Andrea Busfield - Loving an Older Dog
When you get a puppy or a young dog, the idea that he or she will one day leave you is probably the last thing on your mind – until there comes a point when you realise it’s the only thing on your mind.
For more than 15 years, I have navigated life with my dog Blister at my side. I couldn’t have chosen a better companion and, if she could speak, I’d hope she’d say the same of me.
Her start was not a great one; she was found in a sorry state by an American soldier in 2006, covered in mange and cowering by the side of a busy Kabul road, along with four siblings who all sadly died. A few months later, I visited the shelter that had taken her in and I took her home.
With the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think life could have gifted me a more perfect dog, or a more loyal friend.
Over the years, Blister and I have visited and lived in a number of countries, including Pakistan, Qatar, Cyprus, Austria, France and Croatia.
She has been kidnapped, had two brushes with death – or three if you count her inauspicious start – and one bout of kennel cough. She is mentally strong, fearless and equipped with the strongest will to live that I have ever encountered.
And now it is up to me to do right by her.
When young dogs grow old, you fool yourself into thinking that you will know when ‘the time is right’. But you don’t. You don’t know anything of the sort. You just keep watching for signs and clues, waiting for your dog to tell you when she’s had enough, all the while praying that she doesn’t; that when her time comes, she will go quietly into the night, on her own terms, in her own time.
In a few months, Blister will be 16 years old. It’s hard to say when exactly, given she’s a street dog, but for the past couple of years I have chosen to share my birthday with her – so she will be 16 in February.
Sixteen is a grand age for a dog, especially a 30kg girl like Blister, but the years have taken their toll. Her back legs don’t work like they used to and I not only have to hold her steady while she eats, but help her up onto the sofa that she favours over the beds on the floor. I know why she does, it’s the right height to allow her to slide off and land upright. She’s a clever girl, and she remains fiercely independent.
Naturally, there are accidents, not that it matters, and it’s clear her eyesight is not as sharp as it was. Her hearing is also failing her, but this comes as something of a blessing as we have regular fireworks here that no longer bother her. As well as joint supplements and pain medication for arthritis, she also has special food that’s easy on her stomach. When she hobbles awkwardly in the garden, I watch her, wondering if I am doing right by her.
But then every night Blister slides off the couch ready for her midnight walk, eager to catch up on the news waiting to be sniffed outside the gates of our home. She still wags her tail at meal times. She eats all her food. And she continues to interact with my other dogs. So, I’ve made a pact with her.
Before we go to sleep, I tell Blister that I love her and that I will see her in the morning. I then ask her for a kiss, which she always, without fail, refuses to give me. Only when ‘the time is right’ will it come. And as I write this in bed, I’m relieved to say, tonight is not the night.