Denise Fenzi, a world renowned dog trainer, blogger, and owner of the online school Fenzi Dog Sports Academy wrote a post recently entitled “I Have an Old Dog”. Poignantly written with honesty, humor, and kindness, it hit home for me. Bess is somewhere around 10 years of age and as my dear friend née dog walker has said, “And those first five years were hard years…” Finn is coming up on 11 and experiencing difficulty not only climbing the stairs, but coming down them as well. As I reflected upon what I’d read, I realized my dogs are aging gracefully; it is me who is grappling with the process and struggling with what it signifies…
This past winter, Bess started refusing to walk. Oh, she was all excited to go and willingly got suited up: fleece coat, harness, leash. Yep, happy girl, happy girl. Meanwhile, Finn is walking around, behind, and on top of the shoes and boots kept near the door, his excitement palpable. It made no difference that this was a twice daily routine. Their joy was complete, unadulterated and contagious: a walk! A Walk! A WALK! Out we would go- after first sitting politely at the open door, waiting for the release cue. When given, Finn would launch off the porch, land with a thump in the snow and then finish off with a good, hearty roll while Bess danced beside me, tottering and eager.
The first time it happened, I put it down to the weather. We had reached the end of driveway when Bess, paw lifted and eyes imploring, stopped walking. She made it clear she wanted back inside the house, where it was warm. I acquiesced and returned her to the house, where she promptly curled beside the Glenwood and closed her eyes. Finn and I walked alone. It felt odd; I couldn’t remember the last time I had walked one dog. Ours was a bitter, brutal winter, with temperatures dropping to 10° below zero and staying there, for days at a time. On those days, and many more, Bess refused to walk… oh she’d suit up and want to go, but then, once outside, only a short distance from the house? No, I’ve changed my mind. Take me back.
When winter faded and mud season arrived with the damp and chill, I put it down to her degenerative joint disease. When spring rolled around and still she refused, I blamed it on Enzo, jostling and crowding her, delighted to have her along. I tried walking her alone. I tried walking her with just Finn. Some days she joined me alone, others she did not. Some days she’d accompany Finn and I, others she did not. Rarely did she accompany the three of us, and rarely did she walk past the Red Barn. The only thing that was consistent was her inconsistency. I couldn’t find a pattern: weather, combination of dogs, time of day; not one thing could I pinpoint as causal. On rainy days, she flatly refused from inside the house, but for the most part, she would begin to walk with us, then stop and do what I coined the “Boat Anchor”: Not. Moving. Forward.
Between March and June I took Bess to our veterinarian, her vet-acupuncturist, and finally, to a veterinarian behaviorist searching for answers to my questions: Why won’t she walk with me? Is she in pain? Are there other, better medications that would help? She’s so happy to get ready, but then only walks to the end of the driveway! Why is that? I want answers, a solution, and back to normal. My veterinarian advised me to increase her Metacam from ‘as needed’ to every day. Bess’s acupuncturist recommended another Chinese herb and more frequent treatments. There was no improvement.
Our visit with the behavioral vet was the sharp smack of reality I needed. After a lengthy discussion of my concerns, with frequent referrals back to the 8-page questionnaire I’d submitted prior, Dr. Posage watched while Bess investigated her office rugs and furniture. As Bess leapt upon the couch and snuggled down, Dr. Posage smiled. Turning to me she said firmly, “You do too know why she’s doing this. She associates all things walk-related with good, happy, you. But she’s conflicted. Because once she’s out there, it hurts. You are her person. She’s clearly bonded to, and trusts you. Let her choose. And then, accept her choice.”
Bess stays behind. She appears content as she watches us gear up from her orthopedic bed. She makes no move to join us. I am trying to accept this change; I do enjoy my walks with Finn and Enzo but I sorely miss my jaunty girl by my side.