Frequently when I look at my 17-year-old Jack Russell Terrier Buddy, a phrasing from the opening lines of Eugene O’Neill’s The Last Will & Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog goes through my mind: “…the burden of my years and infirmities… heavy upon me.”
To the day that I die, or maybe only up to a little before, maybe when someone’s watching me and wondering what’s going through my head and why I’m hanging on, I’ll probably still be able to recall Buddy running down a frisbee at top speed, snatching it with a sudden leap high into the air, 30 yards down-field. Now he has trouble negotiating a curb, and he’s unsteady when set down. His sight and hearing are mostly gone, and it’s been a very long time since he showed much interest in things – cats, squirrels, other dogs – that once upon a time would have had him rocketing off at full thrust, tearing the leash from my grip if he spotted them first. He never barks at anything anymore. He’s been losing muscle mass, too – around 20 – 25% down from his prime playing weight.
On bad days, most days, Buddy’s walk is noticeably wobbly and laborious. It was noticeable enough the other day for a guy to pull over his truck and want to ask some questions. He was just wondering how things went – said he had a 13-year-old JRT that was still acting like a young dog… Upon hearing the list of infirmities that had rather suddenly grown so heavy – the prior paragraph offers only a partial list – the guy asked if I had thought about… you know.
What makes that thought wrong for now, aside from the fact that I start tearing up while writing about it, is that Buddy doesn’t seem to be in much pain – no whimpering, no grouchy snapping at me or at my other dog Annie. And he still enjoys a scratch or a stroke, a massage of his stiff back and legs, still wants to get close to me, like right now, with his back against my heel as I type. He also has a good appetite, even though it’s obviously a strain for him to hold his stance through the last bites.
Maybe that’s how he’ll tell me he’s through – when he stops eating – or when he can’t even pace in circles on the kitchen tile… That last is what brought on this particular reverie: Watching him pace in the kitchen. It’s a mystery of course what’s running through his head at such times, if anything at all is… whether the pacing relieves some pain or whether it’s just a behavioral routine misfiring, a loop he’s stuck in. All I know is that he likes to walk purposefully but with no apparent purpose around the house, making short mincing steps, his tale tucked down because his butt aches, and tonight he narrowed his course into a tight circle in front of the refrigerator. I watched him for a while, wondering when then if he’d stop or change course. I finally moved him into another room.
He still leans into a knuckle rubbing the spot just in front of his ear…
…now sleeping comfortably… Maybe one day he just won’t get up at all, having succumbed to the effects of the heart murmur he once grew out of, but that recently returned. Well, that would make things easy, wouldn’t it?
Might want to get some of the tears done privately. Don’t want to be bawling like a baby at the vet’s.