We’ve all heard about the health benefits pets can have for people. Sometimes it works the other way around, too, especially when it comes to children and pets.
Bela, our Great Dane, hasn’t been feeling too well lately. In fact, there was one night last week – Thanksgiving eve – when I didn’t think she’d make it to the morning. Great Danes, known as gentle giants, are only supposed to live from 6 to 8 years, according to most experts, and Bela is 11 going on 12. So every year lately has been a pleasant surprise, but we know it can’t last forever.
In recent days, Bela had trouble walking, her breathing was heavier, she showed little interest in eating, and she spent all day on the couch (even more than usual), not even lifting her head in response to the usual sounds that previously would cause those pointy black ears to perk up. The arthritis pills we got from the vet seemed to help for a while, but not so much lately.
Last Wednesday night, while trying to get her to go outside to do her business, poor Bela could barely make it to the door. She literally collapsed, and those long thin legs seemed unable to support her for even one more step.
I lifted her hind quarters so she could finally stand, and she was eventually able to teeter out to the yard and back, with Lora coaching her all the way. We helped her climb back onto the couch, and frankly my mind was wandering to thoughts of what to do with the old girl when the end came.
We were scheduled to babysit our granddaughters Saturday night, and their mom, Chrissy, aware of Bela’s condition, offered to make other arrangements. But Lora and I decided that a visit from the girls might be good medicine. Bela gets excited when company comes, especially children.
Saturday morning, Bela seemed a little better, actually getting off the couch without coaching to drink some water. Her legs were still shaky, and she still wasn’t interested in the usual dog food we feed to her and our other dog, Boris, a yellow lab. (By the way, this is the high-priced stuff, folks, per Lora’s insistence through the years.)
But I found that Bela would gobble down bologna if I hand fed her. She needed to eat something, and even though Lora, to her credit, has monitored the dogs’ diets carefully through the years, even she agreed that bologna was better than nothing if Bela would eat it. So Bela had a bologna sandwich, bread and all.
When Chrissy pulled into the driveway with the girls in tow, Bela’s ears immediately perked up. She recognized the sound of the car, and after a few rocking motions managed to push herself off the couch. She joined Boris at the door, their tails wagging eagerly as they anticipated the girls’ arrival.
When Chrissy walked in with the girls, Sidney, 13, and Maddie, 10, it was hard to convince them that anything was wrong with Bela. She was practically her old self throughout the rest of the evening.
Later Saturday night, we took the girls to Clifton Mill to see that magnificent Christmas light display, a visit I highly recommend, and it’s only about an hour’s drive north on SR 72 to the small town of Clifton.
Most of the time, when Lora and I return home from wherever we’ve been and pull into the garage, we can see Bela’s ears through the window of the kitchen door as she anxiously stands there to greet us. That hasn’t been the case for a while, as she just stays planted on the couch. But Saturday night, there were those familiar ears as Bela eagerly anticipated the return of Sidney and Maddie.
Bela spent the rest of Saturday evening on the couch with her head in either Sidney or Maddie’s laps as we watched movies, looking up at them with those big brown eyes as they stroked her head and carried on a conversation with her. She slept peacefully through the night, her breathing back to normal.
Sunday morning, she had little difficulty making the trek to the yard and back, and she actually ate her dog food, although I did cheat and spiked it with a little bologna.
We took the girls home to Lynchburg Sunday afternoon, and on the way back to Hillsboro Lora and I marveled at the therapeutic effect the girls’ visit had on Bela.
I looked at Lora and said, “Clearly, we need to get Bela a kid.”
We had a good laugh over that. But there is truth to it, and next time Bela seems to be feeling low, we’ll put in an emergency call to one of the grandkids (there are three to choose from including a 4-year-old grandson) and have them rush right over.
In the meantime, as I write this on Sunday night, Bela has moved from the couch back to a favorite armchair where she likes to snuggle up. The chair isn’t quite big enough for her, and lately we’ve discouraged her from using it, thinking it must be uncomfortable and not good for her arthritic body.
But she often prefers it. Maybe the fact that it forces her to wrap herself up, tucking those long legs under her tightly curled body with her head plopped on one of the arm rests, gives her a sense of comfort and security. Who knows.
We’ll get some more advice from the vet, but at this point letting her do what she wants seems a fine idea, including eating a few bologna sandwiches and sleeping in her favorite chair, as she dreams of visits from the grandkids.
Gary Abernathy is the publisher and editor of The Times-Gazette in Hillsboro. Reach him at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.