Disabled Dogs Are Downright Dashing

Gilbert – improving with age

My friend Gilbert is a little challenged in the sight and sound departments. This means on occasion he doesn’t hear or see what is happening around him. He may not realize that he is making a little bit too much noise a little too early in the morning. It also means, however, that he doesn’t bark at every little sound or every little movement. He doesn’t annoy people by observing every single movement. He’s easy going, a live and let live kind of guy. If he were human he would qualify under the ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – for services like an sign language interpreter or captioning services. As it is, he gets by as best he can with support from his family and friends. In return for their support he is a steadfast, loving and incredibly cute guy.

Lilith the Lab

My own brat-rat Lil is also ‘disabled’ due to a permanent bone/joint injury. One can typically not tell this as she runs around, eats, chews up items, and digs holes like any able-bodied dog. I know however, that as she ages she will likely end up with arthritis in her affected leg – probably in all her legs as they try and compensate for her damaged leg. In the meantime, she is about as loving and happy a pup as I have ever met. Every day is filled with some joy when Lil is around because she gets so happy over something as simple as getting fed – again! – every morning and night. Never mind the bonus events like one of the many daily dog biscuits which are causes for a celebratory lap around the dining room table – every time! Yeah Food!!!

Jenny – aging with grace

Jenny and I are both starting to age. We’re both moving a little more slowly, have a little more trouble locating where sound is coming from and sometimes need things repeated. We take a minute to process new information. Our hair is greying and some mornings when we get up we limp a little as our joints get back to work. I stretch and stagger, she stretches and moans. We’ve learned that the kids get upset about a whole world of things that really don’t make that big a difference. Our walks are shorter and we enjoy sitting in the sun a little longer. We’re doing about as well as we can expect to do and we’re both facing more of a slow physical downslide in the future but – for the time being – we’re holding our own. We’re pretty easy going, we enjoy a nice day and take the not so nice ones in stride because we know from experience, even the bad stuff doesn’t last. Technically, we’re both disabled, we both have stuff that affects our daily activities. And we both go through life without most people knowing it.

Dalmatian – lack of vision doesn’t mean an end of quality-life

Some breeds are more prone to disabilities than others. Dalmatians can be born deaf, although in the case of the above pictured Dal it is a vision loss that challenges him.

People can help accommodate disabled animals; it is after all the context that creates the disability. In a dark room a good nose serves a dog better than site. Many dogs adapt or are born and have always known the loss of vision or hearing, and these absences do not stop them from enjoying life.

Blind Schnauzer with hoop that indicates near objects

Most of us have seen a dog with a cart that assists their mobility. I remember when one of my friends decided to accommodate his aging pup with surgery and a cart when she was already ten years old. Some people thought he was crazy but he had lost most of his family and his dog was his one constant companion. My friend died within two years, living long enough to see his pup regain use of both her back limbs. His pup just passed away this week, having outlived him and having remained comfortable until she was nearly sixteen. She’d become a companion to his best friend’s children and spent many happy hours racing around the back yard in the sun, rain, and snow. She was full of life and adventure up until her last days. Who knew?

The time and love we invest in our canine companions is like so many elements of life, sort of a crap shoot. Will this relationship pay off big, will it last long, will it break our hearts? What will our ‘pay back’ be in return for our investment? How do we value what we invest?

A tri-pod Lab

Lots of people live with disabled animals. The spirit of the animal makes this a very worthwhile connection for those of us who experience it. Disability, both in humans and other animals, has a lot more to do with the way society reacts to the ‘disabled’ being than it does to do with inherent value of the being. As we say in disability services, I am only as disabled as the context makes me. A dog, for example, does not need four legs to walk or run. One doesn’t need to hear to communicate. There are many different ways of getting through life and dogs with differences have a lot to teach us.

I guess I’m thinking about this for a lot of reasons today. One, probably because of my friend and his little dog, Molly. Also, though, I can always find dogs in the shelter that can be viewed through the eyes of having ‘deficiets’ or ‘disabilities’…yet these same dogs (and cats, and horses etc.) still have so much love, beauty, companionship, and care to offer.

Sometimes people ask, “with all the able bodied dogs in need of homes, why don’t we just put down the disabled ones right away.”  Aside from being a much bigger conversation about ability, disability and social views which I don’t want to get into, this is a different way of looking at where value comes from. Does our value come from what we cannot do, or from what we can do?
If we were each relegated to just a sum total of our deficits which of us would not be found wanting?

If on the other hand we get to be valued for what we bring into the world…not only does the world become a more hopeful place but we become more hopeful people. Maybe that’s my philosophical point today.

Senior snoozers improve household quality of life

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