Living with old dog is bittersweet

In the last couple of years of my dog Bella’s life, I usually found myself outdoors with her in the wee hours of the morning. The medications she took for her heart condition caused her to have to urinate frequently, and since I am a light sleeper, it fell to me to take her out for her late-night perambulations.

It was peaceful. I’d look at stars I didn’t usually see or listen to the geese honking in the distance. One night we saw a large, white possum walking on top of the wall that separates our condo complex from the shopping center next door. In fall, we’d listen to the Santa Ana winds blow. We saw the moon in all her phases. Crickets chirped. In Oklahoma, visiting my parents, we heard owls hooting in the tree above us.

There’s a twilight time in a pet’s life. They’re not quite ready to go yet, and we’re definitely not ready for them to go. Their treacherous bodies have betrayed them, and they need more help getting around.

It’s hard. Never getting a full night’s sleep. Always keeping one ear open for the sounds that signal she’s getting up and needs to go out. You groan, but you don’t hesitate to jump out of bed, throw on a robe and carry her downstairs. Because the alternative is cleaning up a pool of pee in the dark so you don’t wake your spouse.

I tried to get Bella to use pee pads, but that was a shocking concept to a lady who prided herself on her house-training. What saved us were diapers. We didn’t keep one on her all the time, but she wore one at night. Sometimes, not always, it allowed me to sleep the night through.

Caring for an old or sick animal is stressful and time-consuming. Feelings of love clash with exhaustion and frustration. You feel guilty about feeling frustrated or wishing you could sleep more, because you know that being able to sleep through the night could mean only one thing: Your pet is gone. And that’s not what you want.

Those feelings are normal. They don’t mean you don’t love your pet or that you want her to die. They are a natural outgrowth of the stress of being a caregiver.