On Monday morning, March 20, 2017, King, my 87-lb Akita mix, decided he no longer wanted to go down my stairs. Now that is serious because all of my living space in my condo is on the second floor. The first floor is only a foyer.
I tried to coax him. I commanded him. He reluctantly walked down and stumbled on the last two stairs. He was fine once he got outside and started his normal routine of looking for the squirrels. I usually let him run after them because he never catches them, and it gives him such joy. But I knew that this sudden fear of the stairs signaled a new stage in his aging process. He is going to be 12 years old on May 1, and in people years that’s somewhere in the 80s.
I called the vet immediately and got an appointment for the afternoon.
From one day to the next, it seemed, he no longer galloped up the stairs to beat me to the top. That was one of his favorite things to do, too. I had a trainer in who said he shouldn’t do that, especially when guests arrive. He’d stand at the top of the stairs and look them in the eye. And since he looks something like a red wolf, friends started avoiding my place. So, I worked hard making him stay at the bottom while people climbed up and went into my living room.
Those images are memories. I hadn’t noticed the change as it occurred so subtly. Now, he can’t run up the stairs anymore. It’s as if it happened over night. He used to drag me around the condo development. I had to use two hands on the leash to hold him back when he would see a squirrel or a rabbit.
Monday afternoon we got to the vet. The tech brought us in a room and interviewed me, just like in the doctor’s office. Then his vet, who he has known since I adopted him four years ago, came in. She has been expecting some aging issues and assumed he was suffering from arthritis pain. She had an x-ray taken and sure enough, he has arthritis in both hips and in his back. I guess it hit the tipping point and now the pain is too great for him to comfortably balance himself on the stairs.
So, I got Rimadyl, glucosamine tablets, and a $110, two-section halter called a ‘helpemup’ that has handles on the shoulders and hips, and lots of padding. It has been over a week now and the result is that he happily goes down the stairs when I am firmly holding the handle on this shoulders. He seems bouncier so I am hoping that the pain is less. Dogs, after all, rarely complain about pain.
He is on a diet as he still likes to eat but is not exercising like he used to. Our 4-mile daily walks have been cut to 2 miles as he just doesn’t want to walk as far as he used to. For the first time since I have owned him, he won’t be doing my synagogue’s annual 5k walk with me. I am sure it will be too much for him.
He still loves the beach, and we still walk there as often as our schedule and weather allows.