All Paws on Deck

The last thaw has passed and we are happily snow-free. For the moment, anyway. It’s Ohio. We know the threat of snowfall only really leaves us in June. But the weather has warmed enough to start putting things into motion and we’re in full swing with garden planning. Our vegetable garden will be a learning place this year, full of trial and error, and preparing ourselves for a larger, more sustaining garden in years to come.

Before I began the shift to slow living, I always associated the word “homesteading” with slaughtering your own chickens. I don’t know why that stuck in my head that way but it did, and I really struggled to embrace the term for myself. Some day we may have chickens, but I can promise you they will not be slaughtered for food. But that day isn’t today, and it’ll likely be a few years before we’re ready for that step.

As far as animals go, we have our hands full already. Not only do we have three cats, but we have one elderly pup who is about to become a heavy focus of our attention.

On fleek.

Mugsy, our 14-year-old husky-golden mix, has been diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: doggy dementia. We have since learned as much as we can about CCD and realized that changes in his behaviors we attributed to being a crotchety old man were actually symptoms of dementia all along. It wasn’t until we mentioned to his vet that he seems to be awake more at night and experiencing anxiety that he was diagnosed.

As with humans, dementia is a degenerative disease with no cure. There is no question that Mugs will experience further decline regardless of medication and supplements. It’s a matter of when. The plan, then, is to be aware and sensitive to his changing needs as the disease progresses and to keep him as comfortable as possible.

Ah, it seems so easy in writing. In reality, we have a special needs dog that is equivalent to having a newborn in the house. He is experiencing “sundowning”, which is a reversal of his nights and days, meaning a dog that has always been quite happy to go to sleep at night and sleep soundly until the sun rose is now up all night, pacing around the room, knocking things off nightstands, and whining/barking directly in our faces. He’s clearly overtaken by anxiety but there’s nothing we can do to calm him and reassure him that we’re safe, he’s safe, everyone is safe, so please go to sleep.

It has gotten so bad at night that Kyle and I have started alternating who takes care of him so that at least one of us gets a full night of sleep. Every hour or so, he begins pacing and whining, and the longer we let him do it without intervening, the more upset he gets. He pulls down curtains, knocks over the printer, clears my nightstand of anything I leave on it, and opens the closet, rummaging around for who knows what. The only peace is from taking him out of the bedroom, letting him outside for a while, and then encouraging him to eat and drink. After 20 minutes or so of that, he’s happy to go back to bed, sleeping for an hour or so before the whole process starts over.

And this is just the beginning of his decline. We know it’s going to get worse for him, and therefore harder for us, but he’s a member of the family and we’ll be beside him every step of the way. Someday the bad days will start outnumbering the good, but for now, we’re going to do everything we can to calm his anxiety and protect him from himself.

With that as our foreseeable future, bringing further animals into our house is not an option. Without knowing how hands-on we’ll need to be for Mugs in the future, I can’t take on the responsibility of learning the care of other creatures. It’s not fair to the new animals, and it’s not fair to split my attention away from Mugs in his time of need.

Plants, however, are a lot more forgiving. With two months left until planting season, we’re focusing on building raised beds and creating a compost bin. There’s nothing with vegetable garden maintenance that we can’t include Mugsy for, so the fresh air and new sights and smells should be fun for him.

We were wise to start this lifestyle change slowly rather than jumping all in. Life throws us all curve balls, and this diagnosis is going to prove one of them going forward. We press on together.

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