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!

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.


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