cavalier List. Some of the advice was spot-on, and helped immeasurably in making the decision. The rest was more comforting than I can say.

Cooper's blog will continue, honoring his sister and all the other dogs, Cavaliers or not, who have beaten the odds for their breed. For us, his sweet face will remain the logo, the symbol of all that's gentle and forgiving in this breed. Shortly before he died, I filmed him struggling to poop and falling over and into it. This is a video you don't want to see. This is not the image to remember. Tonight, please hold that little face in your heart and know that he and all the dogs we've ever loved is waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Gracious Acceptance: Kerry, 11

From a friend who does pet therapy: "Kerry (my pride and joy) turned 11 last December. She has developed quite a number of good-sized tumors and is on medication for bladder control. With this condition she is no longer involved with pet therapy as I know she cannot take the squeezing and pinching that everyone does to her when they see her but she would gladly accept the attention and look at me for support and intervention."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Interesting, Indeed

Just for the record, it's now 3:15 a.m. and we have experienced two further episodes of lower GI tract expulsion phenomena since the one last recorded here. There's a knee-high pile of bath towels on the bathroom floor and one very wet, tired doggie who doesn't understand what's happening to him. I've given up trying to sleep and pulled out one of my favorite English "cozy village" mysteries and will devote the rest of the morning to that, since there doesn't seem to be any point in trying to sleep around here if one is not of the canine persuasion.

We will make the best of this. And, on Monday, phone to thank the Vet Tech who's dealt with so many of these adventures lately while I was abroad. Must remember, too, to thank my husband, who has never before lived with "indoor" or geriatric or special-needs dogs, and never had children. So we, with all our stacks of bath towels and pungently scented emissions are indeed something new to him, but he's taking it with fortitude and grace. Lucky for us, he spent much of his career in or near chemical plants....

Another Interesting Day?

Looks like today (Sunday) will be another interesting day. After a day in which Cooper got up spontaneously and walked, twice, he slept till about 1:00 a.m. I woke to hear him panting loudly and rapidly and picked him up from the bassinet, which sets next to my side of the bed.

It wasn't clear what he wanted or where he wanted to go. He drank some water, but became more agitated and began barking loudly. I set him lying down on the cool, tiled bathroom floor, where he quickly evacuated the contents of his lower GI tract in a single shot. It was quite a bit, but fortunately landed at some distance from his body so cleanup was less onerous than it might have been. Some attention to the floor, a quick hygeine bath for him, and we were done.

For a moment there I was alarmed, because as my beloved black Lab lay dying years ago, he too lost his bowel contents in a mighty display of involuntary muscular activity. So with Cooper I naturally wondered, "Is this it?"

Well, apparently it's not. It's almost 2:00 a.m. and Cooper is sleeping soundly in my comfy wheeled office chair next to the hard wooden one upon which I now sit on at my desk. I, of course, am wide awake.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Just three or so years ago...

...Cooper was so much younger! Here he is at our first home in Texas, on the day it snowed. Snow falls here about once every ten years, and folks drive out from the city (San Antonio) the night before, sleeping in their cars so the kids can see snow!

"G'night, Little CheeseBoy" (Video)

COOPER STARRED IN HIS FIRST INTERNET FILM TODAY, a 91-second, 75 MB minidrama titled, "G'Night, Little CheeseBoy." This poignant tale illustrates two main points: one, how very much alive Cooper still is, as evidenced by his passion for cheese; and two, how far gone his senses are, as shown by his difficulty in sensing the presence of and locating cheese tidbits larger than the ones he's normally offered. To view the film, click on the link above (the title of this message, actually) or copy the following into your browser's address box. Be sure to delete the spaces after "share/" and after "=1000131/" which I've had to insert to get this ridiculously long URL into the space available here:

BTW, Cooper walked today. Not much -- just 10 or 15 feet from the kitchen into the Great Room. I didn't see him do it, so I don't know whether he made it in one try or whether it was a matter of rise up/flop down, try again, rise up/flop down ... a process of which he's by now a master.

UPDATE: He walked again! This time, for much longer. I'll provide details in the next posting.


COOPER HAS ALWAYS HAD, LIKE MANY DOGS, A FIRE IN HIS EYES THAT SPOKE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIM. So not surprisingly, one of the signals we had agreed to look for in determining when to let him go was the presence or absence of that always reliable readout: fire in his eyes, passion in his being. What with his recent, seemingly total, blindness, however, it's no longer possible to "read" his eyes to know how he's feeling. Shown above, his eyes in recent old age, before blindness; shown below, his eyes as they look today.

Were it not for the legendary power of cheese, which can always excite him, we would be giving up right about now. Hospice care means waking two or three times a night to change his diaper or help him change position; his hips and back legs are now almost useless. Though he can drag himself for short distances, he has to be carried virtually everywhere -- and now, in a major and significant change -- poops lying down. (For a couple of months I've been able to support his right hip as he squatted.)

I picked him up this morning and studied his eyes. There's something there, but more important, his tail was wagging. Viewers who watched the videos of the breed judging at Westminster (see couldn't miss the characteristic that sets this sweet-tempered breed apart from virtually all others: that proud, expressive tail and how it wags back and forth no matter what. The day cheese doesn't excite him and his tail stops wagging is the day we'll know we have to let him go.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


It's now nearly noon, less than 24 hours after we picked up Cooper and Tessie at the Vet's. I'm happy to report that TESSIE, is back to normal, neurologically and psychologically. She knows who I am and where she is. She wants to be held and loved; did a bit of head-rubbing this morning after her potty walk -- the sensation of pebbles between her toes has, in recent months, seemed to provoke a compulsive backward-kicking/scraping motion, which seems to be inexplicably tied to her neurological situation -- but is now pretty well indistinguishable from any other one-eyed elder Blenheim Cavalier.

COOPER, on the other hand, is still impaired. At one point he raised himself to stand, then stood standing proudly, wagging his tail. But newly blind, he didn't know where to go, and just stood there. I tried calling him, even using a bit of cheese as a lure, but he just stood, wagging and smiling, doing that wag-wag-wag thing for which Cavaliers are rightly known.

Bathing him in the kitchen sink, I found him weaker than ever before. For months it's been necessary to place him in the sink and bathe him lying down. Today, I had to not only support him on my elbow, but had to add a folded towel to serve as a pillow for his chin.

If he recovers from these new developments, it will be a miracle. If he doesn't, then he and his life -- rather than any sudden, end-of-life turnaround -- will be the miracle.

As Tessie was recovering from her seizure this morning, I was watching the on-line video of the breed judging at Westminster, enjoying all those precious little faces and the perpetually waving tails. It was powerful to sit there, one eye on the video screen and the other on Tessie, with an ear tuned to Cooper's breathing, and know that the one thing that sets this wonderful breed apart from all others is the lovely temperament they share, virtually without exception. It was powerful to see those at Westminster in the prime of life, and to sit with my two -- of less distinguished breeding -- at their advanced ages, and feel profoundly grateful to the man who bred mine. Reaching 15 in this breed is an extraordinary accomplishment, and I bless this man daily for having made whatever choices he did that helped bring about such an angelic presence in my life as these two little Cavaliers!

Another Seizure for Tessie; Cooper in Decline

THIS BLOG HAS BEEN QUIET. I've just returned from two necessary weeks abroad, where I was privileged to assist with grandchildren as the family welcomed yet another. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was board Cooper and Tessie, but there was no other choice; when dogs outlive the expectations for their breed, life goes on, and trips planned must sometimes be taken.

I returned, however, to find my two elders in decline -- the worst we've seen so far. TESSIE, who'd largely slept, seizure-free, for the two weeks, reportedly had a small one during her bath and spent the rest of the day dazed and dozing. She seemed not to recognize me when we picked her up; perked up a bit when we arrived home; and slept for hours and hours, pausing only to poop, lick my face, and go back to sleep.

Up with Cooper in the pre-dawn hours (he was whimpering, trying to settle into a comfortable postion), I returned to bed at five-something, only to wake a few minutes later to hear Tessie in the midst of a full-blown seizure. It seemed milder than the early ones described here, before she was on Phenobarbitol, but it was more than the "small" ones in which she simply stares into space as if migrating briefly into an alternate reality. Her legs were extended, stiff; her eyes, lost in space; she salivated profusely. Yet it ended quickly, and when the worst was over, she looked up at me, cocked her head, and recognized me for the first time since dropping her off at the Vet's in early February! Another kiss -- she's never been a "kisser" till lately -- just a bit of pacing, and now she's back to sleep.

COOPER is in the worst shape I've ever seen him in. Over the past two weeks he appears to have lost vision in both eyes. His hips and legs are stiff and sore, and he's barely walked since we came back from the vet. He's had no difficulty recognizing me or our home, and responded enthusiastically to the offer of tiny dabs of port-wine cheddar cheese.

I'm hoping to see a turnaround today, as they realize that they're home and I'm here. For the first time, ever, the Vet volunteered that Cooper's time with us may be short. I don't recall his words, but the message was clear. Any day now could be "The Day." I just hope I'll know when the time is right. Most people would probably have put a dog in his condition down by now; some, I suspect, would have done it well before we even began to consider it. But now that we don't have to get up and go to work any more, and have no travel planned in the immediate future, we can provide the kind of hospice or pre-hospice care these elders need.

I've always said I wouldn't put Cooper down until the fire in his eyes went out. With both eyes blind now, it's hard to see the "fire." But as long as his tail still wags and he leaps at the promise of cheese, we'll just keep on keeping on and hope to do the right thing when the time comes.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

With a sound like Niagara Falls...

...Cooper's heart beats under my hand. For the first time, I can almost hear it. The beat is fast and hard. I hold him close. Gradually it slows and I wonder, "Is this it?"

There are so many times like this, so many times I wonder whether we're doing him any favors keeping him alive like this, on heart medications identical to those my beloved hubby takes. But my husband's heart doesn't rumble beneath my hand; nor does his physician put down his stethescope and say, "I almost don't need this." Our vet's trained ear can practically hear my dog's heart beating without benefit of instrumentation.

This picture shows Tessie and Cooper just a year or so ago, when Cooper weighed nearly 20 pounds. Back in September, he weighed 16.5 pounds. A week or two ago, 14.5 pounds. He's lost a quarter of his body weight in about a year. Yet his appetite remains strong, and when he's not sleeping (which is most of the time) he seems happy to be alive. So we've asked our sewing friend to trim his diapers back and make us some smaller ones...two dozen this time, since the Lasix seems to be working like gangbusters. That broad back you see in this picture isn't broad any more, but only about four to five inches at its narrowest. In a way that's good, because there's less pressure on his hips and he's much easier to carry -- and he needs to be carried a lot lately.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Cubbison Hairy-Bear, at the Bridge

Cubby wasn't an elder, but one who died much too young. Thanks to Karen S. for sharing his story.

I had a Cavalier die during a seizure. Cubby was only three (almost four). He had his first seizure in late October in 2002, and died while seizing the following January 7, so he did not live with the condition long. The vet, after a few seizures, put him on potassium bromide. He still seized every couple of weeks. He would usually seize late at night. I would watch his head go back and body stiffen when it was beginning. Then, when it was over, he would pace. We were told not to worry, that he would live a long life in spite of the condition. I could tell he felt poorly near the end. I did not notice any head rubbing, though.

One thing our vet gave us was valium. She said it would immediately relax him and stop the seizure. It was a liquid in a needle that we were to squirt in his mouth when the seizure began. The first time we used it, it seemed like a blessing. The seizure was shortened. The second time, I was concerned: He seemed blind. He would walk (pace), but would walk into walls. Very sad. It relaxed him so much that his legs would splay out and he’d go through the walking motions, and looked like a turtle upside down.

We used it the third time on the morning he died. I think he was dead before we got the valium into him.

We were up around 5:00 a.m., drinking coffee, and he came over to me and wanted to be held. I could tell he did not feel well. I picked him up and he settled on my lap, then gave a pathetic little whimper/cry, looking at me. He was having pain. Then the seizure began and I picked him up and took him to the sofa, yelling to hubby to get the valium. But the valium came rolling out of his mouth, because he was dead. The only positive thing was that it was super quick. That was the bad thing too, because it was such a shock to us, to have him living, then dead in the space of 30-45 seconds.

I have no idea if he had a tumor, or Syringomyelia (SM). He certainly had no symptoms of SM prior to the seizures.

I know this is a gut-wrenchingly emotional time for you. My concern for Cubby was such that I thought I’d go nuts. Having a dog with seizures, but needing to be away from home from time to time was very hard on me. My heart was always with him. I think from reading, that you’re able to be home with Cooper and Tessie. If so, you’re fortunate, as are they.

We did not expect Cubby to die, and had given no thought to burial. After he had died, I put him in his crate (with the top off), and posed him, and took pictures. I caressed him and “made sure he was dead.” It was such a precious time, and I am grateful to have the memories. I guess we spent about two hours with him. Then, because we were in shock and didn’t really know our options, we drove him to the vet's office for “disposal.” If I had it to do over again, he would be cremated, and I would keep his ashes. I had never had to deal with a deceased dog until that day.

I hope something in what I’ve written will stir up some thoughts or insights that will help during this trying time.

--Karen & Regis Heartwarmer - Cubbison Hairy-Bear, at the Bridge

Friday, January 20, 2006


Last night I woke to Cooper's whimpering in the bassinet next to our bed. Found a very full diaper, and a sleepy occupant wishing to sleep somewhere other than that silly bassinet. So I changed his Poise Pad and set him on the floor next to his sister, covering him with a soft pink towel.

Just before dawn, I couldn't find him anywhere. Tessie was snoring happily, but there was no Cooper in sight. I checked his favorite spots, but there was no sign of him anywhere. As the sun came up I could see a bit better and remembered placing the towel over him a few hours before. And there he was, with Tessie firmly planted on top of him.

They rarely do this; as I've written before, they're rather like an old married couple who have come to take each other's presence for granted. Sometimes, they'll sleep back-to-back, but it's years since they slept this way -- close and warm, close and warm.


While a number of indignities seem to inevitably accompany the aging process, we elder dogs must often endure additional embarrassments at the hands of otherwise well intentioned keepers. Consider the above, in which I am dragged about the house in a wheeled cart. It's cozy, all right, and that was not a particularly good day, mobility-wise, but really, Mother ... really!

Signs of Head-Rubbing

I'm not proud of these photos as evidence of my housekeeping prowess (or interest), but it seems appropriate to share them. I didn't realize the extent of Tessie's head-rubbing until I noticed that the back of our couch, adjacent to an outer corner of wall and woodwork, was in perpetual need of cleaning and vacuuming. As a test, I left the wall uncleaned, the woodwork unscrubbed, and the couch unvacuumed for a few weeks. (Uh, months.) This is what I saw: brown goo on the wall and woodwork, and dog hair embedded in the couch -- so deeply embedded, even masking tape hair lifters didn't work as well as I'd hoped.

The photos told me that Tessie was rubbing the right side of her head far more, and more often, than I thought she was. Watching her more closely now, I have the sense that her head pain comes and goes. It's probably always present, but sometimes it seems to be worse than others.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Nope, it wasn't!

SO THIS WASN'T THE DAY FOR COOPER TO DIE. I spent much of the day, after his bath, holding him on my lap, swaddled in thick, soft towels. I gave him half a Rimadyl. He slept. As we left for the vet shortly before 4:00 p.m., I wasn't sure we would be bringing him back -- he still couldn't support his weight on his front legs. It seemed as if all systems would fail, one at a time, and we'd likely be bereaved by evening.

I carried him into the vet's office. The vet checked him over, suspected something spinal, listened to a late-onset, Grade 6 heart murmur that roars like Niagra Falls, issued him a new supply of thyroid meds, authorized an increase in his Rimadyl dosage, and then wrote a prescription for his sister's seizure medicine. We talked some ... and as we were finishing up, Cooper raised himself on his front legs, stood up an all four -- and walked!

This, the very same dog who did such a good imitation of Death Warmed Over this morning. This, the dog who not only could not walk, but could not even stand, gave brief thought to chasing a cat, but stopped adbruptly when his back legs wouldn't follow the front ones and he sank to the floor. This, the dog who could not rise from his bed this morning to claim a speck of his beloved Gorgonzola, but strolled into the kitchen tonight and asked, "So where's my dinner?"

I remember the last time I'd carried Cooper into the vet's office, how tenderly the vet took him from me and how tenderly he carried him back into the examining room. You can say what you want about Texas, but there are gracious, loving people here, and we are grateful for every one of them.

And once again, I'm reminded of Cooper's indefatigable bright spirit. And once again, of the importance of not burying anyone till they're dead.

Is This The Day?

Is it love, or is it gorgonzola?
This isn't a good day from Cooper.
But while we worried, "Is this the day?"
and fed him bits of gogonzola,
his sister made sure no
piquant nibbles slipped away.

Cooper woke late this morning, agitated and looking every which way, with one eye so swollen I thought it might pop out. He ate eagerly, but kept his head cocked oddly and keep looking every which way. For the first time, ever, he is as weak in his front end as he is in the back. I gave him a warm, lying-down bath, cradled in my arms, in the kitchen sink. Then I wrapped him in warm towels and let him fall asleep in my arms, the two of us lying in a recliner. (This is the first time, ever, that he's done that, too. Lately he's enjoyed being swaddled and has been willing to sleep in the crook of my arm, but never in a chair like this.)
Post-bath, post-nap; I settled him into a wheeled cart so I could move him about as I did chores. This isn't right. He doesn't look right, sound right, or feel right. We see the vet at 4:00 today. Never has he had a day like this! I'm afraid this may be the day we've dreaded for so long.


HERE'S MY KEEPER. He came to me as a rescue (thanks, Barb!) when he was estimated to be 13. He lived for another 364 days before he died of lymphoma. Keeper had just about every problem possible...he was deaf, blind in one eye, allergic to everything in the world, very unsteady legs, yada, yada. He was SO sweet, affectionate and gentle...never asked for anything except to be warm and held close. He was one-in-a-million and I'm grateful for each and every day he was with us. -- Winnie C.

If you have (or had) an elder dog you'd like to honor, send a photo and we'll post it (and your story) here.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


IT'S HARD TO SLEEP. One of the Listers sent me a lengthy letter about losing her young Cavalier to seizures. It's so important to put all these things -- even the saddest things -- into words, and I will treasure her story and tell her so when I can bring myself to it. At the same time, I go to bed each night wondering if this will be The Night -- not for Cooper, who I finally realized is simply old, and he'll go when he goes (I like to think of it's being "when God's lonely for a brave little Spaniel") -- but for Tessie, who's not only old, but likely has some terrible disease.

To some extent it's the drama of these seizures. For generations my family on my mother's side, even into this generation, has been hostage to fear of seizures. We've had all kinds: febrile, traumatic, non-epileptiform (induced by driving along a country road beneath a canopy of sun-dappled leaves!), and even full-blown epileptic ones a couple of generations ago. I am determined to live not as a hostage, but sleep still doesn't come as automatically or swiftly as it once did. I get through them calmly -- perhaps a bit numb -- but we get through them together, while Cooper and my husband sleep undisturbed.

Sometimes I think I'll never have two dogs so close in age again: I'll let one age as one grows. But then I hear of young ones dying, and it seems that there are no strategies to insulate myself from the pain of anticipated or actual loss. I honor the courage of those who welcome love despite the risks that come with it. I meet so many people who once loved a dog (or spouse or partner) but won't risk loving another because the pain of losing the one was too great. I don't want to be that person. I absolutely believe that God brings us precisely the creatures and the challenges we need, when we need them, and in the manner that will best teach us to be wholly human. Trusting that, I am grateful to be the one awake with Tessie through these episodes. St. Paul wrote, "In everything, give thanks." Even in this. Perhaps especially in this.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


It's happened again -- for a second night, at about the same time (~4:00 a.m.) Tessie's had another seizure. It's a "shallow" (my word) seizure again, without the heavy, rapid snoring of last night. But the foaming is the same, the staring, relatively little rigidity. I wrap her bottom in a towel (she's lost urine again, this time lots), set her on the bed and let it happen. When it's over, she who rarely wants to be held, rests in my arms. She asks to get down, paces a bit, then comes back to be held again. The pacing is less this time. At first her front legs, as last night, won't hold her. But she quickly regains her stance and paces more -- less than last night. Unlike last night, she keeps returning to me almost as a checkpoint. She wants to lie down, does so, then rises again to walk some more. Still, the pacing doesn't have the automotonic quality of last night. Throughout this morning's seizure, she seems less "possessed," more present. These two nights' seizures, while close in time (closer than ever before), seem somehow shallower, shorter than the previous ones. After about an hour of neurological oddity, she's ready, I think, to go back to bed ... and so am I.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Another Pre-Dawn Seizure for Tessie

SEIZURE: IT'S HAPPENED AGAIN. Again, in the early hours of morning, as we all lay sleeping, I wake to hear Tessie snoring very loudly. I wait to make sure it's unusual snoring, then get up, turn on the room light, then pick her up and put her on the bed. Yes, she's lost urine (not typical for her) and is panting and salivating foam, eyes fixed on a distant nowhere. Yet this seizure seems less deep than the one before: she's not "gone," but is somehow aware that I am with her. We wait for it to pass, just five minutes or so. She's back ... and the pacing begins. Different from previous episodes: she stumbles as her front legs splay before her. Two or three times, I help her stand. She walks the length of the house, twice walking around a life-size plaster Sandicast sort of dog figure we keep on the dining room floor. I take her outside, but she seems puzzled, so we go back inside and she continues pacing. Again, it's not like before; her pacing this morning lacks the "driven" quality of previous seizures. But she visits her favorite spots, as before: the bathroom wall, her sleeping area, out to the other end of the house, up and down the galley kitchen, and back again. Still, she's not transfixed by invisibles as before.
She seems to get headaches, and the right side of her head often feels warmer than the left. She engages in head-rubbing so insistent that she's marked the wall and the back of the couch. (I'll post photos later.) This points to the possibility of terrible, virtually incurable disease. We're not sure what to do. The vet doesn't want to start her on anti-seizure meds till they become more frequent. A neurology workup, with MRI or CAT scan, will be very expensive. She's 13. What do we do now?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

HANDSOME THUNDER, a Cavalier mix, lived seven months beyond his fourteenth birthday.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

CHRISTMAS DAY, it's 72 degrees outside and the sun is bright and warm, so we go for a walk.

First Cooper lies in the sun, watching the quiet river.

Then Tessie jumps! When she was young, Tessie was a climber, a jumper, a flyer. Today, we remember that.

At first, Cooper isn't sure he wants to climb stairs.

But then he remembers who he is and what he can do -- and that he's just old, not dead! -- and he climbs the stairs.

Cooper is very pleased with himself!

CHRISTMAS EVE. At one point in the afternoon, Tessie (my elder female Cavalier) began shrieking as if something was hurting her badly. I reached for her, thinking she'd snagged a nail in her coat or something like that, but there was no sign of anything external. She was also briefly staring into the distance, not "gone" into a full-blown seizure but clearly "off" and making snapping motions with her jaws. At one point she accidentally nipped me and that seemed to bring her back -- she looked at me, clearly troubled (a sweet-tempered girl, typical of her breed, she has never bitten or shown any inclination to bite). I got down on the floor with her and held her, rubbing the right side of her head. She let me do that for a while, and when we were finished she went to rub her head on the wall. Within just a few minutes, she was fully normal again, back to her old self. The Tech at our Vet's, where we board our dogs when we're away, reported one incident like this a few months ago, but it's the first time I've seen it -- almost a mini-seizure.

Cooper's day, on the other hand, was better: to everyone's surprise, he walked as he hasn't walked in months. While he slept much of the day, he was able to go wherever he wanted and stand, sit, and lie down as desired.

We are still savoring the dozens of birthday greetings that arrived for him on the 19th, when he turned 15. What a strange business this aging is -- good days and bad, days of wondering how much longer we'll have with them, followed by days in which it seems they'll always be here. Often these days are back-to-back. It's as if our lives haven't taught us to live in the moment, their lives will.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

SOMETIMES IT APPEARS THAT COOPER IS IN DECLINE, and I worry about whether I am keeping him alive for his benefit or mine. It's a struggle to try to determine what's the best thing for him: to just let him age, caring for him as best we can, or to take some initiative to speed things along. All I know is that he wakes every morning happy to see the world, pleased with his breakfast, and ready to take on the tasks of the day, even if those tasks include little beyond sleeping, eating, and allowing his belly to be rubbed. People tell me, "You'll know," but I also know that others would have given up on him long ago.

Some nights he wants to sleep in the bassinet, but since getting his meds right these nights are fewer, perhaps because his temperature perception has been improved by the addition of thyroid medication. He's on Lasix, Enalapril, and eye goo. Each has made a difference in his comfort level and mobility. When they're squared away, he's eager for walks. Often it seems that it's not walking that troubles him, but rising to a standing position. It's that right leg, mostly. His eyes are getting worse, the "dry eye" harder to control. But his spirits are good, and I believe that if we could ask him, he'd choose to stick around a little longer.

I can't say that Tessie's spirits are high right now. While she's been seizure-free, she's not a particularly happy or high-spirited dog and has probably never been so except for her brief sojourn as a nursing home visitor. She's smart -- probably smarter than Cooper -- and easily bored. I also suspect (and this is not a new feeling) that there's something bothering her physically, though we've not been able to identify it. I try to provide her with independent recognition and activities, but to some extent her needs remain mysterious. She loves visiting with the two young Labs next door. I suspect that she'd be happier as a city dog with more stimulation than our quiet country life permits. I do believe we bore her.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A CAVALIER TO BE AN INTERNET CELEBRITY. Meet, for example, these two beautiful blogstars: Joey (left) and Sadie (right). Writes their Mom: My Sadie was found on the street. She'd never been groomed. You couldn't see her eyes and couldn't tell whether she was a girl or boy. That was in 1992 and she was probably 1-2 years old at that time. Joey, my Westie, was acquired as an 8-week-old puppy from a backyard breeder. He's surprisingly handsome nonetheless! His birthday is Feb. 1, 1991, so he will be 15 on February 1, 2006! He's deaf but otherwise doing OK.

Have an elder you'd like to honor, Cavalier or not? Send a .jpg and brief biography to the address shown below.

Monday, December 19, 2005

THIS IS THE DAY WE THOUGHT WOULD NEVER COME. It's Cooper's birthday -- his 15th birthday! I began this blog a month ago in part to try to find a way to cope with his aging and ultimate passing. Since that time, I've heard from many others with elder Cavaliers (some of their beloved "eldears" have their photos published here) and those with middle aged Cavaliers who know they'll be treading this path sooner or later. Perhaps the most important realization through all this has been coming to understand that "old" doesn't mean "dying." When I wake in the night, I don't always check to make sure Cooper's still breathing. I no longer have conversations with him about his journey to the Bridge. I no longer wonder who my "next dog" will be. I deal with him as I would deal with any other aged being ... respectfully, affectionately, realistically. In short, I am no longer planning his funeral, but instead living each day with him, gratefully.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

BLOSSOM, daughter of Belle (shown in an earlier post, see below), lived to 14 and a half. For those unfamiliar with Cavalier King Charles Spaniel colors, Blossom is a Ruby. Also shown in these pages are Black and Tans (Belle, Bear, and Sylvia, for example), Tri-Colors [coming soon!-Ed.], and Blenheims (such as Alfred, Francis, Toby, Cooper, and Tessie).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

WE DON'T DO THIS. We don't get up in the middle of the night to eat, though we may get up to work or play on the computers. But we certainly don't get up to eat, and we most assuredly do not allow dogs on Papa's desk, where he is working on his book. For Papa was raised with hunting dogs, dogs who lived outside and never came inside, and certainly never knew the heady elation of lying on their Papa's desk!

Invited, however, we will come. And here we are, stalking the wild sandwich fragment.

Yes, indeed. This is pretty good. Forbidden, yes -- but pretty good!

Oh, yeah....

I came, I sniffed, I saw...and ate!

There IS a Heaven!

I belong here. I really do. I really, really, really do!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

We went out and bought two dog beds, one for each dog. Naturally, Tessie decided that she and her brother should share one bed, leaving the other unoccupied.

Sleeping, Tessie lets her tongue slip into the same position in which it was during her recent seizures.

Tessie wakes, wanders away, leaving Cooper to dream alone.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Oh, happy day! We've just learned that Francis' mom, Carolann, has sent his wheelchair for Cooper to use. Our agreement is that Cooper will use it for as long as he needs to, and it will then be passed on to the next Cavalier who needs it! Thank you, Carolann! (We'll tell their stories here, as Cooper learns to use it.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The exquisite Belle, at 16.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Bear (center) lived to nearly 15; daughter Sylvia (left) is 11; grandkid (right) is Marky.