This Old Age Pooch is deaf and so doddery he uses a pram – but there's life in the old dog yet
Walkies: Judith Summers and her geriatric dog, George
Pushing my pram down Hampstead High Street like a proud mum, a passer-by grimaces at me and says: ‘What an ugly baby!’
‘That’s a bit harsh,’ says his companion, smiling at my little passenger. ‘I think he’s gorgeous! Just look at those long floppy ears!’
I’m not too insulted because my ‘pram’ is a specially designed pushchair, and strapped into it is George, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. And far from being a baby, he’s 13 in human years, which, according to experts, in dog years puts him in his doddery late 70s.
George is one of a growing number of British OAPs – Old Age Pooches, that is.
Like us humans, it seems that pet dogs
are living longer, the result of both better nutrition and innovations
in veterinary care.
reigning ‘oldest dog in the world’, Pusuke, died in Japan last December,
having reached the venerable age of 26, so the title is now up for
grabs – with owners of dogs aged 20 and over apparently queuing up
outside the offices of Guinness World Records to claim it.
although canine charity Dogs Trust classifies all dogs over the age of
seven as officially elderly, which makes my pooch positively ancient,
George has some way to go.
the adorable young puppy who once galloped around my flat, leaving a
trail of destruction and muddy paw prints in his wake, is very much a
creature of the past.
glossy chestnut hair is grey around the gills, his black eyes are
cloudy with cataracts, he has a heart condition that requires
thrice-daily medication and he’s often so shaky on his pins that he
looks as if he’s about to keel over.
latest TV pet food ads – featuring high-pitched noises designed to set
dogs barking – are wasted on him, for during the past year George has
gone deaf. Strangely, he can still hear the rustle of a biscuit packet
being opened at 20 yards, but when it comes to ‘No!’, ‘Sit!’ or ‘Stay!’,
I now have to resort to sign language.
I bought George in the autumn of 1998 to cheer up my son after my husband died of cancer, and he’s certainly fulfilled his side of the bargain.
But now, after more than 13 years of active service, he’s the one who needs looking after.
Luckily for him, George has a devoted one-to-one carer looking after him 24/7. Yes, me.
As I’m finding out, caring for an Old Age Pooch is a labour of love, and can be just as challenging and time-consuming as caring for an elderly human. They suffer from many of the same ailments, too, including decreased mobility, dehydration, painful joints, bladder weakness and confusion.
Labour of love: He might not have much energy, but looking after George is still very a very demanding job
My Daily duties start around 4am when he barks to be let out. The old boy can’t make it through the night nowadays.
This isn’t just a question of opening the back door – I have to keep watch in case the local fox attacks him.
The whole business can take ages because sometimes my OAP forgets what he’s gone outside to do, and at other times he forgets to come back after he’s done it. And since he can no longer hear me calling or whistling, I have to fetch him.
My next-door neighbour must have thought I was barking mad last week when he spotted me striding across the snow-covered lawn before dawn, wearing only a skimpy nightdress and a pair of Wellies.
George’s barking had woken him up, I’m afraid. Deaf my OAP might be, but there’s one voice he never seems to tire of nowadays, and that’s his own.
His memory isn’t what it was. He often
walks into a room, stands there looking confused as if he’s forgotten
what he’s come in for, then plods out again. That sounds like someone
else I know, but I can’t remember who.
After a short break, it’s time to administer the first heart pill of the day, followed by an easily-digestible, home-cooked breakfast of chicken and rice (tinned dog food seems to make him sick nowadays, and the dry rubble of dog biscuits is too difficult to manage when you’ve only got three teeth left). Five minutes later, George has forgotten that he’s eaten and is standing in the doorway of my study, barking to be fed again.
His memory isn’t what it was. He often walks into a room, stands there looking confused as if he’s forgotten what he’s come in for, then plods out again. That sounds like someone else I know, but I can’t remember who.
And so the day goes on.
George, who once took hurdles like an Olympic athlete, now needs to be helped on to the sofa and into the car. His back legs slide away from underneath him when he’s eating, and the stairs have become so problematic that I’m thinking of installing a Stannah chair lift for him.
Sometimes I wonder whether he’s not putting it on a little. On the way to Hampstead Heath, for instance, he’ll lag behind, trembling and limping. Once past his favourite lamp-post he’ll stop and look up at me pathetically, as if to say he can’t walk another step.
But as soon as I head for home, his tail lifts and he prances ahead, eager to get back to the comfort of his basket.
In my spare moments, I find myself poring over websites such as my-old-dog.com, reading articles entitled ‘Night-time incontinence for dogs and bitches’.
Positively regal: Judith bought a modified buggy in which she can take George for his 'walk'
There’s no shortage of online advice about OAPs – and no shortage of merchandise for them, either. Expensive ramps to help them in and out of the car, a ‘Bottoms Up’ leash girdle to support their swaying rear ends, senior dental chews for their remaining teeth – and even doggie dentures.
How about a set of ‘Barcelona steps’ from U.S. website Posh Puppy Boutique to help George on and off my bed Available in oak or mahogany, these have non-slip treads, wrought-iron railings, a mezzanine with interchangeable gates and a removable door. A bargain at 490.
Maybe the answer to George’s night-time needs is to buy him an indoor Pet Loo. Invented in Australia, this artificial grass patch, just less than a metre square, comes with a removable ‘catchment jug’ and optional ‘wee sponges’, and costs around 100.
It would certainly be an interesting feature in the living room. But how would I train George to use it They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Luckily, sitting in the stroller isn’t too difficult for him to master. But can I deal with the embarrassment factor
Well, when it comes to my beloved OAP, I’m not too posh to push – that is, until I run into Ron Pluckrose, our veteran milkman, on the corner.
‘Does that make you feel like a mum’ he asks. Mortified, I retreat to the house.
Later, I venture out again, this time towards the Heath. Until I bought the 50 buggy – available in blue for dogs and pink for bitches – getting George there usually involved carrying him. At times I’ve resorted to driving. And it’s only at the end of my road.
Now I just have to push him. Swaddled in a black polo-neck sweater – old dogs feel the cold more than young ones, they tell me – George looks positively regal as he peers down on the four-legged plebs who are having to walk.
‘He looks ridiculous, but he seems to be enjoying it,’ says the first walker we encounter.
Children in buggies gape with astonishment at the sight of a dog being wheeled along like them, and adults frown disapprovingly, as if they presume my OAP must be bone idle.
But the most violent reaction comes from a Jack Russell we encounter named Wally, who’s totally freaked out and has a barking fit. But then, at 12, he’s no spring chicken himself, so he’s probably worried at the thought of what’s to come.
The real trouble starts when I put George down on the grass. After all, even an OAP needs a little exercise. The moment he’s free, he heads straight for a muddy puddle and rolls in it, as if to express his disgust at having been wheeled along.
After that, even a bacon treat won’t tempt him back into the stroller. When I eventually plonk him back into it, he jumps straight out. Though he’s clearly exhausted, my spaniel insists on walking all the way home under his own steam.
Nice wheels, maybe. But there’s life in the old dog yet.
The Badness Of King George, by Judith Summers, is published by Penguin, at 6.99.