The house is quiet right now. Very quiet. After a whirlwind of pet sitting, there’s only me in the house. Well, it’s only me in terms of dog occupants. There are also my moms, but they are pretty constant. What hasn’t been constant are the number of dog guests we’ve had coming and going of late — each with their own peculiarities and expectations.
And each with their life lessons to teach.
While I’ve learned a great deal from all my dog friends/clients, the past few weeks with Ms. Griffey — the 15-year-old Vizsla — I have learned, perhaps, the most from her.
Seeing as how it’s been very wet and cold in these parts and we didn’t get a ton of photographs to chronicle our adventures, for this week’s blog, I’ve decided to focus on some of Griffey’s most important lessons.
10 Important Lessons from a Senior Canine
1. Never walk around — walk through: At first I found this habit rather annoying. Griffey would be in one spot and want to get to another spot. In her path may have been a dog bed or some random human shoes or perhaps a backpack (or 2 or 3 since everyone around here seems to have more than one!). Instead of walking around the obstacle to get to the desired spot, Griffey would just walk through the stuff. Sometimes, though, that “stuff” was me curled up in my dog bed not disturbing anyone. I’d be sound asleep and hear the click click click of Griffey’s arthritic walk headed my direction, open one eye, and the next thing I’d know, Grif would be walking right over me.
2. Leap: Griffey’s eyesight (and her hearing) aren’t that great. Her depth-perception is shot so when she has to go up a curb on our walks or over a puddle (this she does not got through because unlike walking through me, walking through a puddle is something she finds very unpleasant)…anyway, when she has to go over or up on something, she takes a flying LEAP — up and out — and hopes that she lands where she wanted.
She doesn’t always land where she wants, though. Sometimes she misses the curb. Sometimes she lands in the puddle. Sometimes only her front feet make it onto the couch or the step and then everyone tries to help her.
Not a good idea.
3. Never ever accept help:
We’ve taken care of Griffey a number of times before and the older she gets, the more stubborn she is. I can’t imagine what she was like when she was a puppy or even when she was 7 or 8 years old. I have a feeling her family has had to learn to work “with” Grif and not against her because whatever Griffey wants, she gets…or should I say, takes. And one of the things she doesn’t want is help. Don’t help her go outside in the morning to take care of her business. Don’t help her get up on the couch. Don’t help her go up or down the stairs. Don’t help her find her food bowl. Don’t force her to hurry or go a direction she doesn’t want to go. Griffey will choose her next path, her next move, her direction and even though the humans might feel like she needs a boost up onto the bed, putting their hands under her bum or belly most likely will result in Grif backing up, turning around, or worse…
4. Look like you’re going to bite those who try to do something you don’t like, but don’t really bite them:
Griffey is really very sweet. She wants to be in the middle of all the action (unless she’s completely conked out under her blanket on a dog bed, the couch, or her favorite spot, the human bed.) She loves to be rubbed on top of her head or have her ears scratched. When she curls up next to you (not me, but you) she loves being loved with pets and hugs and kisses. Her stump of a tail wiggles at the sight of those she loves and we are lucky to be a part of that circle of family and friends that make her tail wiggle.
But whatever you do, DO NOT try to pick Griffey up or grab her by the collar to move her forward (or around…see #1) anything. She can’t quite see your hand, but she sees the shadow of it and on instinct, her mouth opens, her teeth come out (what she has left of teeth anyway) and she snaps at the air. The humans can’t hear her words, but I can. Unfortunately, her words are not fit for print in this blog, but suffice it to say, her toothy protestations are enough to make the humans back away and let her struggle through whatever it was they were going to help her with.
A couple of times Gretchen soldiered on anyway, disregarding the teeth and the snap of Griffey’s mouth. Working at the pool, Gretchen’s learned a thing or two about helping elderly dogs and not getting bit. Griffey wasn’t happy about it, but she never really bit Gretchen…just bit at her so there was no broken skin nor any pain whatsoever and once Gretchen figured that out, she helped Griffey more as she struggled to leap up on the couch or find a place to curl up on the bed. Griffey didn’t like it, but she learned to accept it.
5. The middle of the human bed is the best most wonderful place for a good night’s rest or a long mid-day nap:
While Griffey lived with us, the sleeping arrangements were very different. I usually sleep on the human bed, but I know my place…at the end, in between the humans. When dog guests come over for stays, they usually sleep on one of the many comfy dog beds in the human bedroom. I get the prized spot on the human bed — this is an agreement I have with my moms.
Until Griffey came to stay. “She’s a senior citizen,” Gretchen told me, “Her age trumps your status as the #1 dog.” And so, Griffey got up on the human bed and I was told to sleep on the dog bed on the floor. My only comfort in this was that Griffey is a bed hog. She does not follow the rules my moms established with me — stay at the end of the bed and in between the humans. Do not, by any stretch of the imagination, assume you can lie across the bed so that the humans cannot stretch out their legs.
Nope, Griffey completely ignored these rules and climbed onto the bed, UNDER the covers, and curled up right in the middle. At first, we all tried sleeping together. Me at the end of the bed and the humans curled around the old dog under the covers in the middle, but I can tell you this — it didn’t last long. Gretchen moves around a lot at night and Ann gets very warm at night so soon, Gretchen was sleeping on the couch downstairs and I decided to join her. There was no use fighting it…a small corner of the couch was far better than being kicked off the bed accidentally or being stepped on by Griffey when she got up to shift positions.
As I mentioned, Griffey’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but her appetite still is. We have some pretty tasty treats around this house – Gretchen got a food dehydrator for her birthday last month and has played around with chicken jerky much to my benefit! So when a piece of that tasty jerky was offered up, Griffey was beside herself with excitement. She’d snap up that jerky like a fish biting a baited hook. In three snappy bites that jerky would be gone gone gone and Griffey would follow the “giver of treats” around for the next hour. Said “giver” would tell Griffey that that was it, no more treats, and try to pet Grif on her head, which Griffey interpreted as another attempt to give her a treat. Snap Snap Snap at the air and at the hand, but no food for Grif…just Air Treats as we began to call them.
7. Hold it!:
The routine at our house is pretty predictable once you get the hang of it. We get up early. We go outside and our business (well, the humans stay inside) and then while the humans have their coffee and hot chocolate, read the morning paper or peruse the headlines on the internet, dogs curl up for an early morning nap until breakfast time or walk time.
After a long night’s sleep, going in the back yard for a potty break is a welcomed relief for me, but if the temperature was chilly (which it’s been of late) or the wind and rain were whipping up (which it’s also been of late) Griffey refused to go outside. Eventually the humans learned to put her on a leash and guide her out (because grabbing her collar would result in a #4 reaction), but if the weather were particularly awful, Griffey dug in her heels and refused to go outside.
For an old gal, she can hold it for a very very long time. Just sayin’…
As for her poo, like clockwork, but ONLY if we went out the front door. While I appreciated the fact that she didn’t mess up my backyard, I thought it was rather peculiar that the only place she’d poo was by the big tree in the front yard. And until we went out the front door, she’d hold that too. I have to say, it was impressive.
8. Go faster going home then when leaving:
I live for my daily outings. Sure, I’m getting older, but I can’t imagine not wanting to go for a walk. This is where Griffey and I have a lot in common. When Grif saw her orange leash come out, she was at the front door ready to rock n’ roll. At 15 though, her legs need time to warm up so our way out on the walk was always a bit slower as Griffey needed time to get all the parts working and fully functioning. So the walk out was always slow. I learned to appreciate this over the weeks. The journey is more important than the destination, isn’t it? I think this is what Griffey tried to teach me while she was here so we’d walk slowly on our morning loop, but once we turned to corner for home, we’d pick up our pace. On the way out, Griffey walked behind us. On the way home, Griffey lead the way, pulling at her leash like a puppy.
Have you ever seen the movie, “The Triplets of Belleville?” Well if you haven’t you should if only because the dog reminds me very much of Griffey – Those skinny little legs, that rotund body, and the pace at which she walked. Every morning and afternoon walk with Griffey made me giggle. But don’t misunderstand me — at 15 years old, Griffey has amazing stamina. We’d walk for 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the afternoon and Griffey did it all — up hill, down hill, up stairs, down them too — and never once looked tired.
Very impressive indeed!
Triplets of Belleville Dog = Griffey!
I will have, on occasion, loud dreams. I’ll twitch my feet or softly bark. I’ll sigh deeply, but rarely do I snore.
Griffey, on the other hand, rarely moves when she’s asleep, but snores likes a truck driver. We’re used to that in this family, though.
“How did you sleep last night?” Gretchen (who slept on the couch) would ask Ann (who slept with Griffey).
“Great! It was like sleeping with you?” Ann would giggle.
“How so?” Gretchen would ask.
“Griffey snores a lot like you?”
10. Fight it or Follow Ann:
Getting Griffey to settle at night was hard. She liked to wander around the house from room to room. Gretchen says it’s sometimes happens with the elderly – they get a bit disoriented when the sun goes down. But what I noticed is that Griffey wandered the house and fought the urge to settle until she could be really close to Ann. She’d follow Ann around and then if Ann sat down on the couch, Griffey would circle and circle the room until Ann invited her up on the couch whereupon Griffey would curl up next to Ann and settle in for the evening.
This probably says a lot more about Ann than Griffey and Griffey is not the first dog to make me realize how perfect the world is when you can curl up next to Ann. Not that dogs don’t love Gretchen, but she’s more of the adventurer in our lives — taking us on hikes or walks or to parks or the lake where we can play in the water or on the trails. I call Gretchen the Recess Monitor. Ann, on the other hand, is home base. She’s the one I like to cuddle with — on the couch, on the bed — wherever. And all the dogs that stay with us do the same.
Griffey took longer than others to eventually learn that the calmest place in the house is with Ann, but once she’d stopped fighting it, she learned to follow Ann into every room until Ann settled down to watch a movie, read a book, or study her plant names for school. I have a feeling Griffey does this at home with her own mom because when her family came to pick her up after their vacation, Griffey was as lively as I’ve seen. She jumped up on her mom, she moaned with excitement, and gave big wet kisses all over her mom’s face.
Turns out that she follows her mom around the house all the time too. I’m glad my Momma Ann could be Griffey’s surrogate mom while her family was away on vacation even if it meant I had to share her with Griffey.
And that’s perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from Griffey — family means everything! We may have our own unique proclivities and peculiarities, but bottom line is that our family is where we want to spend our time.
Thanks Grif for teaching me (and reminding me) of all the important stuff of life! Now I’m going to go curl up under the covers of the human bed…hope I can get away with it!
Until next week,