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)

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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!

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.

Meet The Venerable G.O.M. (Grand Old Man) Alfred, long gone to the Bridge but still inspiring others.