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Ode to Isabel - the 18 year old Staffy

Posted in Client Service @ Oct 10th 2013 - By Judy Gillespie
Isabel At 18

I've been lucky enough to live with Isabel for 18 years - she might be old but she's been teaching us some great lessons.

Isabel turned 18 years old this week, a pretty remarkable age for a staffy and I’ve been thinking about how Isabel in her advanced years has been teaching our family to be better humans. 

It’s interesting, as you’d think a dog that spends most of her days sleeping in her favourite spots wouldn’t have much of an impact on a busy family.  But she does....


I’m not a patient person – in fact I think my epitaph should just read “Here lies Judy Gillespie – she wasn’t a patient person” but with Isabel I’m endlessly patient.  Nothing happens quickly with Isabel. If I need to leave the house and put the dogs outside, Nina races for the door but Isabel takes quite some time to:

  • wake up,
  • get up,
  • stretch,
  • give me that look that says “I don’t want to go outside thank you.....Oh ok then...”
  • gradually start to move,
  • slowly get outside the front door.

And I just have to wait.  There’s no point calling her as she’s deaf ...I...

Slow down

I tend to do everything quickly, usually three things quickly at the same time and walking the dogs is one of those things.

Except with Isabel.

Most days I take her for a walk in the afternoon. I say walk but it’s really more of a very slow stroll around our street. She still likes to go for her stroll, have a sniff here and there just as long as it’s slow and doesn’t involve any hills. So I just have to slow down and walk at her pace. And you know what?  I think it’s good for me – I come back feeling relaxed and usually with about three new ideas.

Be aware

As Isabel is deaf and her eye sight is not great I also have to be her ears and eyes on our walks. So although we’re strolling slowly around our street I can’t just zone out as I need to keep an eye out to make sure she’s not heading towards a wall, a drain or a car.  It’s amazing the things you notice in your street when you really start to look.

These last lessons I think Isabel has been teaching our whole family

Think of how others are feeling

At such an advanced age everything has to happen to Isabel’s rhythm.  She really doesn’t like change of any kind and prefers to spend her day sleeping next to me while I work.  So she’s really only happy when I’m sitting where I’m supposed to be at the time I’m supposed to be there.  It also means that as a family we need to take her needs into account. For example, we’ve modified our holiday plans – which really means we haven’t taken any for awhile.  The thought of leaving her at home with just Nina for company and the neighbours feeding her seems to take the fun out of planning a trip just now.  You wouldn’t leave your grandma at home alone while you went on holidays would you?

Take time for cuddles

As she got older Isabel came to us less for cuddles & pats.  This means I have to make the effort to go to her.  She still makes her happy wuffling noises when I give her a cuddle and she loves having her hips massaged and her body gently brushed but I have to take the time to go to her. 

Just take time to sit

Sometimes Isabel doesn’t want to be patted but she always wants to be close.  Often at night when she can seem a little distressed (usually because she wants us all to go to around 9pm!) she’s quite happy if I sit next to her on the floor and just be with her. 

In the past there were many nights when she would wake up disoriented and become distressed.  I could always calm her down by lying next to her on her doggy bed and just be with her. Thankfully these night time distresses have completely stopped since we put a couple of night lights around her favourite spots so when she wakes up she can see enough to move from place to place.

The cycle of life

My parents are no longer alive and my husband’s family live in New Zealand so our children don’t spend much time around older people.  I know Isabel isn’t quite like a grandparent but she has played an important role in their lives.

They respect her age and I have often seen them help her outside or just spend time patting her in a very tender way.  That’s a nice thing to see a 14 year old boy do.  My 11 year old daughter has said Isabel is her favourite – which surprised me as Nina (our other staffy) is so much fun to run around with.  But she says Isabel is soft, cuddly and sweet.

They also know that she is not going to be around for too much longer and we’ve talked about how sad we’ll all be when she does finally go.

Isabel has been such an important part of our lives and a loyal loving companion to us all that my only wish is that when her  time does come she will either decide herself  or I’ll have the strength to recognise that it’s time for her to go. Don’t worry – I’ve had lots of conversations with my vet on the topic and I guess it’s one day at a time when you’re an 18 year old dog!  

So yes, having an old (old, old) dog is definitely extra work and has its challenges but it’s also a beautiful time and I’m grateful we got to experience it with our Isabel. 


Rhys Hayward @ Oct 11th 2013 4:08pm
Thanks for sharing with us Judy, hopefully Isabel makes 20!
Judy @ Oct 11th 2013 4:18pm
Oh my goodness Rhys - is that even possible?
Jess @ Oct 16th 2013 4:21pm
Aww, so very sweet. Brings tears to my eyes. My last little boy was 17 when he decided it was time. We can certainly learn so much from our dogs and well done for taking the time to appreciate the oldie. I love the oldies that come into our clinic - have a very big soft spot for them.
Fiona Urie @ Oct 16th 2013 5:02pm
That is the most beautiful tribute Judy !! Isabel is a lucky dog to have such a loving and caring family xxx
Judy @ Oct 17th 2013 12:07pm
Hi Jess - the oldies are special aren't they? It amazes me how patient Isabel still is particularly with children & I often see my 11yr old daughter's friends sitting on the ground next to her giving her pats - so nice to see!
Judy @ Oct 17th 2013 12:08pm
Thanks Fiona - I think we've been lucky to have Isabel! :)
krista @ Nov 25th 2013 2:11am
What a wonderful blog about a beautiful girl. I so love the birthday cake! My very best to you both..savor each day and each little moment are in my thoughts.. krista
David B. @ Feb 22nd 2014 1:49pm
Judy, very well said! Isabel is a very lucky lady! We have Harley, he will be 17.5 on Mar. 1st. He is a rescue from a shelter, (the last adopted of a liter of 7) Every day is precious and sometimes trying, but I wouldn't trade a one! His brother & sister are under his watchful old eyes often. I believe they have helped him to stay sharp, but they will miss him when it's time! Thanks for sharing! Blessing's!
Britton @ Mar 21st 2014 6:43am
Thank you so much for sharing your story. Karma just turned 14-ish on Saturday (pound puppy; thus the "ish".) She is a Black Lab./Australian Cattle Dog/Shepherd mix. I've noticed a lot of the same characteristics in Karma that you have described with Isabel. I am comforted by your story, and your bond. I appreciate your words. All the best to you and your family!
LSB @ Mar 21st 2014 7:08am
When our dog started to break down at age 17 a friend put it this way: "Just give him his whiskey and cigars and let him teach you patience and grace." He did . . . We have another friend now, but we still miss him.
mary @ Mar 21st 2014 7:46am
Wow, you just made me cry, a lot, and realize there are times I am not patient. My pit Bella is 13. I brought a 6 month old rescue pit in last summer. Bella wanted nothing to do with the new pup, so I took the time and effort to keep them separated for the last nine months. Bella taught the now 1 1/2 yr old how to "be" around her. They are now friends...with limits! Of this effort, I am proud. But reading about Isabel made me think.Thanks for the reminder that my old girl might not see much anymore, and that I need to do even more then I am to respect her advanced age. I promise to try a bit harder, hold her a bit closer, and walk her with pride. Thank you Isabel and Judy!
cindy lauren @ Mar 21st 2014 8:47am
Really lovely piece: I too am impatient and recently inherited an older cat that had been left behind when her owner died. As you have, I find the quiet and patience she needs is as powerful a lesson about being present I could ask for. Thanks for making this so clear for us all. Isabel is a lucky dog.
Sharon @ Mar 21st 2014 9:19am
I spent 16 yrs with my Aussie Beau, and nursed him through various illnesses these past 4, so I smiled when I saw that I'm not the only one who has not left home for a vacation in a while! I actually made my 89 yr old mother fly to visit me, because I couldn't leave Beau with someone! He went to heaven 7 days ago, and as you, I had hoped he would make the decision for me, but he didn't pass away in his sleep, rather, he developed a cancerous tumor in his neck that made him cough even more than usual and eating very it was black and white. Always food motivated, I gave him a sedative in a meatball, which he ate with glee and then he laid down next to me and fell blissfully asleep, never even knowing when the vet came to the house for the final shot. Beau will be missed, but the joy of having our beloved dogs for this long is not something many people get, so my hats off to you and Isabelle
KariAnn @ Mar 21st 2014 9:22am
Happy 18yrs Isabel!! My Storm(beagle mix) lived to be 17.5!! I can relate to old old dog! Had to have more patience and explain to very young boys1,4,6 to be careful and thoughtful. She gave us everything!! I saved her when she was 10 weeks old in Michigan deep in the woods in a snowstorm! But she gave me her life, her loyalty will always be in my heart! I had to decide for her because she began to suffer and I knew she wouldn't leave me on her own. I miss her so much and it's been 2 years!! Enjoy each day you have with Isabel!! God Bless!!
Bren @ Mar 21st 2014 12:13pm
How beautiful. Bless you and your family. May you inspire others with your story.
Judy @ Mar 21st 2014 12:41pm
Thanks Britton. Treasure your time with Karma (very appropriate name!) senior dogs are so very special :) Regards Judy
Judy @ Mar 21st 2014 12:43pm
LSB that sounds like a very wise friend! I hope your friend doesn't mind but I think I'll pass that quote to a graphic designer friend of mine & ask her to turn it into an image we can all share. I'll share it with Grey Muzzle Org when it's ready :) Judy
Judy @ Mar 21st 2014 12:47pm
Thank you Mary - you made me cry! You also made me laugh as when Isabel was 10 we brought Nina into the family to be her 'friend' .... and much to the puppy's confusion Isabel totally ignored her for the the first 3 days and then very grudgingly allowed her to be nearby. Today the friendship is still somewhat one sided & I swear Isabel is still waiting for the day when she will yet again rule the household! I do think Nina has kept her going though :) Judy
Judy @ Mar 21st 2014 12:49pm
Thanks Cindy. I think my children probably wish I was as patient with them! ;-) Judy
Judy @ Mar 21st 2014 12:52pm
Ahhh Sharon you made me cry too! I know we can't have too much longer with Isabel and just when I think I'm prepared for the inevitable I read a comment like yours and realise it's still going to be a difficult time. But I'll remember all of our blessings when the time comes. Judy
Judy @ Mar 21st 2014 12:55pm
Thank you KariAnn. I'm constantly amazed how patient Isabel still is with children. And they all still want to give her a pat - in fact some of my children's friends actively seek her out and can be found just sitting next to her patting her gently - it's so very lovely :) I'm sure you little ones also appreciated the time they got to spend with Storm! Judy
Judy @ Mar 21st 2014 12:59pm
Thanks Bren. :) Judy
AnneMarie Cox @ Mar 22nd 2014 12:09am
Our Lady H is an elderly staffie as well, age not known as she is a rescue and was "old" two years ago when she came to us. My family (also with a 14 year old son and 11 year old daughter) are learning many of the same lessons. Lady H is slowing down, and I frequently find my daughter on the floor with her in her dog bed or in front of the wood stove. My son had long breakfast conversations with her...she is a kitchen dog as she dislikes our other female pit mix and they have to live apart. Thank you for putting into words what we value about Lady H sharing our lives.
Trish Moore @ Mar 22nd 2014 1:04am
I had to put my Rottie down last year at only 9 years old. She was just the sweetest girl ever but had thyroid problems which made her carry extra weight which caused back injury complicated by arthritis. Our life mirrored yours except when Mom came to live with us and brought her motorized wheelchair, Xena thought her stroll should be in Mom's lap which was a bit difficult as Xena weighed 120 and Mom weighed 90..I miss her everyday and still have 2 Pomeranians who are my heart. One has always had grand mall seizures and the other congenital dislocated shoulders and hips and has now developed advanced heart disease. They are 14 & 15. Love, love, love my babies and it is my pleasure and privilege to be loved so much by them. Both are hard of hearing and have cataracts. Move very slowly (my male) and make it clear that we are their whole world. What is a few years of no vacation (7) when we only have a short time with these precious loving creatures? Love your story and the pics of your Isabelle. Thank you for being her whole world !!!
Gin @ Mar 24th 2014 6:11am
I have a 14 y.o. Chocolate Lab girl and I've also noticed these "lessons" I'm learning from her and yes Judy, they improve my moments and person as well. So sweet is your article, stirred my heart and tears. Thank-you for sharing.
Kristin @ Mar 25th 2014 2:51am
What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. My dog, Charlotte, is a 16-year-old boxer/rottie mix who is doing pretty well, but definitely has her issues. I've been struggling with the emotions, knowing that her time is winding down. I try to stay in the moment and remain grateful for each day we have with her - not focus on what's coming - but it's hard. Your story about Isabel helped so much and I've passed it onto so many of my friends who have senior dogs. Thank you so much and thank Isabel for all of us too.
Judy @ Mar 25th 2014 1:32pm
Hi AnneMarie I love Lady H's name - so regal! I'm so glad to hear that your family are also enjoying her twilight years :) Regards Judy
Judy @ Mar 25th 2014 1:35pm
Hey Trish - I would have loved to have seen your Rottie sitting on your mum's lap in her wheelchair - that would have been a classic! Both your Poms are also lucky to be with such a loving family. Regards Judy
Judy @ Mar 25th 2014 1:37pm
Thanks Gin. The beautiful comments I've received have been amazing and have often brought me to tears as well. It's so nice to know there are so many lovely people who share their lives with their very special senior pets :) Regards Judy
Judy @ Mar 25th 2014 1:44pm
Thanks Kristin. I think recognising that each day is special with your senior pet is so important. I know Isabel can't be around for ever so it's nice to spend some special time with her each day - I know she enjoys it too :) Regards Judy

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