We are blessed when we are able to witness the aging of our animal companions. Many guardians never get the chance to share their lives in such extraordinary company for so long. Yet as grateful as we are for this time it can still be fraught with emotional dips, not the least of which is the realization there are more years behind then there are in the future as we navigate through the ‘new’ territory of senior-hood and the letting go of what once was.
The physical challenges of a life in change are often a priority as we ask ourselves if our companions are getting their nutritional needs met. How well does she see? Can he hear when we call his name? Is the extra padding on the floor helping or tripping her up? Do we keep him active or rest those joints? These are questions rightfully asked by a tender heart. A compassionate heart. But equal to the physical well-being of our companion is their emotional and spiritual health.
When the physical demands of aging narrow the experiences of life we can keep them as active as they wish by a few simple adjustments.
We often find heartache as we realize our companions cannot keep up or perform as they used to, however that does not mean they may not still enjoy an activity.
Take the simple act of taking your pup for a walk. Many times the activity is beneficial to both parties but if your senior bulks at the speed or length of the walk or seems to keep up fine but finds it painful afterwards does not mean the walks should stop but rather be modified. This is where we must put aside what used to be and concentrate on what we want to give her now. Walking at a slower pace with more stops to look about is an option as is a stroll of shorter duration. A baby stroller or wagon is also useful. That may seem extreme but if the companion enjoys getting out, a wagon may be the perfect choice to keep him stimulated and entertained.
As our companion’s hearing and/or eyesight become less available, do we recognize the need for increased physical and emotional contact because their world has shrunk with the limits of their senses?
Being aware of the emotional and spiritual aspects of our animal companions can increase the joy in the life of an aging companion. Sometimes aches and pains of stiff joints makes physical touch less rewarding than previous times. A guardian’s hand should be gentle, light; stroke with a finger rather than a hand to keep the bond strong. Taking more time to talk to our companion rather than picking up or hugging when the physical becomes an issue.
If a companion has decreased or complete loss of hearing, then the physical needs attention but it is also beneficial to add more visual games and activities to keep interest and just bring more joy into their lives.
Growing older is not synonymous with losing quality of life. We sometimes overreact when we see a companion opt for a more sedimentary life. We tend to think, ‘I wouldn’t want that for me’. Maybe not, but does not mean the animal sees their life as we do. They enjoy the presence of their guardian, the simple sharing of everyday events. We may not consider them to have a quality of life because we remember what was. They do not. They live in the present, in the now. What was before is irrelevant.
The small comforts of everyday life may seem like we are concentrating on the physical, but by paying attention to our companions changing needs and adjusting schedules we are sending an energy that says, ‘I love you the way you are today. You still have value in my life. And I honor the entirety of our life together.’ No amount of physical awards can take the place of energy that says these unspoken words that come from a compassionate heart.