My boys are getting old, (all three of them but please don’t tell my husband I said that.) Patrick is in his fourteenth year and is developing a rather endearing sugar face (again like my husband) and Ziggy will be thirteen in April. The average life expectancy of an Irish Setter is twelve to fifteen years and Bob and I both know we are nearing the end of our very special time with these beautiful souls. ‘There’s life in the old dog yet’ is an idiom which we have started to use fondly. Patrick and Ziggy are not without their health issues but whilst they are happy and pain free we are trying to focus, not on losing them, but on the precious time we have left to share.
Life and routines have changed. Our long walks along the North Norfolk coast have become short slow strolls. We used to aim to tire them out, letting them run for miles so as to be able to enjoy a quiet post walk brunch or a sneaky pint in one of our coastal locals, whilst now we are constantly checking to make sure they are not over exerting themselves. We used to laugh that we never saw them and now they walk faithfully by our sides, an occasional spurt of speed, especially as we approach a human who may have a pocket full of treats to pilfer, making us laugh even more. They sleep, a lot and their movement after a long kip is slow and stiff. They can no longer climb or jump and have to be lifted into our van. Occasionally there’s an accident, an involuntary wee whilst in deep slumber or a caught short poo in the porch. We can see their confusion and embarrassment and reassure them gently as we clean up with without fuss. One evening recently, Patrick had a seizure. He has had epilepsy throughout his life but thankfully his fits are rare. We camped out on the stone floor in our living room in case he needed us during the night. It was a great novelty for all three of our dogs and Mr P certainly had a better night’s sleep snuggled next to our pillows than we did. This is all part of our commitment to love and care for our dogs unconditionally. Patrick and Ziggy accompany us to work every day. We have to help them up the stairs to our office where they have their very own sofa. They love all the attention they get from our team of staff and trainees and enjoy interacting with our many customer dogs, sometimes even allowing them to share. Elderly dogs need extra special handling whilst being groomed. We need to take into account that they might have stiff and painful limbs or may find it difficult to stand for extended periods. At The Dog House we assess each dog by their individual needs, often working as a team to ensure a dog’s comfort or even grooming an elderly dog on the floor if that is where it is happiest.
For a dog that may find it awkward to balance or become stressed whilst we are working on legs or feet, our sling can help. We find many dogs really enjoy this floating sensation and totally relax allowing us to work safely.
Grooming an elderly dog is not about perfect styling but addressing health needs to make them more comfortable. Ensuring nails are cut to prevent splaying and pain or deformation in the feet. Clipping hygiene areas to help a dog keep itself clean, especially where it might be experiencing incontinence. Trimming out matts or knots and also carefully checking the whole body for soreness and new lumps and bumps that an owner may have missed.
We form a really special bond with the dogs we groom and feel their loss deeply. Dear Brew, a beautiful English Springer Spaniel was one of my first ever grooming clients. She recently passed to doggie heaven which was devastating for her owner but also very emotional for me. All who share their life with a dog know that this is the hardest part. Our cute and naughty little puppies grow old far too soon. For me, as a dog groomer, gaining the trust of an elderly dog is extra special and humbling. Experience, combined with knowledge of canine anatomy and patient kind handling using touch, verbal tone and also eye to eye contact has helped me to achieve the trust of many a grumpy old dog, When Patrick and Ziggy’s time comes, Bob and I will be distraught. They have touched every part of our hearts and souls and we will miss them so very much. But we will try to smile through the tears and the pain. They have had a wonderful life, at all its many stages. I have to sign off. Ziggy has been pawing at my leg and pushing his head into me for the last five minutes and now he is staring up at me demanding I get his dinner with his gruff elderly donkey style bark. Here trots Patrick, ears alert, his sugar face expectant.