year fourteen, more difficult than year thirteen

September 10th, 2012 11:30 am by Kelly Garbato

2012-01-10 - Ralphie Digging - 0005


Oh, Ralphie. Just last week you spent the entire afternoon digging for critters in the field by the pond while I read, walking home alongside me – no leash or lead required – once the sun started to disappear beyond the horizon. This morning I had to carry you down the hall because you couldn’t see well enough to navigate through the throng of dogs on your own. Even if there were no other dogs, I might have had to carry you anyway; you seemed so confused and directionless. Unable to get your bearings.

And it happened so suddenly! I mean, I know that your vision is slowly going – normal age-related degeneration, fuck that! – and I’ve always expected that you’d be totally blind in the last months or even years of your life (particularly since you’re in otherwise excellent health and will most likely live a good long time, even for a dachshund; praise dog for that). But this! This was so fast and unexpected, like a tidal wave. One moment you can see (well enough, anyway); the next, nada.

I hope it’s something fixable, like a slipped lens or whatnot. It has to be, right? Because I’m not ready for you to be completely blind, not yet. Of course we can make you feel comfortable and secure and loved; that’s not it, not it at all. We just have so much more to do together, you and I. Lazy afternoon digging and sunny walks in the park. Staring into your eyes, cuddling and petting you, and knowing that you’re looking right back at me, seeing the love in my eyes.

You’re on your way to the ophthalmologist with dad right now. I hope you’re calm and comfortable and not disliking the car ride too much. Don’t be scared. Don’t ever be scared; dad and I are frightened enough for the three of us. We’ll be here for you though, always, doing the best we can.

Good luck, my little man.



2012-05-27 - Patio Office - 0003


I wrote the above back in January. After more than a year of coping relatively well with the loss of an eye, Ralphie suddenly and inexplicably developed some alarming symptoms. One day he was fine; the next, he began bumping into furniture, walking into walls, getting lost in his own home. Where he once was self-assured, he became confused. He had trouble getting around, stumbling and sometimes swaying.

At the time, we were worried that he’d gone blind overnight: a slipped disc, maybe, or worse yet melanoma in his remaining eye. We imagined the worst – how could such a swift and unexpected development be anything but? We knew that, if he lived long enough, Ralphie would most surely go blind eventually: the ophthalmologist identified “normal,” age-related degeneration in his eye, for which there is no fix. We expected him to go blind – just, not so suddenly. Not yet.

As it turned out, Ralphie was suffering from a bout of vertigo. The odd behaviors we witnessed were due to dizziness: Ralphie could still see the world, but for him it was spinning out of control. Add in his lack of depth perception and it’s a wonder he was able to walk at all.

Unfortunately, there’s not any remedy for vertigo, in humans or canines. You just have to wait it out and hope that it doesn’t happen again. (Those who develop vertigo once are more likely to suffer another episode in the future.) Nor can you predict how long an episode will last: maybe days, maybe weeks. Maybe longer, if you’re especially unlucky.

Ralphie’s vertigo lasted about a week, during which time we had to pamper him fully and completely. Between Shane and I, Ralphie scarcely spent a moment alone – he lazed much of the week away on my lap or napping next to Shane on the couch while we worked. We fed him separate from the other dogs, holding him up when necessary. All other animals were summarily shooed away. Belly rubs, loving kisses, and soft pillows – those were the order of the day.

Sadly, the vertigo also sapped Ralphie of his confidence, which he’s yet to regain. Whereas he used to be able to climb onto the couch by himself, we now have to lift him up and down, down and up. His couch time is a regularly scheduled thing now. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a very big deal, but the ability to move about, to choose where you want to sit and when – it’s a big part of his independence. Or rather dependence.


2012-05-27 - Patio Office - 0012


His eyesight has also steadily degenerated in the past eight months. While he clearly works from memory and uses the edges of things – walls, furniture – to navigate around the house, he still bumps into solid items on a regular basis. (If he’s especially excited and moving at a moderate pace, it’s a full-blown collision.) When I dole out mid-morning and nighttime peanut butter balls, he’s more likely to direct his begging at the refrigerator or dishwasher than me. Coming into the office from outside, he will sit at my chair and whine to be picked up – even when I’m in another room.

Speaking of “whining,” his behavior changes are just as obvious – and distressing – as the physical ones. He’s become much needier, clingier, dependent. Though he’s always loved human attention, it’s become a sort of obsession. At times I can’t even leave the living room to, say, brush my teeth or fold some laundry, lest he start barking in – what? – desperation? Confusion? Fear?

And though my patience often wears thin – all that whining can be so terribly frustrating and the barking, like an ice pick to the brain – there’s Ralphie. My little guy. Ralph Malph. My other boyfriend ™. My first-adopted.

I can only begin to imagine what he must be going through.

It breaks my heart.

I also feel lucky, too. There are so many worse problems he could have. More impossible challenges, graver issues, including some that my friends and family are struggling with.

Just last month, my parents lost their cat. Fluid in the lungs. An x-ray revealed that, some time long ago (most likely before they adopted him), he’d been shot. It’s possible that the slug migrated and caused the problems which ultimately killed him, but they’ll never know.

(People, don’t let your cat friends outside. There they will kill other animals, cute and otherwise – lizards and birds and chipmunks – and other animals may hurt or kill them. Humans included.)

And Ralphie’s spirits are still high, despite his failing eyesight. He still loves to dig, go for walks, nom on stolen tissue, and bark at home invaders, real and imagined. He loves to eat and lives for treats. Bright and shiny, he’s the one barking at me to get up and feed him already. All things considered, he’s a happy guy. I can’t ask for much more than that.

In the last year or so we also discovered that he has hypothyroidism. The required medication has resulted in a dramatic weight loss – I almost think he’s too thin; I can see entirely too much of his spine! – and his fur now grows in much thicker and fuller. He even has hair in places he never did before, like his belly! This old guy looks like quite the stud.


2012-08-21 - Ralphie Joins Us Outside - 0002 [square]


The other night I dreamed that Ralphie, as he aged, “devolved”: kind of like a shrunken and shriveled Ten, but worse as he lost his mental faculties as well as his physical prowess. Over time, he grew into a small, dachshund-shaped, worm-like insect capable of disassembling into different segments and then reattaching them back into a whole without any ill effects (or pain, even). His pieces seemed jaunty enough – dancing and they did – but Ralphie was not longer there. His doctor-slash-caretaker assured me that Ralphie had no sense of his surrounding, or of me – he was there, but not. It was creepy and terrible and incredibly depressing.

Next month Ralphie turns fifteen. That’s between 76 and 83 in human years, according to the senior care pamphlet our veterinarian oh-so-helpfully mailed us. A few more years, and he’ll be as old as my 94-year-old grandmother. (We are a long-lived people on my mother’s side.)

I hope he lives to be 1,000. With 13 regerations. But that can’t happen, because who will care for him when I’m gone?

This is a kindness.

Yes, so I’m writing this as there’s a Doctor Who marathon on. I don’t have any perceptive words of wisdom with which to wrap up my rambling, so I’ll leave it at that.

This is a kindness.


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2 Responses to “year fourteen, more difficult than year thirteen”

  1. Molly Says:

    Aw, Kelly, tears are welling up in my eyes as I read this because Crystal followed such a similar path as Ralphie. I know what you’re all going through and understand the neediness & frustration that can sometimes occur. It sounds like you’re doing the very best for him and he couldn’t ask for better parents.

    It’s so wonderful that he’s going to turn 15 soon. May he live many happy years yet. Lots of love & belly rubs to him! <3

  2. Eat to the Beat: Peanut Butter Dog Treats & Queen » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] in the remaining eye and is not-so-slowly going blind. He gets around okay considering, but a bout of vertigo earlier in the year kind of sapped him of his confidence. He’s a happy guy, in great health otherwise, but also […]

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