2018.08.18UPDATE: Family Update: Downward Dog

Papa passed quite quickly in May. And I say "quite quickly" in relation to a weekend as opposed to the many years of his full life. The lowlights of his disease were that he was on a relatively low-sloped decline until he experienced a trauma -- he fell and broke his collar bone -- which accelerated its progress dramatically. Over the next few months, words, around which he had modeled his life, would increasingly flee until he was saying few if any actual words at all. Dementia was for him a cruel and sinister irony.

Fast-forward to June. The dust has begun to settle for Yaya, who has determined she will stay in the house but look for opportunities to move to a smaller place in town. Kiddo has completed a very successful year in middle school. Bartlett, our older dog, has been slowing over the past couple of months; it's become obvious his hearing is significantly diminished, and his gait has slowed, but he still likes to romp and play with his kitties now and again. Laurel and I are preparing to move the family.

By early July, we're in at the new house. The cats came in the first trip in my small car; the dogs came in the second in the larger SUV. Laurel and I had been talking quite a bit about countermeasures for keeping the dogs from falling into the pool, but we first wanted to see how well they'd do with all of us outside with them on their first visit to the back yard.

The yard is mostly pool. The back door, at the north side of the yard, exits onto a patio which leads directly to the steps down into the kidney bean-shaped pool after about 20 feet. The pool was obviously made for relaxation or very gentle exercise; its maybe 5' deep at most. The absence of any sort of barrier between patio/yard and pool strongly suggests children were not part of the install equation. What grass there is is on the south side of the yard. Plenty there for small animals; one just has to guide them along the walkway between the house and the pool to get to it.

As I said, I've spent a few cycles on how to ensure the dogs' safety, with inputs from both Laurel and kiddo. But then the big moment arrived, when we could watch them in the yard for the first time and determine whether they -- chiefly, Bartlett -- could navigate the shoreline on his own.

We hadn't been outside for 30 seconds. I had only walked out a few feet -- far enough to deposit my towel before going into the water -- when I turned to see Bartlett standing at the bottom of the pool. He was out of the house for SECONDS and walked straight off the deck into the water. We viewed this as a prime indication of how poor his eyesight has become -- and wouldn't have believed it without this event.

I started this post talking about Papa for a reason. And here it is: I find there is stunning similarity between Papa's trajectory and Bartlett's. To be clear, I am certain Bartlett suffered from, essentially, dementia. Like Papa, Bartlett was on a slow decline until a trauma. For Bartlett, it was falling into the pool.

He was underwater for perhaps five seconds. Kiddo and Laurel were pulling him up within three. By the fifth second he was in our arms and being carried to the deck. We watched him pretty closely for a day -- he slept very, very soundly that first night. The following day he seemed a little slow. But by the end of two weeks, much about him had changed. His gait had become stiff and extremely slow. His steps were uncertain. He would stare at walls. He would yelp when touched from a direction he couldn't see. We'd consulted a local veterinarian who prescribed some medication to make him hungry again, and Laurel cooked some nice food for him to eat. But through the second week it was clear it wasn't having enough of an effect.

Laurel and I spent the past few nights wondering if he would wake the next day. I made the call to the vet's office on Friday. We were slated to put him to sleep at noon the following day (today).

This morning we saw even more evidence that we were doing the right thing: a liquid mess in the back yard which suggested stomach problems, and, as we walked him into the vet's office, urine that was alarmingly dark. Our boy was shutting down, and he knew it. When Laurel found him this morning, he was asleep in a corner of her office -- an unusual place for him. Laurel interpreted it as him going to a remote place to die.

Our new vet was beautiful. She had absolutely the right words for us; she knew we were grieving. It's... it's difficult to meet somebody when you've been "ugly crying." Laurel and I spent probably twenty minutes on the floor with our boy -- the first ten just laying with him and petting him; the second ten, doing the same, but lulling him to sleep after receiving the sedative. The doctor even kissed her palm and placed it on his head. She could tell were were both absolutely devastated at having to bring him in, and she made me feel like her heart really, really went out to us.

I don't know if the other animals have figured it out yet. The younger dog watched me completely dissolve into tears over Bartlett minutes before we left with him. But because Bartlett had been so sedentary over the past few days, I don't know if the pup (I say "pup," but he's like seven years old now) or the cats have done the math because he hadn't been moving from room to room as do the rest.

I'm particularly curious about how the pup will adjust. Pup isn't like Bartlett; he's not got the sense about him to be "one of the family." He's a dog through and through, nothing more. That doesn't mean Laurel doesn't love him to pieces --- she absolutely does. He just doesn't have that je ne se quois that transcends; that -ness that tells one very clearly he's some Gestalthund. What pup usually IS, though, is jealous: he got so unbelievably mad whenever we would separate Bartlett from him. It gave me the idea that he was certain Bartlett was getting to do something fun and he was stuck not getting to do whatever amazing thing Bartlett could. To be honest, he was right about that some of the time. Bartlett, for his part, absolutely hated being separated from his little buddy. He would yowl inconsolably when pup was gone for vet appointments and the like.

I hope Spirit Bartlett will visit him. Pup is such a nervous little dog.


UPDATE: Pup finally got the memo. It's taken a few weeks. Last week we had an awful lot of rain (for this area, anyway), and some thunder-bumpers were part of the package. We have a good product called Thunder Shirts to help keep them calm despite the commotion outside (they're good for fireworks, too!). Anyway, the Thunder Shirts' design is a little complicated, and it's not so easy to tell which shirt goes onto which dog. As the storm was approaching, Laurel placed one of the shirts onto pup, and figured out pretty quickly it was the wrong one (by size) -- but pup had already taken a big sniff of it, and the math was well underway. He sniffed at the fabric some more, and Laurel could see him recognize Bartlett's scent, then remember him, remember he was ill, and realize he's been gone for a little while. Pup became sad and sort of moped around the house for the day.

Pup has had a behavior late in Bartlett's days of hiding treats. Laurel would give them each a biscuit; Bartlett would drop it on the floor and forget about it, so Pup would later pick it up and eat it, or, as time went on, he'd hide it someplace where he knew Bartlett couldn't get at it. The hiding behavior became noticeable after we'd moved and Bartlett was in steep decline. Kiddo and I would find dog bones (the biscuits) under our pillows at night. Probably the best "hiding" job I saw was when he'd turned one of Laurel's flip-flops onto its side by a wall, and placed the biscuit behind it.

Since pup's epiphany last week, the hiding has stopped. We'd figured he was doing it in response to Bartlett's assertion of dominance through food control. Here we've at least circumstantial evidence to suggest that was the case.

Finally, I think other behaviors have changed in Bartlett's absence, and for the better. I sort of wonder if pup is actually happier without Bartlett, insofar as he no longer has to compete for attention; there's no reason for jealousy, much like there's no reason to hide biscuits. I know pup could display some amazing jealousy where Bartlett was concerned; he would bark his "mad bark" whenever Bartlett was allowed out front of the house and he was put in the back yard. With those days behind him now, I hope pup will feel happier and become a better friend to us all.

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