My 13-year-old dog, Zooey has always been a character.
From the moment we brought her home in 2008, she brought chaos down upon us. As a puppy and adolescent, Zooey had enough hyperactivity for three dogs. One door left ajar, and she was out the door, sprinting through the neighborhood, pretending to not hear her name. A glance in the opposite direction while eating and your plate had been emptied by a chocolate-brown pup ready to hide with her prize. While these are normal puppy behaviors, Zooey’s lasted until she was seven years old, and moved to college with me. Seemingly overnight, with the exception of a couple of accidents and garbage can tip-overs, Zooey grew up.
Just when I thought I knew my dog as an adult, it became time to learn her behavior, wants, and needs as an elder dog. These changes were not as quick or evident as those I saw when she joined me at college. Her elderly preferences soon showed, and I was happy to accommodate. These days, my girl enjoys a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer as much as she does a milk bone.
When I took Zooey to the veterinarian for her annual check-up and vaccinations a couple of months ago, I was scared, not of anything in particular, but worry accompanies a vet visit once your pet enters the double digits of their life. We sat in the car and waited for the veterinarian to come and fetch her, according to COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols. When her turn came, she made it all the way to the door before realizing I wouldn’t be able to come into the office with her. The poor veterinarian realized just how much strength my girl still possesses at 13 years old when Zooey yanked the leash, and subsequently her arm as hard as she could, back toward me. I jumped out of the car, catching Zooey before she completely toppled the veterinarian over, and walked her all the way into the office before returning to my car to wait.
According to her doctors, Zooey was very well behaved inside the office. She just has a hard time with separation from me, as do I. Within an hour, the veterinarian called me from inside the office and told me how great Zooey is doing for a twelve-year-old dog. I couldn’t help but correct her, proud of my dog, that Zooey actually turned thirteen in January. “Even better,” the vet responded.
I was so worried about Zooey when it came time for me to return from working at home to the office full time after last year’s lockdown. I knew she’d had some problems with separation anxiety in the past, but this was going to be a new situation for her. I don’t think I’d ever been home with her, 24/7 before lockdown. From the time we were young, I was going out with friends, attending school, or working at some point during the day. However, when I first went back to the office full-time last summer, it definitely felt like Zooey was enjoying some alone time. In hindsight, she was probably a bit sick of me being in her space all the time.
While she has not shown any direct signs of separation anxiety, I know it isn’t fun for her to be left alone all day. Of course, she has food, water, windows to look out to watch birds and neighbors, and more than enough places to nap, but she is alone.
I stumbled across a video on Youtube a few months ago called, “TV for dogs.” I clicked, interested, and was met with a go-pro camera shot from the back of a dog running through the Scottish highlands along to relaxing music. Well, if Zooey wasn’t interested, I was.
Soon, I discovered that Zooey was very interested in what we’ve come to call “her shows.” There are countless videos available online to help dogs with separation anxiety, or just keep them occupied during the day. These days, our morning routine includes me cueing up her shows for the day and tucking her in with a blanket. More recently, she’s taken to “borrowing” my clothes to cuddle with while I’m at work. While it is confusing to live alone and never be able to find your favorite t-shirt, her behavior is beyond adorable. She doesn’t nibble or chew my clothes, she just wants my scent with her while she’s watching her shows and waiting for me to come home.
I’ll return home this evening, to Zooey’s sweet face, floppy ears, and tail-wags of excitement at my arrival. Her’s is the same face that has greeted me at the door every evening for 13 years. I am grateful for every single one.
— Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice