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,
- 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 …so …I… just…have…to….wait….
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.
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 bed..at 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.