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, February 18, 2006


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.


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