In the past six months, Eliot has turned into a much older dog than he was a year ago.

Earlier this year, he lost his hearing seemingly overnight. I feel like one week he was coming when I whistled, and the next I was trying to teach him hand signals for “come.” He’s not the first deaf dog I’ve had. BT couldn’t hear or see for the last year of her life, maybe more. Though Eliot losing his hearing didn’t bother me outright, it was a fundamental change for him. He started barking a lot more and generally acting more on edge, because he was having trouble adjusting to losing that sense and there isn’t much I can do to help him. I still talk to him like I always do, but even the smartest dogs surely can’t read lips.

People are usually surprised when they find out how old Eliot is. He’ll be twelve in October, which is the early end of life expectancy for a springer. Appearance wise, you’d be hard pressed if you didn’t know him well. His white blaze covers up a lot of the gray hairs that dogs usually get around their muzzle, although now if you look closely you can see white strands sprout up over his eyes and past his blaze. His body is also more swayed and floppy, with a small collection of benign fat tumors and little muscle tone compared to his youth.

When I got Eliot as a puppy, I stroked his soft puppy ears and joked with him that by being my dog, he was entering an ironclad contract of love and companionship. I told him that he was locked in for 14 years, and anything beyond that would handsomely be rewarded as a bonus. Logically, I know my next statement is ridiculous… but I have always kind of expected him to live those 14 years — no questions asked. Last week was the first time since I’ve gotten him that I was scared Eliot might not be able to hold up his end of the bargain.

Two weeks ago, I had a big moving sale to try and move stuff that I knew wasn’t going to make it with me to California. Eliot has always been a nervous guy with a completely unfounded fear of being left alone in an abandoned house, and seeing furniture and boxes pour out of his home really worried him. On top of that, one of my roommates moved out the following week and his little spaniel brain completely went into despair.

He stopped eating. I added cheese and deli meat to his food, but he snubbed his nose at it. I sat with him in the living room before work in the mornings, hand feeding him kibble and delights but couldn’t get him to finish a meal. He moped around like it was the end of days, and I started to worry. Eliot has always been a picky eater, and is not necessarily food driven… but this was extreme. On top of the lack of appetite, he’d been slowing drinking increasing amounts of water over the past several months. My brain went down the dark black hole that is the internet, and I quickly became extremely concerned about his kidneys.

Photo by Heather N. Photography

I took him into my vet, who is a Texan small animal god in my eyes. The perfect combination of straight forward but non-alarmist, and even as I spewed all of Eliot’s symptoms with my voice on the edge of panic — I knew my vet would take the right path. We did bloodwork, and he told me to give Eliot 20mg of omeprazole daily to help with what he thought was stomach acid causing him some digestive troubles.

When the results came in, I was surprised but ecstatic to hear that all of Eliot’s levels are normal. Three days in, the antacid was helping with his tummy and mixing a little bit of wet food into his kibble returned a stable appetite. We’re still trying to figure out why he’s throwing up bile 6-10 hours after eating, but his excellent bloodwork relieves any fears of something major going on. It seems his contract isn’t up with me quite yet after all.

Three years ago in the height of Eliot’s aggression with BT, I almost wished a health issue would make a euthanasia decision easy for me. Living with a mentally troubled, aggressive dog is not easy — for you or the animals. But mentally, Eliot is doing great these days. He’s not perfect and he’s not allowed around strange dogs or children, but 90% of the time he is excellent with Pascale and my roommate’s dog. Time has healed the hurt and the fear he put in my household after attacking BT.

Right now, I need this old spaniel around. He’s an entirely different dog than Pascale. Instead of following me around like a shadow and sleeping by my side every night, he’s more of a soft presence in the room. The old dog loves me fiercely. My roommates tell me the lack of appetite that worried me so much last week is the same thing he does every time I leave on vacation.

I look forward to him licking me on the cheek when I get home from work everyday, an act he only saves for the most important people when they first arrive back home. I don’t feel right if I leave the house in the morning without stroking the tops of his long, soft ears before I walk out the door.

Photo by Heather N. Photography

This little health scare has made me realize that Eliot is more than just a dog to me. He’s the last member of my original family unit: Me, Tim, Eliot and BT. Eliot was at my engagement, my wedding — at every important milestone of my adult life. The risk of losing him feels like losing something much greater.

At twelve, things are only going to get harder from here. I know that, and I will enjoy the days I have with him and do my best to make good decisions for his health throughout the end of his contract. I just hope there’s a lot more time. I’m not ready, not yet.

18 COMMENTS

  1. My canine companion turned 8 this year. He’s a toy breed, so he should have several years left, but every time he sneezes a couple extra times or has a bad day with his stomach, I get so scared that he won’t be around as long as I would like him to be. I tell him often that he has to live for a hundred years, which I know is not possible, but I tell him I need him and I don’t know how I’d live without him. And I mean it.

    It’s so hard to watch the animals we love age. It’s just not fair that they can’t live as long as people. I can tell by your posts how much your love Eliot and how much he loves you. He is a beautiful dog and I hope that you have many more happy days with him.

  2. Roller coaster read! Glad he’s ok. That makes a lot of sense about him being your original family unit. We have a difficult, aggressive older dog as well so I get those thoughts sometimes knowing life will be easier when he passes, but he was my first fur baby so the thought makes me really sad. It’s not his fault all the complexities of 2 more dogs and 2 kids happened to him 🙁

    • I feel similarly about Eliot. He probably should have been an only dog, and I blame some of his aggressive outbursts on my inability to understand that. They don’t always make it easy telling us what they need! 🙂

  3. I have a 12 yr old cat that’s been with me since he was just about a year old. He has been there through some very dark times. The thought of this cat getting old and not being in my world terrifies me. I shove hte thoughts into a box and make sure to enjoy every day I have with him.

  4. It’s so tough watching our fur kids get older. P was having similar troubles with her tummy earlier this year, and she’s on Omeprazole now too. Helped her greatly. I hope he’s able to live up to his contract. <3

  5. ❤️ I had a similar moment with Rocky, and he’s only 7 — little dude has to be with us for a long, long time and I know letting him go will be one of the toughest things… but they never really leave us. I know I’ll have paw prints on my heart for the rest of my life

  6. Having just lost my old man english setter that I was not prepared to lose, I get it… so completely. He was so much like Elliot, very fickle and particular. I hope that Elliot fulfills his contract. Preparing for the loss of an animal of this magnitude is impossible. My love and support are with you.

  7. Oh, boy. Do I hear that. Our first two labs (since getting married and not living at home) lived to be 15 and 11. Losing them was so hard because we’d had Kirby since our first year of marriage. I would tell my students that I had had my dog longer than their parents had had them!

    We’re now on round 2. Tobi is 5 and Brienne is nearing 2. Tobi has a chin full of gray hairs that stand out clearly on his black coat. We know he’s approaching the middle of his life, and it’s already tough. I sure wish they lived longer.

  8. I love your writing. It just reaches out and grabs my heart. I had it in my head that I’d have Sug until she was 24. Arbitrary number, or maybe someone said something about that being an average for warmbloods. Who knows. We have a cat that was given to us and we never really knew how old he was. Just found out he’s 7 and am panicking, as all of our cats have passed at 7. Will send thoughts skyward asking that Eliot and you have a few more years together.

  9. The photos of Elliot are gorgeous.

    I told Harley that he has to stuck around until age 30. I was worried around age 13 because of his coughing issues. He is now 19 and we seem to be in good fortune and with a great management situation. I ride him still and he feels like the same Harley, but I know to appreciate every ride. His barn owners are not young, so sometimes I find myself wondering what the plan will be if he outlives his stay on their private farm. Guess, I need to get my own!

  10. Halo just turned 13 and also seemingly lost her hearing overnight. She is also sleeping very very deeply now and I have to gently stroke her awake. It worries me, but I did a full blood panel on her and everything is 100% normal. The vet was impressed by her health, and although we could very barely detect a heart murmur, the vet wasn’t concerned. I’ve never had an older dog before, so this is all new territory for me and incredibly scary 🙁

  11. I so hear you. I’ve had my 24yo QH (yes, a horse not a dog, but similar emotional attachment) literally since he was an embryo. I went with my Dad to drive the mare from Montana to Colorado to be bred. Jaguar was born in May of 1993 right outside the front door of my parent’s house. He was the first horse I taught to ride. He took me to the AQHYA World Championships in reining, he took my Mom to so many high points at the little show circuit in Montana that they nearly had a party when he moved to Texas to be with me, and he was the first horse I ever foxhunted! The last time I saw my Dad alive was when he and my Mom brought Jaguar to me in Texas in July of 2006. Jaguar has been in my life through Junior High, High School, college, grad school, marriage and now he is enjoying his well deserved retirement. I will be a MESS when he crosses the rainbow bridge. A MESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. OMG. I’m going through this with Stella right now. Except that I told her she has to be with me until she’s 16. She’s 14 now, and doing ok. But slowing down. Man it’s hard to watch them get older. But I love when she’s happy and gets some pep in her step.

  13. This was hard to read because as you may remember, I have a L/W Springer as well. My darling girl is 14.5 years old now and almost every day I think about my vet telling me a couple years ago, “I think 15?” NO. 15 is just not enough time… She will be Super Springer Sixteen. I hope. I pray. We shall see. She’s completely deaf now (not really overnight, I knew it was going) but can see quite well. She’s lost weight and muscle mass but thankfully maintains a great appetite so I pour food into her. On three meds that keep her heart murmur in check, her bladder from involuntarily leaking in her sleep and her thyroid numbers up. But nobody ever guesses she’s as old as she is and she looks great, while she’s bounding up the stairs (Corta-Flx Crumbles from Valley Vet for the WIN – seriously, even if you have Eliot on another supplement I strongly urge giving this product a try as it made a huge difference to my dog).

    I hope that Eliot will love CA and speaking for my Velcro girl, he’ll probably like having a small place where he can keep his eye on Mom every single second! 😉

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