It is getting to be impossibly hard to watch the daily struggles of my almost 13 year old lab, Marley. She has arthritis in her back legs and a (non-cancerous) mass under her right front leg that makes her limp. Some days, to an outsider, it must look like she is about to keel over on our daily walk around the block.

But she is still happy. She still greets me at the door. She still devours a good meal with zeal. She still can chew her way though a stuffed toy to get to the speaker inside, and she will flip a kong around to get out the treats. She just does it all slower, and almost always sitting down.

We don’t walk far any more – I remember the days when we had to walk her at least a mile every 2 hours or she was off the wall – these days she gets 10 minute walk in the morning and another in the evenings – sometimes longer if she is feeling spry that day.

I am watching her sleep now. On the floor next to my bed. Her days off getting up on the bed are years past. Even if I carry her onto the bed, she frets nervously until I help her down. It’s crazy and I know I will sound like a “crazy dog person” when I say this but when I look at her I don’t see a dog. I know she is a dog and just a dog, but I see a soul. A soul who has spent the last 12.5 years learning me, my emotions, my movements. A being who has been with me through dating, engagement, a marriage of 10 years, a divorce, and back to dating again. She has lived with me in 4 different places, and has licked my hand when I have been sad more times that I can remember.

I have slept on the floor with her after she has had a surgery, when I have had too many glasses of wine, been too sad to move. She has danced, run, barked, and played with me. Damn I love her.

My only hope is that as she moves through her “golden years” that I can continue to learn her new language – when enough is enough an an hour sitting sniffing the air is better than a walk. The day I got her I promised her that “in the end” she would never suffer and never be alone. I worry about this upcoming summer and the heat and how she will manage – the last few months have seen more limping days than good days.

I have a good vet and we are trying different medications to help with the arthritis and limping, but it hard because inevitably the day I call the vet she stops limping. I often feel completely at a loss – there really is nothing I can do to stop the aging – it’s all about making her be able to continue to walk and not be in discomfort. Dogs have an amazing ability to push through pain, and I often worry that she is in more pain than I am already guessing.

But for now, I am going to lover her to bits, tell her she is a “good dog” every chance I get, lavish her with Milkbones, and spend as many days out in the yard, watching the birds and squirrels, and doing whatever comes our way — together.

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