This will be a more personal post than usual, so bear with me.
The Daily Parker has existed in one form or another since May 1998—incidentally making it one of the oldest websites on the planet—and Parker has existed in one form or another since June 2006—incidentally making him one of the oldest dogs on the planet. He's not small, either: he weighs almost 30 kilos, and before he tore his CCL 2½ years ago he could comfortably put his paws on my shoulders and lick my face while I was standing. The shelter I got him from told me he's half German shepherd and half...something. (My vet at the time assured me he was 100% dog.)
I've always thought the "something" included some beagle, which would explain his longevity. Or maybe he's just had a really great life. For whatever reason, after 14 years, 4 months, and 10 days, he still eats like a dog and still recognizes hand signals, even if he can't actually obey all of them anymore because it hurts too much to sit and lie down. He still knows his name, he still learns new things (like how me putting on a mask means he might get to go outside), and he still says hello to all the dogs in the neighborhood who recognize how old he is and don't try to jump on him. He even says hi to the boxer puppy who tries to jump on him, come to think of it.
The thing is, big dogs don't usually live this long, especially German shepherd mixes. Because the thing is, Parker is essentially 100 years old. I hope I still have as many of my faculties at 100 that Parker has at 14½, because if so, I'll probably make it to 110. But I'm human; I can communicate precisely how much pain I'm in, and I can choose or reject treatment for whatever doesn't kill me before then.
Because the thing is, despite his cognitive abilities and how much I love him, he's not doing well. About two years ago he started showing signs of deterioration in his hindquarters. It was subtle at first: sometimes he tripped running up stairs, but shook it off and kept going. (This is how he tore his CCL, in fact.) Three years ago, we did our morning around-the-block walk in 8 minutes. A year ago, it took 11 minutes. Today it took 14. On bad mornings it takes 16. And some mornings, we turn back at the corner, because he just can't do it.
He hasn't wagged his tail in over a year, because he no longer has control over his tail. While he still has some control over his bladder, he has almost none over his anus. His nocturnal pooping has gotten so regular that I wake up several times during the night because I don't know if he's pooped while sleeping. He also has leg tremors in his sleep, so even if he's not trying to clean up the mess he made (which is why I immediately leap out of bed in those circumstances), he makes a lot of noise. He also has significant hearing loss, which lets him sleep like Rip Van Winkle no matter what I'm doing, but which also means he doesn't know I'm home until I start patting him.
You don't really notice some things until one day you realize they're gone. Parker no longer greets me at the door, because he can't hear me. He no longer wags his tail when I get home, because he can't control his tail muscles. He doesn't bark when someone buzzes my doorbell, because even if he hears the bell, he can't really bark anymore either. At least he can make really happy groaning noises when I rub his belly just right. Unfortunately, he can't roll onto his back to give me full belly access anymore, so we just make do.
Then, in the last two months, he has started losing control over his back legs to the point where he almost can't walk when he's fatigued. I took video on Thursday when he started "crabbing" because his right and left hind legs didn't coordinate properly. That was only 8 minutes into a walk, in the middle of the day. Sometimes later in the evening he doesn't even try to get up because he knows his legs won't be there for him. Other times he walks like nothing has changed since he was 10. But going down stairs has started to terrify him, no matter how strong he feels.
And yet he's still Parker. He's the same sweet dog he's been for 14 years. He still passes the same cognitive tests I gave him when I got him, though not as quickly. He's still aware of his world. He's still aware of me. He knows when I've dropped something edible on the floor from two rooms away. He knows how close I'll let him get to my dinner plate. He knows he's my dog.
So, I'm planning to talk to a hospice vet this week, after Parker has a routine semi-annual geriatric wellness exam on Thursday. His regular vet already has the video I linked above. So by the end of the week, I expect to have a plan for the thing I've always known would come but that I never wanted.
Ernest Hemingway wrote that people go bankrupt in two ways: "Gradually, then suddenly." That's also how dogs get older. Parker has entered the "suddenly" part. And the only good thing about this happening in 2020 is that the pandemic is letting me be home with him for every one of his last days. I just don't know how many last days we have.