Our Geriatric Girls

Phaedra and Gladys in Surry

Phaedra and Gladys in Surry

Tom and I have been together long enough now that the pets that we acquired in the early bloom of our relationship have all become noble senior citizens. We have two dogs and two cats and not one is younger than an octogenarian. Lately, I’ve been feeling like we are running a nursing home for four-legged assisted living.

Tom’s dog, Gladys, is 15 (that’s 105 in dog years). She seems fine, although she occasionally has dizzy spells, is stone deaf and is blind in one eye. But her will is as enthusiastic as when she was a puppy—it’s just that the body doesn’t follow suit so well these days. Gladys is Tom’s first and only dog. She went to work with him on construction sites every day for fourteen years.

Gladys has occasional gastrointestinal issues—which causes her to shit upstairs in a back bedroom at night. I’ve gone through about fifty throw rugs. We found that if we don’t feed her commercial dog food she is much better. I’m not sure what kind of cancerous mystery meat they’re putting in canned dog food, but it literally disturbs the crap out of her. Now we feed her an old lady’s dinner of canned pumpkin and cottage cheese and saltines at night and she is fine. In the morning we cook her a breakfast of boiled white rice and green beans and ground turkey. A dog’s breakfast—fit for a queen. I swear I spend more time cooking for Gladys than I do for us.

My dog, Phaedra, is probably around 13—she was a found pound hound so I’m not sure exactly how old she is. She’s been a great dog but recently she started having horrific seizures, really terrifying to watch—long minutes of paddling and snapping at the air, screaming and peeing herself. When she comes out of the seizures, she doesn’t recognize us for a while. It is assumed that she has a brain tumor that is causing swelling. I was going to put her down but my vet, whom I adore, put her on Prednisone and Phenobarbital, and she seems stable on that. Actually, yesterday she was running around playing with a stick like she was a puppy again.

The downside to these medications is that they make Phay incredibly thirsty, and she drinks copious amounts of water. They also make her incontinent, so she is leaking like an old Chevy. I spend my days running around with towels, wiping up pools of urine on the floor where she’s been sleeping. We’ve rolled up all the rugs. Do they make doggie Depends?

The house smells like my old friend Dow after he’d been on a month long bender. I don’t know how long I can hang with this.

Gladys and Phaedra are both large black mixed breeds. They weigh between 70 and 80 pounds, so getting them in and out of cars has become a struggle. Tom can lift them easily, but I have to create kind of a ramp deal to get them in. I am getting a good workout by dead-lifting these be-atches. I have also started giving them a daily massage.

We have a mean old alley cat named Tabouli. My son brought her home from Manhattan 17 years ago. She is probably the nastiest, snarliest cat ever born. She is also now about the size of a hassock. She’s a calico cat, white with large black and brown splotches. From behind, she looks like a giant soccer ball. If she’s pissed off, she will randomly approach a dog and hiss and smack her in the face for no apparent reason. She is ill tempered and absolutely miserable—and she’s lucky she’s still alive. I’m just too afraid of her to try to get her in a carrier to bring her to the vet.

The last time I brought Tabouli to the vet for a check-up was many years ago, because it was a true nightmare. First, I put her in a cardboard cat carrier. I don’t know what I was thinking. Tabouli shredded her way through the cardboard before I was even out the door. She made mincemeat out of that measly carrier. The only thing I had at the time to carry her in was a large picnic cooler. I put her in the cooler and brought her to the vet for her shots. At the animal hospital, she was pounding on the top of the cooler so violently that I had to put my foot on the top to keep her from smashing her way out. I was standing on the cooler as people recoiled in horror as to what could possibly be making such a snarling, hissing, growling racket inside a picnic cooler.

Finally, a timid elderly woman spoke up for everyone in the room, “Do you mind my asking what you’ve got in there?”

I responded gravely, “Tasmanian Devil.”

Everyone shifted to the other side of the waiting room.

Tom says Tabouli needs a long walk with Doctor Remington. I think she needs Kevorkian Therapy.

Tabouli lives on the third floor, which is accessed by a steel spiral staircase. Tabouli is so heavy now that when she goes up and down it sounds like an elephant is stomping on the metal stairs. I’ve recently changed her name to Catzilla.

Our other cat, Shrimpy, is a pretty cool cat. Shrimpy is the “youngster” of the bunch, being only 81 in human years. Shrimpy was foisted off on me as a kitten by a friend who claimed that Shrimpy was a descendant of calico cats kept by a crazy, famous cat lady/artist in Nova Scotia. Shrimpy is a great huntress and goes in and out of the house from a window that we leave ajar for her because the window opens onto the second floor roof system. The only problem with this arrangement is that the window is right over the headboard of our bed, so there is a lot of traffic in and out, directly over Tom’s head.

This winter, when the window was closed, Shrimpy would try to pry it open with her claw in the middle of the night. This was not conducive to sleep. One night while she was picking at the window, I may have sort of batted at her to get her to stop. She jumped down and landed on Tom’s sleeping face. I could feel Tom radiating sheer fury. He was seething.

“Did Shrimpy just scratch you?” I asked as I turned on the light.

Tom turned to me. Boy Howdy! Did she ever. He had eight bleeding puncture wounds on his face. He looked like a bloody pincushion.

It was at this moment that I heard Shrimpy heave and gack up a partially digested mouse under our bed.

Even though this geriatric care for ancient animals has become a royal P.I.T.A., we love our girls. Tom and I both know the specter of the “Youth in Asia” decision is looming mightily. It’s definitely coming sooner rather than later. I just hope that we can make this decision in a timely manner. I do not want them to suffer. I want them to be comfortable in their final days. In this perspective, all the cooking and cleaning and massaging just seems like payback for all those years of unconditional love and companionship from them. I know we don’t have much time left.

I guess Dow didn’t really smell that bad after all. I can hang with it.

Carol Leonard

About Carol Leonard

Carol Leonard is a midwife, a writer and a licensed beaver trapper. She was the first midwife licensed to practice legally in New Hampshire and has attended close to 1,200 babies born safely in their own homes. She was a co-founder of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) representing all midwives in the US, Canada and Mexico. She was elected as the second president of MANA. Carol is the author of the best-selling memoir, Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart, A Midwife’s Saga, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2010. Carol is currently building a 400-acre farm in Ellsworth, Maine with her husband, Tom Lajoie. Her blog BAD BEAVER TALES: Love and Life in Downeast Maine, chronicles their informative and funny journey building their dream homestead on 400 acres of wilderness in Downeast Maine. Carol and Tom are also raising about a hundred beavers there that they argue about on a daily basis. These blog posts will be a collection of tales not just about Bad Beaver the place, but stories that meander around in her life, past and present—at the same time, Bad Beaver is where it all leads. As a writer friend says, “These stories from Bad Beaver are, at turns, brave, beautiful and just plain badass.”