A Reprieve and a Gift: My Dog is Back

A warm breeze whispered across my face and, looking down, I saw it rumpling Rowan’s red fur as he glanced up, then smiled his wide doggy grin as he caught my eye and held my gaze. My dog is back and I am happy.

A few weeks ago I didn’t know if Rowan would still be with me much longer. For months I’d been feeling like our bond wasn’t as strong as it had been and, as is my wont, I figured I was to blame. Was I so distracted and fulfilled by having a grandchild that I no longer valued my relationship with my dog as much? Maybe I was too preoccupied with my search for and then delight in my new cat, Acadia. Or was I just too busy training other people’s dogs and getting ready for my February art show?

Whatever the reason, there seemed to be an increasing distance between Rowan and me, and he seemed less and less interested in being with me. Whereas previously, when I would ask if he wanted to go somewhere with me (“with me” being the magic words), Rowan would leap up and run to the door; in recent months when I’d ask, he’d skulk into his crate and lie down with his back to the entrance. He’s always been eloquent in his communication with me, and that was a pretty clear message. I would leave the house alone, with his place both in my car and in my heart empty.

Additionally, we’d been seeing some odd behaviors from Rowan from time to time. Startling more and more often for no apparent reason. Some inexplicable housebreaking issues, and this from a dog who always used to ask to go out even when he just needed to pass gas. Disorientation and indecision in the house. Repeatedly getting “stuck” under the picnic table right outside the door. A part of me knew I was seeing early (or perhaps not-so-early) signs of dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, but I really wasn’t ready to put it all together.

Then one day I came across a piece I’d written about Rowan a few years ago, and I started to cry as I realized that I hadn’t seen that dog in months. I finally recognized it wasn’t me; that Rowan really had changed and that he wasn’t the same dog who’d been inseparable from me, who used to go everywhere with me and who knew my moods and state of mind and body better than I did myself. I’d made the wrenching decision to retire Rowan from Service Dog work a few months before when it was apparent he was no longer up to going places with me, but I thought it was due to arthritis. Now I realized it was because he was no longer connected with me in the same deep way he’d been for the preceding eleven years.

With a mixture of fear and despondency I called my vet and was relieved when she was hopeful. She suggested I try giving Rowan SAMe, which is used for cognitive issues in dogs and cats, and also a nutritional supplement, on the premise that even though he’s eating a high quality diet, he may be absorbing fewer nutrients as he ages. She told me it would take about four weeks for the SAMe to make a difference.

I thought I saw some changes within a week, but knew it could be wishful thinking. But now, five weeks later, Rowan is back! Yes, he still seems a bit disoriented in the house occasionally, but he’s not getting stuck under the picnic table anymore, there’ve been no more housebreaking incidents (not that we’ve given him the opportunity), he’s startling much less often, and best of all, he is back to being my loving, connected companion. Now when I ask if he wants to go with me, Rowan leaps up and runs to the door, dancing with excitement. He follows me around the house again, and he comes to me often asking for affection.

I don’t know how long this reprieve will last, nor do I know whether he will decline gradually or depart from me all at once, but for now I am cherishing every day as a gift. And when I look down now, and I see those familiar, intelligent eyes and that happy smile that I know so well, I thank God for more time with this wonderful dog who has blessed me in so many ways.

Rowan in his spot in my car

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