Our old guy of a dog looks his age. He's a Chesapeake Bay Retriever who the vets predicted would be dead by age eight. As a pup, he got badly mauled by a neighbor dog/wolf cross. Thousands of dollars later, Stitch looked like Frankendog and developed a severe paranoia of both vets and the car that took him to the vet.
Then he went in for x-rays and exited with more sutures, this time to remove tubes that got missed on the first round of surgeries. That's when the vets told us that he had bad elbows, messed up hips, and a life expectancy of seven, maybe eight years.
Stitch was still in puppy phase and didn't care. He was my middle daughter's dog, though he adopted me as well. He retrieved tennis balls since he couldn't go into the field, and smiled, happy to be 'productive'.
He still retrieves the same paper every day. We don't have it delivered, so my wife tosses it out when she gets up. Stitch waits until I get up to get the paper so he can bring it back to me. For a fee, of course. A cookie for good work, a smile from the dog. Happy to please, he is.
Same with retrieving tennis balls. He wants to, but yesterday, after fetching a couple, did the doggy version of "Hey, boss? I'ma hurtin' and could use a break." Inside we went and he got his treats.
The treats are important - he's hungry all the time. At seven, he developed Cushing's disease and the options are to poison him until he's cured or has Addison's, or to let the Cushing's follow the normal course.
Cushing's makes him hungry all the time, and thirsty. His weight ballooned so we put him on a diet. Clearly a first-world type of problem, but we cook his meals now. It's nearly as cheap as the dog food was and he lost most of the excess weight. Ten minutes of prep twice a week to make the food and Stitch supervises, hoping for something to fall from the cutting board.
Someday the Cushing's will kill him, or a heart attack, but today he fetched the paper. He moved with a gimp but it was better than yesterday. Yesterday we gave him an extra pill, an aspirin, which seems to help sometimes more than the more powerful medications he gets daily. For the first half of the day after trying to retrieve and asking to be relieved, he laid on his bed and watched us instead of following us around.
The aspirin helped.
Today was a good day for the dog. He didn't seem to hurt as much, and ran for the paper instead of walking. At one point or another, he brought all his toys for approval - and a treat, always a treat. He's a working dog, and expects his pay.
Stitch is closing in on twelve years old now. Some days are hard on him, but he's proved the vets wrong and keeps proving it every day, not that he cares. He's simply living, completely in this moment and appreciating it.
But we know it won't be too much longer. The signs are there, and the balance of good days and hard days is beginning to tip away. Still, he meets the day with a smile, and an eagerness to try to please. So until the inevitable, he gets an extra treat, a few more minutes of belly rubs, and slow walks that don't tax him too much.
As long as it's a good day for the dog, it awfully hard for us to have too bad a day.