a white dog, curled up and sleeping, on a brown bed
Zelda, sound asleep on her dog bed

Yesterday, I took Zelda and Riley for a walk down to the railroad tracks. While we were there, we met a chocolate Lab from the nearby wood-working shop. Zelda was busy sniffing some interesting plant and when this Lab came toward her, she ignored it. The Lab behaved like a typical dog, sniffing her thoroughly, head-to-butt, but Zelda offered no return sniffs, no acknowledgment. When she finally turned away from the plant she was sniffing, she actually walked underneath the Lab, still not showing any sign of noticing it was there. I wanted to believe it was a ghost dog, but I think it’s just more evidence of my girl’s age.

Last night, I was talking to S about Z’s unwillingness to eat — a topic that is probably thoroughly boring to people in my life, because it comes up every day — and S said, “Do you think she might not be processing that she’s hungry? The same way she doesn’t really process sound anymore?” Maybe? But I also think she’s still aware enough to know that the food that comes off my plate or out of my bowl is more likely to be interesting than anything I set on the floor for her, so I’m going to consider that the good news. Meanwhile, I buy every new (healthy) dog food that comes my way, because she’s often willing to try something new. Once, anyway. Rarely twice, alas.

I do wish I could see inside her mind, though. She has good days and bad days, these days, and on the good days, she’s fine: bouncy and happy and playful and inquisitive, the way she’s always been. On the bad days, she’s… foggy. On a foggy day, she is utterly untrustworthy. She can and will wander into the street; she will get lost in the backyard; she gets very distressed if she can’t find me (and sometimes doesn’t realize when I’m right next to her); she doesn’t show any sign that she can hear me call; and she doesn’t eat. She sleeps more than she used to, too — which is saying something, given how much dogs sleep. On the spectrum of terms for age, I feel like she’s moved past “senior” and is slowly sliding from “old” to “elderly”. She’s only 14, and Jack Russell terriers can live to be much older than that, but… well, the good days still outnumber the bad.

Her nicknames are changing, too. S calls her “Small Madam” and I frequently call her “Princess” now, both said affectionately. But in part, I think those names have come about because she really requires a different level of care than she used to. She was never really a princess dog, but now she is. And care is maybe the wrong word — attention? It’s not that I care more than I used to, but… well, a couple times recently I’ve regretfully declined fun possible adventures, saying, “Sorry, I don’t think I can make that work.” The reality is, I can’t make anything work if takes me away from my dog for more than a few hours, because she needs me. Every day, she needs me. And I am all too aware that we are running out of days. If I have my way, none of the ones she has left will be spent whimpering, wondering where her person has gone.

Meanwhile, though, she is sleeping on my feet and we’re going to the beach this afternoon and I am so, so grateful that she’s still with me. It’s been a year since she was diagnosed with canine dementia and our year has included far more happiness and far more fun than I could possibly have predicted back then. It’s a potent reminder that fearing the future just gets in the way of appreciating the day I’m in.