Time passes much more quickly than we are prepared for. Our once rambunctious, curious, athletic and graceful dog is old.

At first you notice a little cloudiness in the eye a little grey in the muzzle. They have gotten a little thinner and have lost some muscle mass. Sleep takes up a majority of their day.

One day you are out walking with your dog and you see some confusion. I was recently out on the trail with my dog Dana who will be thirteen years old in a few months. Dana is a beautiful, graceful and athletic dog who for years made me look much smarter and more skillful as a trainer than I really am. Dana has won several titles in competitive work, has been my demo dog in schools, camps and many other venues. Dana could leap over anything in her way at a fast and furious pace. She could find her way back to me no matter where I had gone. The world was hers and she spent every glorious moment sniffing, running and exploring free in nature as dogs’ are intended to be.

On this day she moved much more slowly walking behind me rather than in front. I walked on only to realize that she was no longer with me. I circled back to find her unsure, a little scared and unable to locate me as she had in the past. This is it, I thought to myself the time when I will need to be there for her.

From here on in there will be times she may fall. That dreadful moment when you see the fear in their eyes as they struggle to get up in those few seconds it takes for you to get to them; the frantic search for you in their eyes that no longer see as well; the relief when you let them know that you are there.

And this is the reality we all face as our dogs age. I will be there for Dana every step of the way. I will hold her back end as she navigates the stairs. I will clean up the urine that she could not control and never, ever shame her. I will hand feed her if she desires. I will cook her steak and potatoes and mush up her food if that is what she needs. I will hold her as she takes her last breath and I will promise to let her go if she tells me that it is time.

All of this I will do for Dana as I have done for Vivian and Sawyer. And it hurts but I am willing to feel the pain in exchange for all of the love and happiness they gave to me while they could.

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