Life's dog days

"What? You make your dog walk 3 miles a day?" The vet was horrified. "You realize she is the equivalent of an old woman? I wouldn't ask my own mother to walk that distance."

What was the big deal? I wondered. My min-pin mutt Giada is 15, around my husband's age in dog years. But she likes to walk, her appetite is indefatigable, her weight spot on, her fur silken and smooth. Why can't she continue as usual?

Illustration of a man and dog at the vet's office

Image credit: Danie Drankwalter

Granted, there's that inconvenient passage of time, marked by hearing problems, cataracts, arthritis, and more.

Hearing loss is a mixed blessing. Giada no longer bolts into the kitchen when I open the fridge. She doesn't greet me at the door when I come home. She also startles easily when I approach her from behind. Same for my spouse, who doesn't hear the phone or doorbell and jumps when he doesn't hear me coming.

Cataracts have clouded Giada's vision, affecting one of her favorite pastimes: lizard hunting. My husband doesn't chase lizards, but he will undergo a cataract operation soon to keep from squinting at the computer screen. The difference is that a dog needs total anesthesia for cataract surgery—decidedly discouraged at her age.

Her glossy black fur is increasingly gray. I have been plucking out the gray hairs on her neck and head, but by now there are too many to remove. My husband shaved his head to avoid the issue entirely.

Giada's weight is under control only because I decide what she eats. If food intake were up to her, she would be a canine blimp. My spouse and I have similar struggles with our weight, but we don't have someone to diligently ration our kibble.

They both move more stiffly these days. Giada has trouble going down steps and dislikes jumping on the sofa. Every so often she trips while walking, something that never used to happen. She licks her legs, sort of like my husband rubbing cream on his limbs. They both sleep a lot more than they used to.

And yet, they can still walk 3 miles or more a day. She can catch a ball based on instinct and greet a doggy friend based on smell. She snuggles well, gives lots of kisses, and gets that oxytocin flow going when I pet her. My husband gets my oxytocin going for similar, but human, reasons, and he too smells good. So, a long hike tomorrow, weather permitting? We are all in.

Claudia Flisi is a freelance journalist living in Milan with her husband, Fernando, whom she met while studying at SAIS Europe in Bologna. Her book Crystal and Jade is about Giada.

Posted in Voices+Opinion