14 December 2011

Next time you see Ruby, make sure you say hi.

I still take Ruby with us everywhere we go. She's the one at home that lately watches me very carefully, and makes sure always to stay near. I am touching her with my toe right now. There's pretty much no way I can easily split apart the team so we always do everything together. She's been the reliable one for so long, nobody has to worry about Ruby. Rarely wears a leash, the kind of dog you don't even notice because she doesn't do anything bad. Just trots along at my heel and goes along with whatever the plan of the day is. No problem.

It's easy to not notice Ruby. I'm not yelling at her to shut up, I'm not doing 4 million recalls with her and trying to get her to play with me or take a treat in the forest. I'm not taking away the giant stick she's dragging around and using as a weapon or trying to get her to swim back across the creek. She's not doing awesome leave-it and focus when we see another dog, she's not trying to crawl into a stranger's purse and go home with them. Ruby's just right there, and she's just being a good dog. Quietly. Just because.

She wasn't always like that. Ruby is the dog that took me down the dog training road and it's her fault I wear muddy pants everywhere and select clothing based on excellence of pockets. All this agility is definitely all her fault. I learned about positive reinforcement with her out of of sheer, freaked out necessity. I learned how clicker training and tricks can turn a wild, little animal eating, top of the refrigerator reaching, feral thing into a really good dog. Keeping her busy in agility class somehow translated into her being a dog that didn't want to growl at other dogs on leashes or chase skateboarding kids. Practicing for agility class made us best pals. Ruby made me realize not all dogs just fit into the category of Regular Old Dog.

She's always had all this stuff wrong with her. Never really that sound. Chronic tendonitis in her biceps, one theory. One of those jumping early dogs, who spent her agility career crashing into stuff until it freaked me out enough to stop. Her back and hind legs can go wonky. She has a permanent immune something something in one of her eyes and progressive retinal atrophy in them both. She can see, but I don't think very far. And now, not very much hearing.

I don't think Ruby is even all that old. Maybe about 11. She's always had that wise old owl vibe. A bit grizzled and leathery. The Mrs. Grandma of the team. You know that when you meet her. Stares past you like she's thinking about cosmic, philosophic topics. Contemplating string theory. Even though she might just be scoping out potential locations of cat food.

With her sight and hearing loss though, she's starting to get lost. She got lost just hanging out at work the other day, on her pleasant, grassy knoll. And in the forest the day before. Not lost-lost, but lost enough to her that she couldn't see or hear us, even though me and the other dogs were right there. This is what breaks my heart. You see her just over there, look up, not see my waving arms or hear my yelling and do this panic look around, twist her head all ways, then run off some random direction so she really gets disoriented. You've seen it if you have an old dog. I saw Timmy go through this.

You see this happen and you feel the panic stab you in the heart just like it does your dog. And you know maybe you have to start keeping them on a rope now, tied to you so that never happens bad enough they get lost-lost. Not in the woods, not at work, not in the neighborhood, not somewhere they run off into the water or somewhere they can get hurt.

I think that's where Ruby's at now. I could never let anything happen to Ruby.


andrea said...

been there ... hate it ...
hang in there

Elf said...

Been there, too, the terror of seeing the dog head off at high speed into the unrestricted distance. Old age sucks.

Agility Foot said...

I'm sorry, Laura.

Amanda said...

So sorry to hear this. Sounds like a rope is the best option to keep you sane and her safe. :-(

Anonymous said...

i didn't know TSD during timmy's time, so this is your first post that made me cry. and remember my old jrt rebbie, who was deaf, blind, and senile, walking into walls, when she died at 16.

Alaska said...

Oh jeez. I do remember reading about Timmy.

What about attaching her to one of the other dogs some of the time? Would that help? Or teach one of the others to run to her and round her up when she gets confused?

team small dog said...

My Ruby is sharp as a tack, too. And in the right light, she sees all right. Just the wrong light and the diminished hearing at the same time is so far the challenge.

I don't tie her to the other dogs because she can't run as much as they do, but sometimes I can send Otterpop to get her. It's not reliable, it's just sort of funny and something I've done when Ruby has meandered and lagged behind us, but that does make me think, what a rad trick THAT would be, if Otterpop had a kick ass GO GET RUBY sort of like sheepherding like?

Then she would bark when she got her, or run in a circle around her, like Otterpop saves the day? I dunno if I'm that good of a dog trainer but that would be pretty fun to try. Even if it didn't work in real life would be fun to work on in our driveway. Not sure what Ruby would think about that one.

An upside to Ruby's hearing loss is her new singing voice. She makes weird jungle noises she never, ever did before, I guess because she can't hear herself?

Timmy went through this, although I think the hearing and eyes and dementia all started creeping up together, which gave us the sad walking into walls and getting stuck under furniture. It was so sad with Timmy. I hope Ruby stays sharp and not knowing where she's going isn't what starts to make her mind go.

Cedarfield said...

Sigh. It happens to us all sooner or later but it still sucks. Please give your ruby a hug from me.

Alaska said...

You totally have the training skills needed. Just train the other two to to run to Ruby and make some kind of contact with her to re-ground her when she gets disoriented. They don't have to do the whole hog round her up thing, just make contact.

I am sure she will stay sharp to the end. That is the norm, by a wide margin.