Prince the Dalmatian is on his last legs. At 14 years,7 months, my faithful canine companion is wearing out. He has a strong heart and is still pretty alert but his superstructure is deteriorating. Nerve degeneration has weakened his back end. He falls often and needs assistance getting up and down stairs or into one of his three beds in this household. A bladder infection about 18 months ago left Prince semi-continent which, combined with nerve degeneration, has progressed to mostly incontinent. He has what my partner, Maggie, and I call “canine Alzheimer’s”; he wanders a lot and gets stuck in corners. We have adapted and coped with Prince’s increasing difficulties pretty well. So far Prince does not show any sign of pain but he does become frustrated and anxious when he cannot recover from a fall. We sometimes tire of having to assist him in so many ways.
Maggie and I both know that Prince is on a one-way trip. He will not improve and we will have to decide when to end his life. We’ve always wanted our dogs to die in their sleep at the end of a long healthy and happy life. We managed the long, healthy and happiest parts but none died in their sleep. The only one that Maggie and I did not decide died after emergency surgery. This decision is not an unfamiliar one. We will know the right time. We know that time is more likely to be weeks rather than months.
What has amazed me is that we’ve actually coped pretty well with Prince’s incontinence. That has always been my greatest fear with an elderly dog but I’ve escaped that task until now. We use medium size baby diapers and an elastic wrap and it works pretty well. Even more amazing, is that Maggie and I have a second elderly dog, Tiger, who is either semi-continent or maybe never properly trained. Tiger belongs to Maggie’s mom who moved to an assisted living home last year and has been too confused to take her dog, who would love to be there with the two other dogs. So we have Tiger, a 20 pound poodle mix to deal with along with Prince. Half a diaper works for him.
All this canine management–“dog wrangling” as one friend calls it–is time consuming but it’s part of the deal when a dog is your companion. Maggie and I pretty much know we will end Prince’s life when he is no longer self-propelled. If we must be full time dog attendants and his mobility, Prince’s life would have no real purpose beyond the eternal quest for survival. Nor would he be the companion we’ve known and loved. Knowing when to decide will be pretty straightforward, I think.
Actually ending Prince’s life will be less straightforward. Even when he becomes largely non-mobile, he is still my companion of 14 years, the dog who kept me companion on all those walks at the Window Rock Airport, the dog who was Maggie’s company during my six months on the Appalachian Trail, our fellow traveler to Alaska and my walking partner in the city. He is an unusually mellow Dalmatian, not the hyper, high energy stereotype of his breed. He also believes that he is a lap dog, although we call it more of a Dalmatian drape since he is a bit large to actually fit in our laps. Prince has never been more content than curled up on a sofa next to either or both of us. As I write this, he is asleep in a chair next to my desk. He’s been there for the entire history of this blog, always a presence. His passing will leave a big hole.
These days are my time to say good-bye to Prince, to remind myself how lucky I have been to have him as a companion. I look at the time as an opportunity to give him the love and attention he will need in his transition from this life. Since the other side of death is always a matter of conjecture, I have decided to believe that Prince will join all the other dogs who’ve shared life with me–Toby, Mitzi, O’Leary, Zona and Nexi–in some eternal dog park where they can run together until I join them and then we can all run together. I can’t offer any proof for this belief. I just like the idea; it’s comforting. I don’t expect anyone to share my belief. It’s mine and serves my own purposes as Maggie and I confront an inevitable, difficult decision.
I’ve always known this time would come. It always does. I wrote about this a while back in a post called “Mortal Dogs”
[D]eath is no stranger to me as a dog owner. And it’s an uncomfortable reminder of my own mortality. I am now approaching 60 years of age, equivalent to a 12 year old dog. My oldest dog was over 15 when he died, or about 72 in human years. That figure is drawing increasingly near and seems far more personal than it did even a just a few years ago.
Unlike humans, dogs do not know they will die. Their every moment is in the present until the present no longer exists. Anticipating and preparing for death is a human function and in my case, at least, my dogs have reminded me that life is in no way permanent. I guess one way to avoid the pain of their death is to never share life with a dog but that seems far too limiting a way to live. That’s like avoiding heartbreak by never taking the risk of loving another. Life is risk. Its course and events are uncertain. And as much as anything in this life, my dogs remind me of that risk and uncertainty, not to mention rewards that come from it.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The next few weeks will be difficult, I know. I don’t really care. Prince’s passing is an event I have always expected. It comes with the territory, along with the many joys that his companionship have given Maggie and me.
We are taking Prince to camp on the Mogollon Rim
tonight, a replay of all the nights we spent together in the back of my truck on so many trips. At 7,000 feet we'll be out of the Phoenix heat. Monday night on the Rim should be very peaceful.
Labels: Prince, reality