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!

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.