Gigi the dog turned sweet 16 this month! We’re not sure exactly what day her birthday is — we got her in February 2003 as a rescue when she was 18 months old — but October 18 keeps popping up in my mind, so let’s pretend she turned 16 yesterday. Naturally, we celebrated with a fine, vintage Champagne.
I’m kidding. Gigi has never been a big drinker. We opened that bottle for for the hell of it last month — because why not? — and Gigi wandered over to see if the kitchen action meant she was going to get a bite of bison. That’s what we’ve been giving her to distract her while she gets subcutaneous fluids three times a week to manage kidney disease. As Bette Davis (reportedly) said, “Old age is no place for sissies.”
This weekend, I’m going to look for a cute dog cake or cookie for her. I’m not sure how much longer she can enjoy a good quality of life in her condition, so she gets all the treats. The kidney issues are no problem. She and I can both deal with the fluids and diapers. (She wears size 2 Huggies for babies. I cut out a hole for her tail.) But no medication or supplement has helped with her dementia. Hers is not as severe as Henry the dog’s dementia was, but it’s still pretty bad.
Dogs with dementia get worse at night — it’s called sundowning — just like people with dementia do. I haven’t gotten more than two or three hours of sleep at a time for weeks now, and I hate seeing her anxious and lost. I took this little video tonight for anyone who might be puzzled by seeing this behavior in his or her senior dog.
That is a common symptom of canine cognitive dysfunction, aka dementia. If your older dog starts doing this, go to the vet right away, because medication to slow down the decline has a better chance of working if you start it early.
Well, I didn’t mean to get so serious here while recognizing Gigi’s major milestone! I intended to share some cute old photos. You can find a lot of those in the post I wrote about her in 2013, when we celebrated Gigi’s 10th adoptaversary.
I can’t resist reposting one of my favorites from 2003.
How adorable is she? Back then, no one ever guessed from looking at her that — if given the chance — she was ready to attack any other dog without warning, regardless of that dog’s size. She mellowed over the years, but she was still capable of an occasional outburst right up until last year. I’d warn people that she wasn’t friendly but she was so cute that they’d bring their dogs over anyway. “She’s wagging her tail,” they’d say, “She’s friendly.” Um, yeah, that was her strategy. She’d wag her tail and look really friendly to lure someone into striking distance! I had to stay very alert when walking her in order to avoid trouble. My favorite example of Gigi’s orneriness happened quite a few years ago when, on our way home from a walk, we passed a woman and her pit bull. As we approached, I pulled Gigi closer to me. The woman was annoyed and said, “My dog is friendly, and you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” That distracted me for a split second — long enough for Gigi to try to launch herself at the pit bull, snarling and snapping. As I reeled her in, I said, “My dog is NOT friendly and YOU shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” So there!
If you read my 2013 Gigi post, you’ll see that she had a traumatic puppyhood. We were her third home in 18 months, plus she suffered a severe back injury sometime before I got her. As a result, even as we worked hard to chill her out and keep her out of trouble, I think she had good reasons for being angry at the world.
After 14 years of life with Gigi, it’s hard to imagine how it will be without her. I keep looking at the Instagram account of Huckleberry the Peke, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge last month, aged 17. I don’t believe in an afterlife for humans, but I’m willing to believe in one for dogs. They’re so much more deserving.