Sunday 21 February 2021

Dogs and Old Age


by Judith Skilleter,

Kir vin blanc

First of all I must make it clear that the title of this story does not refer to elderly canines, dogs in the twilight of their years with their best times a fading memory – if dogs have memories that is. This I doubt because the dogs I have owned and known give the same welcome if you have been on a long fabulous holiday or just nipped down to the corner shop for some milk.

So we are clear. This story is not about elderly pooches. Rather it is about older non-canines i.e. people who take on the responsibility of dog owning, possibly even with no previous experience of this very important task. And that is the problem. I am particularly concerned because so often in the news during these strange Covid 19 times is that there have been  a lot of pups bought during the pandemic and many of these have now been at worst abandoned or at best handed in to a rescue establishment.  The thought crosses my mind that there are some stinkers out there, and again I must emphasise that I am talking about people and not smelly pooches, who would do worse than abandon a dog to rid themselves of the responsibility. But let’s not go into that.

I feel rather vexed that people have bought dogs because they have the free time to look after them because of this blasted virus. How irresponsible, how thoughtless of the virus to give us the opportunity to own a dog. I believe that there should be a test for would-be dog owners that includes questions like “Why do you want a dog?”, in which case “Because we have time to look after them because of Covid19” is not an A* answer. Other questions should include “Have you any idea at all how much a dog costs through, say, a long 12 year life?” or “Do you realise how awful it can be having to walk a dog every day, ideally more than once, whatever the weather?” or “Do you realise that dogs do poos, sometimes huge poos if they are big dogs, and  you might be fined £1000 if your pampered pooch fouls a public footpath?” or “Do you realise how much attention dogs need, certainly in their early months with you, if they are to become full members of the family?” I could go on for weeks here.

Now we come to the subjects of the story, the elderly people mentioned in the title – the husband and me, both pensioners who have between us had 5 canines over the course of our lives, four of whom living long and happy lives having been fully paid up members of our families. They were delightful gorgeous dogs- photos available by request. (I will tell you about number 5 shortly) And now we are thinking once again of having a full time canine companion. After all we have the time.

NO!!!!!! That is not a good enough reason.

Yes we do have the time but we do not have the time all of the time. After this blasted virus becomes less of a news topic and we get back to the usual wars and famine throughout the world – it is amazing that all these other things that would be very newsworthy in normal times do not get much of mention these days. Anyway, when this virus is just a fading bad memory (the husband accuses me of excess and pointless optimism but, what the hell, what is the alternative) we will be off. We have to go to Australia to see my daughter who is currently pregnant with a new grandchild. The husband and I also want to revisit Dubrovnik where we have an elderly pal who has had more years than the years she has remaining. Yes, she is even older than we are. We also want to go to France. Until recently and BB (Blasted Brexit) we had a little flat in the Pas de Calais but now it has been sold because of BB and  we now want to see more than the top left hand corner of that wonderful country. Mind you, this is despite the husband not approving of Emmanuel Macron. His views are quite entertaining. Would you like to hear them?

Yes we could take dogs on some of these hopefully-soon-to-be-arranged holidays. Previous dogs have had passports and have enjoyed trips to France with us, but the Down Under trip might be for 2 or 3 months and no way would we leave our canine chum in kennels or ask a friend or relative to take on the responsibility for that length of time.

One idea would be to take on an older rescue dog, one that sleeps a lot and does not need a lot of long walks, and that has been the favourite idea for some time. But again what about the long holidays we are planning once TBV has gone away? It would be so unfair to an unsuspecting dog who only very recently had decided we were good enough for him to stay with permanently.

We have had experience of taking on a rescue dog full time. Dog number 5 was lovely at first but time showed he was 2 years older than we initially believed, he was not a well dog and cost us £1000 in vet fees during his first year with us and then he got what the vet called “doggy dementia” where he became so aggressive that we couldn’t risk him with our small grandchildren. After taking the vet’s advice and following a number of treatment plans that failed he had to be put to sleep. This was an experience we would not wish to repeat. When taking on pre-loved dogs you really need to have an accurate history.

Our solution to this problem, i.e. to get our dog fix, is to borrow other people’s dogs for short or long periods of time. The husband’s son has a pup and when he, his wife and son are out all day then the pup comes to us. We are perfect dog-sitters – we live not too far away, we are besotted by dogs and we charge nothing. In addition I have a friend who has a dog but she lives in a house without a garden, and she also has a baby, a husband working from home and a school age child she is trying to home school. We have that delightful dog for holidays of up to a month. It could be said that Bella the Cocker Spaniel is the only individual in the East Riding of Yorkshire who has had legal holidays during the Covid 19 chaos.

And this is enough for the husband and me. We are always so pleased to see these two precious pooches but we are also always glad to hand the dogs back and have a less demanding life i.e. only dealing with the demands of each other rather than an active canine.

In ideal circumstances, which we are not in, a dog we owned would be a dog and not a bitch in order to save the back lawn from those awful burnt patches. (Years ago I would not have been worried by those awful burnt patches.) Also this precious pooch would have a Spanish name.

Google tells us that

It is assumed spaniels originated from Spain as the word spaniel may be derived from Hispania or possibly from the French phrase "Chiens de l’Espagnol” so we have to have Spain in there somewhere. Our dog would have to be another Cocker spaniel. We have had a Pablo (Picasso), and our next dog would be Diego, named after Velasquez.

Unfortunately though, after much heart searching and sensible thought and humming and ahing this will never happen. We have finally 100% decided that owning a dog at our age, especially from the puppy stage, would be too much for us. We are both nearer to 70 than 60 years old. We no longer have the energy, physical or emotional, to give a dog the active attention they would need.  It could probably be also argued that we are too broken and faulty to be able to appreciate the many joys given by a dog let alone give him a good life. The husband will soon need to have both knees replaced and I am fearful of the return of a cancer diagnosis. We cannot take a long and happy life together, with or without a canine companion, for granted so I suppose that we have to keep in mind that, unlike poinsettias, a dog is for life and not just for Christmas.

 Blast! I hate being sensible.

And for those of you who are thinking of getting a dog during these very strange times please think very very carefully before you decide to get one.

About the author 

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching and her first children's novel will be published shortly. She is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with 2 grown up children and nearly 3 grandchildren

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