Ten days ago I thought my Border collie, Truman would be gone before his 12th birthday which was just a few days later.
On Thursday, he was acting normal – well, it was normal for an older guy with a few health issues. On Friday, he couldn’t stand up. He refused food, even when I offered rotisserie chicken. The sparkle had gone from his eyes. By the next morning, he smelled of his own urine because he couldn’t move to pee elsewhere. Unfortunately, the timing was terrible. We had to teach a two-day (all day) class over the weekend. We set him up on a soft bed with a large bowl of water within reach and assured him we would be back soon. I dreaded returning home when the class concluded – fearing that he’d be worse than he already was.
I have been fortunate to have loved many dogs – most of which left this realm at the end of their natural lifespan. I knew there wasn’t much to do at the veterinarian’s office except possibly reject extensive diagnostics which could add stress to my dog. It might force me into the uncomfortable position of refusing the “Hail Mary” options. I never want to add more suffering without the chance for a different, ultimate outcome. Home hospice care was the best option, at least until I felt that Truman was in pain or had given up. I know that look, and I can deal with what’s necessary at that time. I just wasn’t expecting it so soon.
Robert diligently carried Truman outside to relieve himself. We bathed him. Each day we transported Truman from one location to the next so that he could always be with me. From the bedroom to the kitchen, office, back to the kitchen then to the living room, and finally back to the bedroom; Robert would carry my dog along the ebbs and tides of my daily activities. If I left a room for too long, Truman would wail. That was very uncharacteristic of him. He had never been a barker or a whiner. This was a howl draped in distress.
Because he had a poor appetite, I hand fed him liverwurst and cooked chicken. He preferred the Braunschweiger. He refused the standard dry Milkbone snack for breakfast and even turned a nose up at his raw chicken meal at night. He developed a sore on his back leg because he wasn’t shifting in his sleep. I cried, but only in the cloak of night.
Four days ago, while swim jogging in our therapy pool, it came to me. Truman would benefit from the same warmth and freedom of floating in water that permitted me to exercise every day. Buoyancy provides liberation from the effects of gravity which reduces pain. Merely standing on the shallow platform would allow Truman to remain upright without the fear of falling. And, with my assistance, swimming would incite him to move all of his muscles. I shared the idea with Robert, and he agreed.
Truman has had three aquatic swim therapy sessions in the last four days. The results have been astounding. His appetite is back. Two days ago, he let me know he didn’t want to be left out for the bone-dry treats that I was handing out to the rest of the dogs in the kitchen. For,two evenings in a row, he has also eaten his normal raw chicken meal. I have continued to give him the liverwurst because: why not? This morning, he didn’t just accept it like he had been doing, he grabbed for it.
It’s a 45+ foot walk from the pool room to the kitchen, and he not only made the walk on his own, he also remained standing and milling about the kitchen area until I gave out the biscuits. Then, rather than just falling-lying down to consume it, he retreated to the living room where he prefers to eat biscuits on a big dog bed in the corner.
I know this isn’t a miracle cure. I understand that I will be saying good-bye to my precious one at some point. That’s the reality of life – dogs and humans, butterflies and whales. We all live our lives then move on. But, for now, I am happy. Truman has a sparkle in his eyes, again. He seems content, even though we still have to help him to his feet. Life is good.