Thursday, March 12, 2015

Old Dog

Joey is fifteen years old, a rescue dog, three or four when we got him. Until last July, he amazed us with his ability to go to sleep in three seconds flat, and sleep so soundly he seemed to increase his gravity. He soothed me on countless nights by hopping up on the bed, socketing himself in and falling asleep. If I was restless his steady breathing soon put me to sleep.

The only time he was ever anxious was on the Fourth of July, like many dogs, he didn't like the fireworks. He's pace,lie down, shake, pant. He didn't want to be in an enclosed space (which helps some dogs); he gets as close to me as he can, I assume protecting me (or him) from the loud noise.

But last July he stopped sleeping through the night. Frankly, in July at this latitude, it's difficult to sleep through the night, especially if the moon is half or more full. The sun doesn't set until nine-thirty PM, the moon comes up an hour so later, and sunrise is at four-thirty AM. I don't sleep much in the summer, sleep a lot in the winter and hope it balances out through the year.

Joey started waking up at three in the morning and wanted to go out. Not unusual. He can let himself in and out, chase deer and do other nocturnal dog activities. After he showed us he would not run away he's always been able to go in and out at will. But now he wants us to let him out and let him in. Out and in, out and in.

Then he started pacing at night, back and forth, up and down the stairs. His hips are arthritic, I was afraid he'd fall down the stairs. I thought perhaps his hips hurt and walking was the only thing that helped. He took aspirin, then started on Rimadyl at the end of summer. Some nights he was like his younger self, sleeping through the night. Some nights he was up and sometimes we figure out why: bright moon, noises outside. Sometimes Joey goes right to sleep if we leave a light on. In the summer he would park himself in front of the box fan and snore away.

Now he's up every night. Unless one of us is downstairs with him, he paces and paces and paces, up and down the stairs, back and forth. He'll do this until his legs are shaking and it's clear he's tired, but he keeps pacing. He's panting, clearly he's panicked; and yes, we know his heart is also starting to go.

One of us is downstairs with him all night, in three shifts. Luckily both my husband and I worked graveyard shifts for many years, we're both night owls. I prefer to work through the night, prefer the night generally. There's less static in the air at night when most everyone else is asleep. I can think.

I'm on Facebook in the wee hours; have many friends who are on opposite sides of the planet, awake to chat, others are here on the west coast. And they have many stores to tell about restless babies, children, elders -- and dogs, cats, and livestock.

--A friend whose chickens are in a panic every night, though she can't find evidence of predators --yet. She thinks the newest hen is a worry-wort.

--A friend whose mother sleeps peacefully during the day, but has panic attacks at night. She calls her five children during the night; she's also getting forgetful, and would call repeatedly. My friend has a newborn, she brought her mother to live with her and they all stay up together during the night. Her mother is much more focused with the infant to care for. My friend says she's amazed at how much younger her mother looks when she interacts with the baby. She also says her mother can get the baby to sleep when no one else can.

--My Auntie Wu, who lived to 102 and moved herself to a residential care facility when she was ninety-five. She was up often at three am and saw so many other lights on that she started the Night Owls Poker Club. The staff at the facility occasionally joined in on their breaks, Auntie Wu used to say if they'd been playing for real money she would'a made a killing.

--Another friend with two old dogs, who has tried everything to help them sleep: warm beds, night lights, radio on, melatonin. Right now, nothing works unless she's with them. Like Joey dog, her girls go to sleep around three in the morning, get up when they always had for breakfast, nap and play as they always have during the day. We're trying the Thunder Shirt next, I know it works very well for dogs who have anxiety attacks during storms, fireworks, and so forth, my friend wrote that she borrowed one and tired it on the more anxious of her two dogs and it worked. We will see.

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