Archive for August, 2015


I spent the first part of National Dog Day at the vet with our 15-year-old lab, Sheba. I went along because we weren’t sure she was going to come home.
The rambunctious nine month old puppy that my husband brought home over 14 years ago, has become an old lady. Watching her moving through her day, from the bed in the living room to the bed on the bedroom floor to the front yard, is difficult, but so is the alternative.
How do you judge a dog’s quality of life? She still seems to enjoy her food, although she doesn’t eat anywhere near as much as our other, much younger dog. In spite of the arthritis that makes her back legs so stiff, she still goes out into the yard and occasionally breaks into a trot when she sees a squirrel. She knows her master and her feelings towards him haven’t changed.
It’s a relationship that never really included me. Back in the day, when the rambunctious puppy got to be a nuisance, I was the one who insisted on obedience school, so naturally I was the one who got to bring her.
Sheba has always been a smart dog, a highly “trainable” dog. She is a Labrador retriever, after all. For weeks, the two of us went off to school at a tennis court in town. We practiced sitting and heeling, lying down and staying. One time, I got her roll over. She was a good student, until he came along. He came to observe obedience class after weeks of the two of us working together and as soon as Sheba saw her master over by the fence, she stopped being obedient. It was all I could do to keep her next to me. She wanted him. The teacher told me later that she had never seen a dog react like that.
I didn’t give up immediately, but after a while, I did. She’s always been a one man dog.
Maybe she never forgave me for the quarantine way back when, although none of that was my fault.
It was long ago, when our son was still practicing with his high school cross-country team, but wasn’t yet old enough to drive. I used Sheba to get my husband to drive our son to those early morning practices. Sheba needed a walk anyway, I reasoned. Bring her along; let the boy run and the dog walk and the mom sleep a little later. It would have been a great idea except for the bite incident.
To this day my husband still insists that Sheba never meant to bite that cross-country runner. He said the runner put his hand in the dog’s mouth and scraped it on her passive teeth. I was the one who went and spoke to the police officer who had received the dog bite report. And I was one the one who went home and collected the dog for ten days of quarantine at our local vet’s office. I’m not sure who took it harder, the dog or the master.
He never considered the possibility that she might bite someone else.
For years, he would take her for walks places where he could get away without a leash. I would have liked to go on some of those walks, but I did consider the possibilities and it scared me. But I couldn’t convince him to keep her on her leash.
They both started slowing down about the same time and the daily walks got shorter and shorter. Now, they like to go sit down by the lake. Sheba sniffs around the near the water while her master checks his phone and our younger dog bounds back and forth between them.
The younger dog, Sam, who I thought would be Sheba’s replacement, is now three and a half. We’ve had him for two and a half years. Looking back I can’t remember why I thought we needed a replacement two and a half years ago.
Last week Sheba was diagnosed with a bladder infection and we brought her home with a bottle of antibiotics and the question, how do judge a dog’s quality of life? How do you know when it’s time?

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