The peace on Rugby’s face in this photo is something I’m starting to see more and more!
Wif the start of the new year, that means that I’m due for anudder Barkday sumtime in the next monf or two. Because I’m a lil mixed up dogger what has gotted gived back a lot and isn’t purebred, the Uprights really doesn’t know when I was whelped. So we just guess at my Barkday. But one fing we does know, is that I’m gonna be firteen (13) years old this winter! The Mama telled me that I’m a senior dogger, what sounds so important and very official! So…..today, we are writing our very first “State of the Rugby James 2020 Edition” blog for you! Mostly the Mama is gonna tell you stuff about me, sos you can get all pupdated on how I’m doing!
When I started Rugby’s Facebook page in 2013, I wanted to create something that was more honest than many of the pet pages of the day. I didn’t want to sugar coat his behavior issues, and I wanted his readers to see that even though a dog might have significant behavior, surrendering him or euthanasia were not the only choices available. I really wanted readers to know that you could live well with a dog who required a small world. I also wanted to provide education and encouragement for everyone, but especially for other owners like me, who had also made the decision to keep their wacky dogs!
Because of Rugby’s DNA, or his early days of repeated recyling from one home to the next and from shelter to rescue, what I saw in his earliest days with me was one wacky little dog. He was one tough little nut to live with, that much was sure!
Yes, he’s as cute as a button. I’m more than sure that’s how he continued to get adopted and rescued over and over. People looked at that darling face and those chocolate drop eyes, and they fell in love with that little dog! They couldn’t help themselves! He has a doggie power like that….maybe that’s his Superpower, but I’m pretty sure it’s what helped him to survive until I found him, because looking at how cute Rugby is, and actually living with the wacky dog that Rugby is are very different things, and it’s not for the faint of heart!
So even though it’s true that Rugby is cute, what’s also true about Rugby, is that he’s an edgy, anxious and reactive dog, whose first solution to any problem is to bark and maybe bite, depending upon what happens to be going on. That makes him challenging to live with under the best of circumstances, and now that he’s nearing thirteen, he’s becoming more challenging than ever!
His aggressive triggers have always been known to me, and I’ve always been able to work life around him so that I could live safely with him. Those triggers are now becoming more and more gray, and not so clearly black and white any more. That means that the bite risk is increasing as he ages, which is pretty normal for a dog like Rugby, but definitely is an extra cause for concern! He was muzzle trained years ago, so he’s very comfortable in both a sleeve muzzle and a basket muzzle, which he wears when we go out and about or are at the vet. The days of letting Rugby nap on me without a muzzle are gone….simply because of the increased bite risk if he’s startled awake.
Since late last Spring, this past year has seen some pretty remarkable changes that I want to discuss with you. Rugby and I always want to be honest with you, and that can mean sharing some hard things along with the good. Rugby has always enjoyed great physical health! He’s been battling an E. coli infection this winter which has caused a UTI. It’s been stubborn, so we are currently on our second round of antibiotics, but his vet is not at all concerned about getting that cleared up.
Even though dogs are considered to be seniors at age seven, Rugby has been a puppy well past that age. However, it’s almost as if he has skipped from puppy right to old dog in just a matter of months, which has made his changes even more pronounced and harder for me to understand and accept. His favorite pastimes these days are eating and sleeping, and he does both of those things as often as he possibly can!! Initially, part of me felt so sad about the loss of the things he always loved, and yet…who wouldn’t love a life that is centered around naps and food? Rugby sure doesn’t seem sad about things at all. He’s accepted that this is just his current season of life, and he’s fully embracing it. That’s making it easier for me to adjust and accept it as well.
One of really huge changes in the recent past few months is that Rugby is also showing some clear signs of CCD (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction), which is essentially the canine version of Alzheimer’s. I found a graphic checklist which will help you understand what some of the hallmarks are that are associated with it. Rugby exhibits many of the behaviors in some form or fashion, and things may continue to progress in a downward spiral or not. It appears to be different with every dog. He has not received an “official” diagnosis past dementia, but my vet is treating him as if he has CCD, and the supplements we have added are hoping to slow the progression of the disease.Graphic Credit Lori Goodman
Most of the things we are currently dealing with fall into two categories: Mobility and/or Cognitive. There can be some overlap, and sometimes it’s difficult to know if the root cause is mobility or cognitive. The behavior exists nonetheless.
- Pacing….especially between the hours of 4-8:30 every night. It’s often referred to as “Sundowners.” He’s like a fly looking for a place to land. He doesn’t know what he wants to do, so he wanders around the house, and asks to go outside every 15-20 minutes. He often checks in with me to direct him, but isn’t interested in most of the options that I suggest for him. This is likely more of a cognitive issue, but it does affect his mobility too.
- He has a hard time figuring out how to walk backwards, or get out of the way when he’s underfoot. It takes him a lot longer to figure out what to do in those situations. Because he moves so stiffly these days, it may be that he’s trying to figure out how to move without things hurting. But sometimes his face also registers confusion, like he understands that he needs to do something, but can’t figure out what that is without some help. More and more often, I’m having to help him move, because he just stands and stares at me like he just doesn’t know what to do. So there’s a clear cognition issue with this as well.
- He sometimes has trouble getting into or out of his bed, but I think a good bit of that is because he’s very arthritic in his hips, knees and back. He doesn’t like to snuggle with blankies any longer, because I think he simply gets tangled up in them. Any time I offer one in his bed, he kicks it out very consistently. I’ve added daily joint supplements and pain meds to manage things and keep him comfortable, and that seems to be working.
- He sometimes stares into space. I see this a lot outside. He just stands on the patio and stares off into the yard, occasionally sniffing the air and just enjoying the breeze. He sometimes seems to forget why he’s outside, and will come in and go out several times in a row before he remembers to potty. Sometimes he will pee, and forget that he needed to poop, so five minutes after he comes back in, he will ask to go out again to poop.
- A few times, he has gotten behind a table, looked right at me and barked, like he just wasn’t sure how to get to me from where he was. I’ve needed to direct him how to walk around, and he’s been able to follow those instructions with ease.
- Sometimes we are walking from the office to the kitchen and Rugby almost seems to forget where he’s going. He’s good at stopping on a dime right in front of me, and causing me to do a quick stutter step to keep from stepping on him. Then he often looks confused as if he doesn’t know why I’m acting weird!
- He gets confused with getting into his crate sometimes, even though it follows a pattern he’s known for years. I can stand with the door open and point inside it, and he looks inside it and then back to me as if he just doesn’t understand what I want him to do. We’ve had strong patterns in place at home because those have really created some security for him over the years. But now, on occasion, he forgets what those patterns are, and just looks confused.
- He startles easily, but much of that is because he’s now nearly deaf.
- He shows virtually no interest in toys any longer. He has a couple that he still snuggles with on occasion, but by and large, his days of wanting to play appear to be gone.
- He sleeps nearly all day long. He still will follow me all over the house, but often finds a place to nap and settles in for the day. His daily routine is eating and sleeping and not much more. What a life!
- He’s decided that he doesn’t want to learn anything new anymore which has been especially hard for me. We built our trust and love together over learning tricks, puzzles, and virtually anything and everything together. That’s been our daily life together for twelve years. So the fact that he no longer really wants to do the work that built our relationship has caused me to spend some time grieving that loss. He doesn’t enjoy working most of his hard puzzles or doing any of his tricks any more, but loves his snuffle mat and his lick mat. So I stick to easy things for him, and he still really has fun with those. I’ve just adjusted things as we have gone along.
- He doesn’t enjoy snuggles the way that he once did. He wants to be petted for a short bit, and often walks away on his own. He’s always been a “Velcro” dog who had to be constantly touching me, but seems very uncomfortable with snuggles for more than five or ten minutes. He does enjoy an evening nappy noodle with Michael while I’m doing evening appointments, but he’s definitely withdrawing from the attention that he once wanted and needed.
- His daily evening ritual is to dig in his bed or “fluff” it. He’s all about that job, and he often digs his bed from one side of a room to the other, and even down the hall! It always makes me smile, because when he’s all finished, he proudly plops himself on his bed and looks quite pleased with all of his effort! It’s truly an OCD, or ritualistic behavior, but he does seem to delight in doing it. At his age, I’m okay with that.
- He forgets that he’s eaten, so he’s constantly scrounging for food in some form or fashion. Moments after he’s eaten, he looks to me for more. I’ve changed how I feed him to help him out. He now gets a noon meal and a small bedtime snack as well. Basically, I’m trying to keep his volume approximately the same, but just re-distributing how he gets that volume. He does get a few extras that he didn’t get previously, and he’s gained two pounds as a result of this, but his vet is not at all concerned by that, and it does seem to make Rugby happier if he’s eating every few hours. That’s one of the benefits of keeping him so lean for his lifetime; he can gain a few pounds now and it’s not dangerous for him.
In late Spring or early Summer, I realized that Rugby is nearly deaf. That’s not at all unusual for a dog who is nearing thirteen, but I wasn’t expecting it, and it was sudden, rather than gradual. Even his vet was surprised to see how little hearing he has left, which made me feel better about taking it so hard! Any time that a dog loses a major ability like eyesight or hearing, their world becomes immediately much smaller.
If you ask me, all of the years of his ridiculous barking have probably helped cause his deafness, but that’s just me being silly! The positive thing about it, however, is that he can’t hear many of the stimuli which once triggered his anxious, reactive and aggressive responses, so our home life has become much more peaceful, and so has Rugby!! It’s made me smile at times when I hear those trigger sounds and expect Rugby to come flying off of his bed barking like his life depends upon it….and instead see him blissfully slumbering away! It’s been wonderful to see more peace in his life, even at the expense of being able to hear. Those of you with super anxious, sound reactive dogs will understand that one. I would never wish him to lose his hearing, but for the twelve plus years that he’s lived with me, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished for him to be able to relax and have peace in his life. Finally, that seems to be happening, but sadly, it’s been at the cost of his hearing.
The other thing that his deafness means, is that we have to be especially sure not to startle Rugby, because his startle response is to react with guns blazing! His bite risk has escalated pretty substantially, so it means always being conscious of him and where he is before I move. He tends to be underfoot a lot these days, and he can’t always move well or figure out that he needs to move, so I have to always stay on my toes around the house!
It would be so easy to feel sad about all of these changes, and believe me! I’ve struggled! Since fall arrived, I’ve grieved the loss of the dog that he’s been for twelve years. It truly does feel like both of us have lost a lot over a very short amount of time. But I started Rugby’s Facebook page and this blog to celebrate his life. He’s always needed and wanted a small world, and now that world has gotten a lot smaller, in part because of the CCD, and in part because of his deafness. But at almost thirteen, he’s at a season of life where these are the things that should naturally be happening, and that’s simply part of this season of his life. He’s lived to be thirteen!
That’s something to celebrate!
The fact that he’s thirteen means that he’s had a full life! The fact that he has lived at all is amazing! He should have been euthanized so many times before I got him, I’m sure. He just never had a great start in life, but as best as I could, I’ve tried to give him his happily ever after.
That’s something to celebrate!
He’s lived long enough to go deaf, and develop arthritis and lose the ability to jump! He didn’t get robbed of all of the prime years of his life because of cancer or some other debilitating disease or condition.
That’s something to celebrate!
He still has puppy moments and frap attacks where he gets that old familiar spark in his eye and zooms through the house on clumsy back legs, mouth opened into a bright smile, and a few happy, excited playful barks tossed in. Those don’t happen daily anymore, but when they do, it makes me smile and laugh and it carries me until the next time that it happens.
That’s something to celebrate!
I’ve finally processed all of these changes, and I’ve come to the conclusion that just because things are changing, it doesn’t mean that I stop celebrating Rugby! I don’t stop celebrating who Rugby is or what he can currently do. It’s a different stage of life for us, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be bad or sad. It’s just different and that’s all.
I think both of us are adjusting to those changes well. We will always keep an upbeat, positive spin on things, and as best as I can, I want to enjoy this season of his life. For every negative, there’s a positive, and I hope that I always have eyes and a heart to see those positive things, because all of those things….the negative and the positive, are what make up my Rugby James! It’s onward and upward at my house!!