[Old] Puppy love

150 150 Frances
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Dear Kristin,

I’m writing this on the couch in the front room, Travis snuggled by my side, his hind feet resting against my leg. This has been our habit for nearly sixteen years, me writing, Travis napping, the two of us always attached.

Travis is an old guy now and it shows. He’s still eager to walk every morning after I finish my coffee, but he doesn’t want to go quite as far. Three years ago, we walked a mile and a half every morning. A year ago, we walked from our house to the corner of Sevier and Marion; now we make it from our house to the end of the street and back. When people see him out on our walks, they’re surprised to hear how old he is–he still moves with the sprightly step of a much younger dog. He just can’t keep it for as long as he used to. He can’t hear as well, either, and his sense of smell seems to wax and wane. 

The long and the short of it is that Travis is in excellent health for a very old dog, but he’s a very old dog. Recently, he’s developed separation anxiety, which makes leaving him at the kennel or even with a pet sitter difficult. We’re taking two trips this fall, one short and one long, and I worry how he’s going to do. The vet has supplied us with anti-anxiety meds, and we’ve found a new place to board him that has employees who are experienced in elder dog care. Hopefully that will help him weather the time away from home.

Still, it’s hard. By the time my childhood dog (who we got when I was ten), went into decline and finally had to be put down, I was 25 and far from home. I didn’t have the experience of watching her age or dealing with her various ailments. With Travis, I’m aware 24-7 when it comes to his ups and downs. I worry about him as though he were one of my children. And I’m preparing myself to be heartbroken. My next-door-neighbor recently lost her beloved 13-year-old dog to cancer, and her grief is palpable when I see her out on her deck. 

I’ve often thought that besides being wonderful companions and family members, our pets are great teachers. Five years ago, Travis injured himself and lost the use of his hind legs for two months. Jack and Will helped with the caregiving, which included taking Travis out back and helping him do his business as well as comforting him when he was tired of being in his crate or just feeling lonely. They’d had the joy of having a happy, healthy pup; now they were experiencing the harder part of living with a creature who’s entirely dependent on you for care.

And now Travis is teaching us about aging–how there are good days and bad days, days when energy is high and you want to walk the extra block, and days when you reach the end of the driveway and turn right back around. He’s teaching me about how love persists, even when the object of your affection has grown warty and lumpy and bumpy, not to mention a little looney towards the end of the day. I joke that Travis is preparing me for when Clifton turns into a grumpy old man!

This might sound a little like Travis is in his final days, but to the best of my knowledge (and from my observations), he’s as healthy as a nearly sixteen-year-old dog can hope to be. Still, I worry about him a lot and right now am especially worried about leaving him when we travel. You’ve been so lucky to have a close family friend care for your little guys when you leave home! I wish we had someone like that!

Speaking of your little guys, how are they doing these days? 


Dear Frances,

I’m writing this from my desk in the living room, with my two little guys installed on the leather chair by the front window–guarding us from all things that would do us harm. But boy oh boy, do I remember life with elderly pets.

It was not too long ago, two years, actually, that we lost two beloved pets in the space of four months. We lost our cat Tiger in March 2021 and then our dog Teddy a few months later in June. Neither was entirely unexpected. But that doesn’t really make it any easier. Our kids also got to see the good times (14-plus years) and the bad (the end), and a lot of the in-between, when they were sick. But I wouldn’t change that. I think it’s important that they got the experience to love a pet and help care for them right up until the end.

Gary and I swore that was it. No more pets. We could not go through that heartache again. But when you go from a house bursting at the seams with five people and two pets during the pandemic, down to just two people left at home in the space of just a few months–well, it’s a bit discombobulating! We took our “empty nest” trip to Catalina the week after we dropped Ben off at college. And when we drove home and hit that bend in the road right before our off-ramp, we realized that there would be no pets waiting at home, so excited to see us. For fourteen years, we would always say, “Teddy/Tiger/Trixie will be so excited to see us!” as we got close to home. It was a bitter pill.

One day, as Gary walked downstairs from his work-from-home desk, he saw the boys’ room, with the beds all neatly made, and said, “Maybe the house is a little too neat and clean?” So we started opening our hearts to adopting a dog. Bailey came first, a dog that would never have been the right fit when the kids were little. Almost two years in, she’s still an anxious little bundle of nerves. I want to say she’s affectionate, but actually, she just likes you to be affectionate to her (who doesn’t?). Because she is such a passive little thing, happily snoozing away every day on the sofa next to me, we decided we needed to liven things up a bit and get her a friend.

Bailey (l) and Ollie (r)

Enter Ollie, who is the polar opposite of Bailey. He’s crazy and energetic and entertains us all! Luckily, he’s mellowed quite a bit since we adopted him about a year and a half ago, but we can’t imagine life without both of them. They are both incredibly spoiled with homemade food (every time we cook a batch we remark that they eat better than the majority if Americans). Cooking fresh food for a pet is something that would never have fit into our lives when the kids are home, but something that we have time for now. I was a little worried that the kids wouldn’t really warm to the new dogs since they were all out of the house when we got them. But nothing could be further from the truth! They love coming home and living with pets again!

Has it tied us down? Yes. Has it made it harder to travel? Absolutely. But few things in life are without a cost. I thought we would do a lot of travel once the kids were out of the house. And really, we have done a fair amount. I’m hoping to step it up a bit in 2024 because, as you said, we have the most wonderful house/pet sitter to take care of things while we are away. In fact, they might like her more than us.

I know we’ve talked about it before, but really, I just can’t imagine life without our furry little companions. Here’s to more happy years with you and Travis!


  • Theona

    The life cycle of a pet touches every emotion, doesn’t it? We’ve been without a pet for 11 years, though we do “bunny sit” for our nearby kids when they vacation. I am quite attached to Bunny and have recently begun thinking about getting another dog. But, we like spontaneously getting away too. 🤷‍♀️

  • Robin Leftwich

    I’m kind of where Francis is right now. Our Lab is 12 9/12, in good shape for an older dog.but with arthritis and a larynx thing. She can’t go for walks but plays ball, gets on the couch, and is feisty, reminding me right now that it’s dinner time! And our other dog is a 10 1/2 year old gorgeous Golden who has cancer, has had radiation and now chemo, but is happy, bounding around, and doesn’t know there is anything wrong with him. So we are enjoying them every day, with that nagging thought at the mind of our mind that this will not last. Every time we lose a dog or cat I vow not to get another one. Not sure what will happen this time. It’s just a part of life!

  • Colleen

    The thing I wasn’t prepared for when my dog died is the grief at the passage of time. Our kids were small when we got him and adults when he died. I mourned both his passing and the loss of their childhood

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