Life cycles are a funny thing. Most of the time we don't pay attention to a phase of life until it's our turn to live it. Remember being 12 and thinking 18 was old? Or being 25 and thinking 40 was old? Now I think 18 years as nothing more than babes not wearing diapers! And the older I get the younger the 18 year olds look. Anyone else experience the same thing? I can only imagine what they think of me! No, I don't want to imagine that! Especially if it's consist of the word old. Oy!
As a pet sitter I often get calls from nursing caretakers inquiring about a client of theirs who has a dog they can no longer care for. It's not that they don't want their dog. It's that the ability to be able to take them out for walks on a regular basis is no longer something these folks can do. Especially in the winters when there's snow and ice on the ground. Trying to find a way to keep the dogs with their owners leads them to call my service. Hiring a pet sitter would be a great solution, but it means a commitment on our part to take care of the dog seven days a week...indefinitely. Which is cost prohibitive.
I struggle with this a lot. As I'm almost certain this is what my future holds. My husband is a few years older than me and going by history, it's very likely that I will outlive him. Not by a year or two, but by years. The idea of not sharing my life with a furry best friend makes me shudder when I think about it. I'm probably going to be the lady you hear on the news that was found face down in my back yard because my dog pulled me down and I couldn't get up. And because my yard is secluded, no one can see me so days go by before anyone knows I am in trouble. While this can be a very real problem, I'm too stubborn and refuse to give up on the idea that one day I will not have a fur-kid.
So what do you do? Well, that's the question Alex has been facing for the last several months. Alex is one of my pet sitting clients, a dog I walk every weekday and have been doing so for over 8 years. His owner had some health issues and couldn't take him for walks anymore. She could still care for him, but all she could do was let him out, so he never got any exercise. So that's where my service came in. Alex and I have become great walking buddies. Most days we'd walk about a mile. Neither snow, wind, cold or humidity would stop us. Rain, however, did. It was good for both of us - I got some fresh air, burned a few calories, and he got out of the house to "read" the daily newspaper.
Until his mom fell and ended up in the hospital. Alex was taken to a local kennel. It was immediately clear that his mom wasn't going home anytime soon. He has 2 human sisters, one who lives locally and is allergic to dogs. The other lives out of state. While his mom eventually moved into assisted living - a place where dogs are allowed - her health prevented her from being able to care for him entirely on her own. Something that is required by all residents who have a pet. Sure, there are lots of options - give him up for adoption, move in with his human sister out of state or continue to board him at the kennel. None of these are viable and acceptable choices. Would you want to have to make that choice?
And so that's how Alex found himself living at our house. He already knew Izzy and Kita since I took them over often to walk with me and Alex. All of them got along. Adding a third dog to our family wasn't something I was looking to do. But knowing that one day he might be able to move back with him mom permanently, and knowing that if he stayed with us, he would be able to visit his mom until then made this doable. And that was a solution everyone could live with. In fact, I have no doubt that his mom's recovery from the fall and subsequent surgery (unrelated to the fall) is due to the fact that Alex was still a part of her life.
At 12, Alex is no spring chicken either. According to statistics, the average life span for the King Charles Cavalier breed is 9 - 14 years. If there's any way he can be with his mom as much as possible, than why not make that happen? He needs her as much as she needs him. And what makes this relationship even more special is that Alex came into her life when her husband's health was failing. He eventually passed away, and Alex was there to help her grieve and move on. So they have a long history together.
Every week, we take Alex to his mom so they can spend the day together. It's amazing how well Alex adapted to all these changes. And how quickly he knew exactly what was going on. Even Izzy and Kita know it's visiting day when I leave the house with just Alex. They respect that and don't get jealous or try to come with us. And when he comes back, they greet him at the door with kisses and tails wagging.
Alex knows where he is when I pull into the parking lot of his mom's building. He wags his tail feverishly and drags me into the building and down the hallway to her room. He hasn't quite figured out which door is hers, but he knows she's close by. Their reunions are touching to watch - so much love and happiness to be together again. And when it's time for us to pick him up, I swear he knows he will be back soon.
Their visits are great because they walk the halls of the building and meet all the other residents. It gets his mom out of her room and the walk he would normally get when we walk Izzy and Kita. Alex has the perfect disposition to be a therapy dog and I bet it won't be long before all the residents are asking if today is the day Alex is coming over for a visit. What a difference just one dog can make for so many people.
I'm not sharing this story because I want kudos for what we are doing. I share it because Alex and his mom's situation is not unique. Volunteering at the local shelter, we know all too often how many pets are re-homed because their owners can no longer care for them. It's not their fault. I don't know what the solution is, but I no doubt one day this will be my story too. And when that day comes, if like Alex's mom, I cannot take care of my fur-kid full-time anymore, I hope someone will do for me what we are doing for Alex. Because I cannot imagine my life without a fur baby.
Have you had an experience like this with a loved one? What was your solution? I'd love to hear your story! Share it in the comments or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.