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Swift: Life with senior dog is complicated, but worth it

Tammy Swift, columnist

So it’s the middle of the day, and I’m trying to silently unpack the dishwasher. Have you ever tried that? It’s impossible.

Clanging bowls, thunking glasses, clinking plates. If this was 1973 and every dish I owned was Tupperware, it might be possible. If I moved with the measured and meditative mindfulness of Mr. Miyagi, it could be done. Instead, I am an absent-minded, slightly klutzy, middle-aged lady who was the first member of the family to successfully shatter Mom’s new Corelle dinnerware. I am the proverbial bull in the china shop.

Yet here I am, trying to gently pull a whisk out of a tightly loaded silverware drawer without making it sound like I’ve hurled a banjo down the stairs. At the same time, I’m watching my dog, Kita, out of the corner of my eye. She is contentedly chowing down on her food, and I want her to eat.

I must not startle her. Must. Not. Startle. Her.

Then it happens. The whisk is actually enmeshed in a butter knife. As I try to untangle them, the two metal objects plink like a Chihuahua dancing on a piano.

I tug harder at the whisk and it suddenly releases with a THWANG! Startled, I drop it onto the open dishwasher door, where it bounces onto the laminate flooring with a cacophonous crash.

Kita is 14 and has three bad legs. Even so, she managed to dart into my bedroom with the speed of a jackrabbit. Apparently, adrenaline works for everyone.

This is life with a senior dog. You find yourself making accommodations just as you would for an aging human.

I’ve purchased big, squishy stairs that allow her to get off the couch, sit down and slowly slide her way down to the floor. I work at home more so she can nap in comfort beside me. I carry her up and down stairs and have created a grid of area rugs around the house because she refuses to walk on bare floors.

I try to not make noise in the kitchen, which means I’ve learned how to silently make coffee and stealthily scramble eggs. I’ve even learned how to dig in the freezer quietly (not easy when a 5-pound bag of Tater Tots falls on the floor).

Her palate has grown pickier, so I now feed her better than I do myself. She likes strange things, like Jell-O and salami. I slow-cook chicken thighs in unsalted broth, chop up the meat in a food processor and garnish it with pungent items like Parmesan cheese, cinnamon, dill and anchovy oil.

When she seems skeptical of my culinary efforts, I have been known to reach into her food bowl and pretend to greedily eat a handful of her chow. Afterward, she re-examines the food dish with a new interest and starts munching away. That’s a pack animal for you.

Her heart is still good, her lungs are still strong and she doesn’t have kidney trouble, cataracts or cancer. She still eats, even though her teeth aren’t great.

She still loves walking and sniffing, even though we move with the speed of a glacier. She still seems to enjoy life, as long as her humans are around and everything stays exactly where it is.

She has arthritis, although the drugs seem to help quite a bit. She doesn’t hear or see as well as she used to, which explains the heightened startle response.

She has more accidents indoors; I now could write a doctoral dissertation on how to steam clean carpets.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time. The vet tells me that I will know in my heart. But she still seems like herself — just a finickier, sleepier and more neurotic version of herself. (Actually, she may be turning into a cat.)

I hope my heart isn’t lying to me. I hope it isn’t telling me she’s just fine as a way to rationalize keeping her here.

Yet I really feel like this furry, black bear of a dog isn’t ready yet. As long as I can puree food and take her out in the middle of the night and go on incredibly slow walks with her, she’s good.

But I may need to re-invest in Tupperware.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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