Our pets become more than just animals that inhabit our homes.
They become family, and over the years, it is hard to remember what life was like before they joined us. This is especially true for our dog, Duffy, who is now in his geriatric years.
Duffy is a 13-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever that my partner adopted from a farm in southern Illinois. There was an instant connection between those two. As all the other puppies ran around excitedly at the sight of my partner, Duffy simply walked up and curled into his lap—just the sweetest and most gentle soul.
I came on the scene a few years later when Duffy was four, still young, full of energy, and always eager to jump in the snow. As the months and years passed, Duffy slowly began to prefer my company, always seeking to be in the same room with me. I presume it is because he thought I needed more protecting, or maybe just more cuddles.
This further intensified as our family grew. While pregnant with our daughter, he would not leave my side at all whenever I was home. Soon, our little baby joined us, and Duffy treated her like a member of the pack right away. He watched her protectively and tolerated her poking and prodding. He proudly sat next to her for every milestone photo as she grew.
This year, a baby boy was added to the family, and he met him with gusto as he did with his sister six years ago.
However, these days, the bursts of excitement are often followed by lengthy naps and noisy rumblings as he tries to find a comfortable way to stand back up. His legs will randomly drop under him as his hips give out due to the arthritis. He sometimes slides down the porch steps because he forgets to slow down.
As I look at him and see all the gray patches, mixed into his beautiful brown coat, I’m reminded of just how many years have passed.
This year, we’ve had to make a lot of adjustments, the biggest of which was coming to terms with the fact that we are now caring for a geriatric dog. Since last summer, we have gone from daily walks and dog park visits to a mostly sedentary routine because he can’t handle the exertion. There’s also a slew of pill bottles lined up on the counter to be added to his soft canned food since he can no longer tolerate the dry food.
The most gut-wrenching thing is having to face the sorrowful look in his eyes after he has an accident in the house, which has become almost a daily occurrence, as he seems to be losing more and more control of his body. These months have been rough, as we are essentially taking care of two newborns. Duffy requires just as much attention these days as the new baby. While this can be exhausting, I am also realizing that this time is precious because his aging ailments mean our time with him may not be much longer.
It is heartbreaking to think that there will come a time when this dog, who has become so woven into the fabric of our lives, will no longer be with us.
We are closing in on the time when he will no longer appear in my daughter’s milestone photos. Just last week, he proudly posed next to her for her “first day of second grade” picture. The two have been best friends for her entire life, and I cannot fathom the emotion that will erupt when we break the news to her.
Some may think that this kind of thinking is unhealthy and morbid and that we should just enjoy the time we have rather than dwelling on the future negatives. However, the inevitable seems to be staring me in the face every day, and I find myself grasping for ways to make sense of it. I know that he has had a good life, and I take comfort in knowing that we will be with him until the very end.
I just hope the end isn’t for another 13 years because none of us are ready.