It’s sad having some really old dogs. Our Dalmatian, Sparky, which we got as a puppy, has exceeded the median life expectancy of Dalmatians and as such, is starting to fall apart. Day after day, we get to watch her disintegrate a bit at a time, but she’s not in any pain that we can tell so we just let her go. Unfortunately, Dalmatians are really, really stupid dogs which are eternal puppies, even when their bodies just can’t keep up and they never, ever learn their lessons.
This has gone on for a while now, it first happened last fall when my wife called me at work and told me that Sparky fell into a hole in the backyard during the day and had apparently spent the day with her butt in the ground. Once she got pulled out, she didn’t want to walk and spent the next day or two on the couch being babied. We didn’t think she was going to make it but over about a week, she got stronger, got back on her feet and was mostly back to normal.
One of the common outcomes with Dalmatians is that their back ends go. It’s not hip dysplasia, which shows up around 2 years old, they simply lose control of their rear ends, resulting in a loss of bladder and bowel control, and eventually a loss of control of their hind legs. She’s not that bad, although she is developing some serious balance issues, she has trouble walking in a straight line. She seriously favors one side and if she falls, she almost always falls on that side. This is where the trouble begins.
There are three steps down into the back yard and Sparky used to just leap from the top step. Today, she physically can’t do that but that doesn’t stop her. I tried putting a ramp down the steps, she refused to use it. She has problems getting up and down the steps and many times, her legs just completely collapse underneath her. That’s where she got herself seriously injured by taking a running leap off the steps, falling over and skidding across the concrete. We thought it was just a bad bruise, she limped for a couple of days and a patch on her hip was scraped up. That was until that patch of skin fell off entirely, leaving a deep hole in her hip, all the way down to the muscle. It was in an area that simply was impossible to bandage and we were told not to bother, it will heal faster if we leave it exposed to the air, but it’s still nasty looking. There is no blood, there is no pain, you can poke and prod at it all you want and she doesn’t care but she falls down, constantly, on that exact spot and there’s just no way to cushion the blow. In the house, it’s not a concern, other than having to constantly pick her up. Outside though, she can get dirt and debris into the open wound, meaning every time she comes in the house, she has to have it cleaned out and sprayed with a disinfectant. That is a serious pain.
It’s hard because she knows that she’s having problems. If she ends up losing control in the house, mostly because I don’t think she even knows that her bowels have let go, you can see how ashamed she is and how sorry she is. She doesn’t get blamed, she can’t help herself, we just clean up after her. She’s taken to sleeping on the couch, which we’ve padded and covered with blankets that can be easily cleaned. She can no longer sleep on the floor because she is unable to get up. She has problems getting up onto the couch so I spend a considerable amount of time picking her up. Unfortunately, being a Dalmatian and an eternal puppy, she doesn’t want to stay still for long, she will beg to get up on the couch, spent 30 seconds there and climb back down to do something else. This happens over and over and over again. When she can’t get somewhere or when she can’t get up, she howls loudly no matter what time of the day or night it is. I remember one night when I got out of bed 4 times in the space of a half-hour because she kept getting up, falling over, and wanting to get back on the couch. Unfortunately, once she gets off, she has no clue what to do with herself so she’ll just stand there waiting for someone to come along and put her back, at which time she just gets down again and the game starts all over again.
Of course, the logical option is to have her put down, we’ve had that suggested to us and we’ve rejected it because she still has a decent quality of life. She is in no demonstrable pain, she eats like a horse, she’s just slowing down and falling apart and it’s more of a pain for us who have to put up with her body failing than it is for her. Her injury is starting to heal up nicely, you can see fresh skin growth and in a month or so, it’ll be gone. Sure, she might never grow any more fur there but so what? It’s only a matter of time before she dies anyhow, hopefully in her sleep and not in any pain. That’s the hard thing with having animals that live so long. Dalmatians average 13 years. Sparky is over 15. We have another dog, a chihuahua, that lives around 15 years and he’s between 18-20. He’s mostly deaf but otherwise in great condition, extremely active, etc. I know I’ll be facing this in the next couple of years with him too. I’ve got some cats that are getting up there too. Most cats live about 15 years. I’ve got a couple over that line. They’re all healthy so far, but who really knows? By the time anyone reads this article, she may be gone and that will truly be sad.