First and foremost, I think we can all agree that aging really is for the birds. Its one of those little things that really just sneaks up on us before we know what actually happened. I mean, its like you’re going along your merry little way, enjoying life, and then the next thing ya know…**KAPOW** …you get up one morning and look in the mirror and think to yourself, “Who is that old hag staring back at me? I don’t remember inviting her to live here…”
I think dogs think the same way we do. Okay, maybe they don’t actually think about it. But they have to know they’re getting older. Or in the case of our Dream she doesn’t know anything at all anymore. She reminds me of my Gram (who turned 90 this past August). She’s got Alzheimer’s…just like Dream, although we call her’s Dogheimer’s.
We first picked Dream up on a chilly, Maine, late October afternoon. We’d recently become “empty-nesters” with Doug’s departure and Sam and I were both hankerin’ for a canine companion again. We’d lived without a house dog for a couple of years, and while I certainly wasn’t missing the excess dog hairs everywhere I was missing my “living blanket”. We’d seen an add in a local Buy-Swap guide for an adult Smooth Collie for sale. We decided to go out and check her out – not really believing we’d bring her home since neither Sam nor I have ever been keen on collies in general – too bark-y.
As we drove out to the middle of BFE (I’m really not exaggerating here – it was a long drive), we admired the lovely fall landscape all around us. The trees had lost most of their leaves and the late afternoon sunshine was casting long golden shadows onto the forest floor. The days were getting shorter and the nights had become quite chilly, but the sunshine was warm and cheerful and a glorious reminder of God’s beauty to us. We eventually made it to our turnoff and began to wind our way down a gravel road. As we continued to drive the houses quickly became more and more dilapidated and by the time we reached our destination I wasn’t sure there would even be a house there! Eventually we reached the driveway, and as we pulled into a muddy, narrow dooryard we were greeted by a house the likes of which I’ve never seen before….and hope to never see again!
Two ancient trailers had been pushed up together. Parts of the outside were covered in ‘blueboard’ insulation and MDF sheets making it look even more like we’d just stepped off the plane into a South American barrio. The front porch was disconnected from the dwelling and had a pronounced sag in the middle. Just past the house was a soupy, make-shift corral where an incredibly thin and miserable looking horse was standing nearly knee deep in vile sludge, eating moldy hay off a dung pile. Just to the other side of the trailer was a chain link dog kennel where two giant harlequin Great Danes stood at attention. The dogs were beautiful, but considering the conditions they were living in, I wasn’t sure if they were safe.
As we crawled out of our truck (thank goodness we’d brought that instead of the car…we might still be stuck in the mud there) a mangy looking dog ambled over to us. She barked a few times, but didn’t seem aggressive at all. Instead her belly nearly dragged the ground and it looked like she’d just had a litter of pups. Her coat was dull and thin, and her teeth were brown as could be. Her toenails were severely overgrown, and her feet were splayed from years of abuse. She had beautiful tulip ears, but one of them had been torn in half and never stitched together – we found out later that was the outcome of a Great Dane battle. But she was wagging her tail and seemed quite happy. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was our ol’ Dreamer.
As we started around the front of the truck and up to the steps, a haggard looking lady stepped out the front door. Her reddish-brown hair hadn’t seen a comb in days, and I wasn’t sure if she even had indoor plumbing. Her clothes were well worn and dingy, and spattered with what I believe was some kind of baby spit-up as she had a small child balanced on her hip. We told her we’d seen the add in the Buy-Swap guide for a collie and were wondering if the dog was still available. A crooked smile came over her face as she pointed toward the dirty tail-wagger in front of us. Sam and I looked at each other, our surroundings, and then at the poor, pitiful dog in front of us.
The add claimed she was a registered show dog who had points on her (means she’d placed in some dog shows). The add stated that she’d bread show champions. The add bragged that she was an excellent house dog who was affectionate and loved ‘hugs’. The add wanted $200 for her. I was sure this dog wasn’t worth $20 let alone $200. The vet work that would need to be done to spay her, clean her teeth, have her bathed and groomed, get her toenails ground down and who knows what other hidden ailments we’d discover would far exceed $2,000. As we stood pondering the decision, the lady stated that she had been a great dog to them and that the only reason they were getting rid of her was because they were having to feed her trash since they couldn’t afford to buy dog food for her. That was the lynch pin for us – I didn’t care how old, ugly, snaggle-toothed or decrepit she was, she wasn’t going to stay there.
We drove home with the windows down that day. We nearly froze, but Dream sat calmly in between us on the seat with a look of gratitude I’ve never before seen in a dog’s eye. When we got to the base, we stopped in one of the open fields and decided to let her out to go the bathroom before we got to the house – we were hoping to avoid as many accidents there as possible. She hopped casually out of the truck, tail wagging, and followed us around like a shadow. We soon discovered that she was a very sweet natured dog, despite her snarled appearance.
Fortunately, the vet we used was quite familiar with Dream and even thanked us for taking her out of her previous home situation. She informed us that she’d seen Dream on a number of occasions – after each of her 5 litters of pups (the dog was only 6 at the time), and each time she noticed Dream was looking continually worse-for-wear. But she had been a good mother to her babies, despite the horrible living conditions at the house.
It has been 6 years since we overpaid for our sweet girl. Since then we’ve spent more money at the vet’s office on her than we have on any other dog we’ve ever owned. Despite all the promises from her former owner, we never did receive her AKC registration paperwork, although I did look her info up on the AKC website. We never saw any of her ribbons or points certificates, not that we would have continued to show her in the condition she was in. We have since been in contact with her original breeder who also expressed her gratitude for our acquisition. And we think we’ve got the best house dog in the world.
Unfortunately, Dreamer is old now. She has lost all bladder control and is constantly peeing on herself. Her back end continues to get weaker each day – some days it takes her several minutes to work up the strength and balance to get out of her crate in the morning just to go out to the bathroom. She has been bumping into walls for months now, and has even fallen off her chair a few times. I believe she’s had at least one seizure, although a mild one. And she’s fully into Dogheimer’s. Many days she doesn’t know us or recognize her surroundings. And while she never yelps out in pain or has panic attacks, activity isn’t something she enjoys at all. We know it won’t be long before we have to make the decision to have her put to sleep. Its not a decision I’m prepared to make at this time. I’m selfish and I love that smelly, old dog like there’s no tomorrow. I pray every night when I go to bed that she’d die peacefully in her sleep so we wouldn’t have to be the bad guys. I don’t want her to live in pain, but I also don’t want to lose her. She’s a major part of our family unit and I don’t know that I’m ready to live without her.