While she may not look it, our adorable model, Lola, will be 13 years young in August.
She's been a loving and loyal family member her entire life, but her last few years have not been easy.
I tried to read up about what to expect with senior dogs, to better prepare myself for her older years. But it's hard to find an honest article or blog post about the reality of life with a senior dog.
So, though this will be a difficult post to write, I'm going share some of our experiences. This is by no means meant to be anywhere near medical or scientific in nature, I'm not even going to go into nutrition, special care, ets. And please note that no two dogs are exactly alike. Your experience may be entirely different. This is just our honest story of Lola's senior years.
Expected and Unexpected Changes
Lack of Energy
We all know that with age, you start to slow down. For Lola, this started happening when she was around 8-9 years old. She was still moving around just fine and her moments of playfulness, but she simply wasn't as active as often.
A year or two later though, the changes became more dramatic.
Almost all play stopped. She use to run and catch frisbees and love tennis balls, but after around 10 years, she wouldn't pick one up that was rolling right past her nose.
Our walks in the park grew shorter out of necessity. She'd still get a sudden burst of energy when we first went to the park, but by the time we were back, she'd be walking at a snail's pace. Taking the stairs became impossible.
By 11, her hind legs were starting to give her trouble. She wouldn't sit as often, always either laying down or standing. And this also meant she couldn't squat as well when urinating, resulting in almost daily baths.
At home, her lethargy was also growing apparent. She'd rest or sleep most of the day, occasionally moving around only to lay back down. In her younger years, she was extremely fond of jumping up on beds and couches, but by around age 11 she was no longer able to get herself up onto them.
The excessive laying around and inability to get onto a soft surface caused large ugly callouses to form on her elbows. It took a new dog bed and months of training her to use it to make them eventually shrink and nearly fade away.
Illness and Incontinence
Another (mostly) expected change was increased health issues. Up until she was age 8, Lola was in great health and had never even had so much as an ear infection. But after that turning point, she began having yearly, then seasonally, then almost monthly issues.
At 8, she developed a growth in her mouth and began exhibiting seasonal allergy symptoms. Around age 9, she had a massive bacterial infection that we nearly lost her to. From age 10 on, she began getting ear infections, bladder infections, and bacterial stomach infections in almost a rotating basis.
At age 12, incontinence set in. She began having random accidents around the house, which was completely abnormal for her. Up until this point she would always signal that she had to go, but she slowly stopped signaling. We began taking her out more often, but as the months passed, she would still sometimes wet herself without even realizing what was happening.
While the above two issues can be difficult to deal with, they were both somewhat expected. Changes to a dog's physical health are normal with age, we understand them and know that they are coming. And to a degree, we can try to counteract - or at least manage - them them with dietary changes, supplements, exercise, and of course regular veterinary care.
But the change that broke my heart the most was her growing lack of interest in the world around her - including her family.
Lola is still as patient and gentle as she ever was, but aside from food (she is still a golden retriever after all!), all other joys in life seem to have slowly faded to the background. She doesn't get up for the dreaded vaccuum any more. She only plays with or interacts with other dogs at the park unless they approach her. And she doesn't even come over to us for regular pets or snuggles any more.
She use to be such a joyful and loving dog. Seeing this emotional change in her has by far been the worst for me.
Celebrating these Years with Photos
These changes remind me that every day is precious. And in a way, Lola's role as a model in my shop has been a bit of a blessing in disguise. It's allowed me an opportunity to regularly interact with her (in a way she appreciates, because food!) while also capturing those bits of personality that I still see hidden beneath her big brown eyes.
And in a way, through our photos, I will have had the precious opportunity to record and forever treasure some of the more beautiful moments of her final years.
So give your fur babies a hug tonight. And when they knock over the trash or chew up your shoes, try not to get too mad at them. These gentle souls are with us for only a short while, enjoy every second you can.