We had a scare yesterday morning. As every morning, George was ready for his early pee and poop walk a little after six. We live on a slope in the hills in Los Angeles, so our bedroom is downstairs; the main living area, kitchen etc. are above, so it's a short trek up a flight of stairs to get to the front door to the street. Now twelve years old, George has been feeling his age. He's not able to jump up--spoiled creature!--to the bed or the couch as he used to, and needs help. Those stairs, particularly early in the morning before his joints have had the time to mellow out a bit, present a challenge. Where once he would take them in leaps and bounds, all eager to be out on the street, he now kind of hobbles up and is thankful just to have reached the top. It's not too much different, I have to say, for me. The joints are not what they used to be. My progress is slower and, truth to tell, sometimes more painful than I would like. George has become my partner in aging; I watch him with the acute consciousness that as he goes, I am not far behind.
Anyway, this morning it was different. It was no longer just a hobble. It was, first, a big hesitation at the bottom of the steps; a difficult decision to set the first paw upon this mountain to be climbed. Then a sway, a stumble, a fall against the wall, and slow, agonized progress. Once leashed, he left with some reluctance, but we made our usual short walk up and down the street in front of our house. It was when he stopped for his poop that I became really alarmed: when he squatted down, his rear end gave way and he fell over, rolling around with a yelp onto his back. Struggling back up, he nonetheless managed to get his business done, and we hurried home for his breakfast. I was encouraged that he at least had no problem scoffing that down. His appetite never fails him!
But he continued to show weakness in the back, tottering around the house and occasionally staggering to regain his balance. He also seemed strangely disoriented, gazing about him as though unsure where he was and what was going on--so not-there that I was truly worried that he was about to leave us, half-a-step already into that great unknown that awaits us all, whether animal or human.
You know how it is with pets. We have a big chunk of our hearts invested in them. At least I do, especially with George. So you can imagine my distress to see him in this state. Since we were planning to leave soon for our planned week down in Laguna Beach, I put in a call to our vet down there and arranged to bring him in a little later in the morning. Traffic was kind to us. We arrived earlier than expected, and decided to stop by the dog park near the animal hospital to see if a stretch and a run might cheer up our ailing friend; and were surprised--delighted--to see him chase after his ball with (almost) as much enthusiasm as ever.
He was not particularly pleased, however, to find himself back on the examination table at the vet's; nor to have the thermometer thrust up you-know-where. Still, he managed it all with a semblance of dignity. Dogs, as we all know, are more stoical than we humans. He suffered through the doctor's examination, and allowed himself to be carried off the the x-ray room, in order for the doctor to get a look at both his back and his heart--both possible sources of the problem. The (still!) astonishing (to me!) miracle of 21st century technology made it possible to see the result of the x-ray on the monitor in the examination room within minutes. George's heart, the doctor assured us, looked to be in good shape, despite the progressive murmur that is familiar to the breed. (George, as regular readers will know, is a Cavalier Kind Charles spaniel--our third in succession.)
The x-ray image of his vertebrae, on the other hand, clearly showed a severe arthritic condition. Perhaps, the doctor suggested, that difficult climb up the stairs that morning might have tweaked the affected area in some way. It was possible, ha agreed, that the sight of us packing for the trip to the beach might have induced some stress that could have contributed to the episode. George is very watchful of our movements; packing, for him, may bring back memories of those times when we do actually go off for two or three weeks, leaving him in the care of a dog-sitter. I credit him with good recall, a refined intelligence, and an emotional life that we can only guess at...
So the doctor prescribed a weekend of good rest. George must remain a couch potato for a while to come. He's also on Tramadol, to relieve what must be a painful back. Plus an anti-biotic to fight an unrelated infection around the gums--again, a condition familiar in his breed. Plus another liquid medication for who-knows-what. We put the hefty charges on our credit card and drove home.
As I mentioned earlier, George is my bell-weather. In dog years--seven to one--at eighty-four (!) he is a few years ahead of me now. I watch him, worry over him, care for him, with always an eye to my own advancing years: may I age as gracefully as he, and with his admirable stoicism, his notable lack of complaint. As I intone silently each day in the metta practice that is a part of my meditation, may I look after myself with ease.