Our sweet old German shepherd mix, Ernie, became very feeble toward the end of his life. I kept waiting for a sign from him, but his appetite never diminished. A dog-walking friend described how “the light went out” in her dog’s eyes, and she knew it was time. The light never left Ernie’s eyes: he was always alert, attune to me, the shepherd in him ever watchful.
He turned 13 in July, and in his 14th year he could stand only with difficulty, struggling to leverage himself up out of a sitting position, and often dragging himself along the floor. He would scoot along on his butt, often banging into furniture; he even seemed to like to back into things, as support for his efforts to get up. He would lie down by the water dish, lapping water for a long time, seeming to just stick his tongue in the water dish and playing in the water. Ernie, just drink already! At times I would pause the TV, it was so loud and prolonged. I’m not proud of this, but during some prolonged sessions I even picked the water dish up and made him wait.
I miss it, now.
He did a brief, high-pitched whine, just a little “ii,” sometimes while he scooted along. Not in pain, just struggling, perhaps hopeful someone would lift his hindquarters and help him forward. So we did. We helped him down the front stairs three times a day and night, to go outside, giving him treats. He would pee then go to the stairs, eager for his treat, while we hoped he had really emptied his bladder.
He developed large, soft cysts or tumors on his butt and groin. A large patch of fur, in an elongated crescent shape, wore off just to the left of his spine, mid-back toward his rump. He had dandruff, flakes among his fur. His internal organs must have been failing, to the extent his urine had what the missus calls an oiliness. And he became incontinent, needing a diaper at night, and we often have “clean up on aisle Ernie” to contend with.
And yet, and yet.
He was ravenous. He followed me to the kitchen, ever hopeful, watching, begging. At one point years ago he weighed 105 pounds and we put him on a diet to lose weight; in July during his last vet visit this year he was down to 77 pounds, fur and bones, yet ever hungry. Perhaps as his digestion faltered, he became hungrier, trying to maintain? I waited for a sign that he was tired of life, but he remained completely alert, plugged in. Ever the shepherd, a member of the family.
We have travel plans. We can’t ask anyone to take care of an incontinent old dog.
It breaks my heart still.