NORWOOD — We are living longer than ever. Sixty is the new 50 for people, and for dogs — well, 17 is the new 14.
So it was with the long life of my dog, Sophie, who at 17 looked and acted like a much younger dog. But reality hit hard, like it usually does, and she recently died.
My beagle mix, with black, brown, and white fur, short ears, and a long furry tail, almost made it to 18. The joke in my family was that she was going for the gold record; the world’s oldest dog was an Australian kelpie who lived to be 30.
Sadly, Sophie’s race for the gold ended on a cold week in February after I drove her tired body to Dedham Veterinary Associates on Bridge Street. Our last days together consisted of my carefully administering IV fluids to help her feel better from advancing kidney disease. There were many hugs, some tears, and daily Facebook posts to let friends and family know about her condition.
Because I rescued Sophie from West Virginia, we weren’t certain of her birth date, but her veterinarians, Elaine Gilleece and Beverly Mason of Dedham Veterinary, thought she would have turned 18 in the spring. For a dog, that is amazing.
And an amazing dog she was. She was about 5 years old and in poor medical condition when I adopted her — 30 pounds overweight, with a thyroid condition — but exercise, a prescription diet, and good veterinary care made a huge and positive impact on Sophie in her new home.
Until a week before her death, she was doing well. She went on vigorous walks and was eating well and smiling that wide Sophie smile, and with a well-fluffed wagging tail. I was so proud of her that I went on a search to establish her as the oldest dog in Norwood. I informally confirmed her status through conversations with Margaret Raymond, who processes dog licenses in the town clerk’s office, and Henry Cerqueira, the town’s animal control officer, as well as postings on Norwood’s Facebook page.
I’m proud of Sophie’s achievement even if she’s not beside me now, and of my part in getting her good vet care. It helped to have pet insurance, something I learned from owning a previous dog who required $10,000 in surgery toward the end. Sophie lived out her golden years with a good insurance policy and a devoted owner by her side.
People have asked, what was the secret to Sophie’s long life and relatively good health? I credit her pills, pills, and more pills — a combination of vitamins, supplements, and prescribed medications. Her morning routine included taking Proin for incontinence, two pills for high blood pressure, tablets for her thyroid condition, and an omega pill for kidney issues. There were six more pills in the afternoon, then an evening dose of Proin plus 5 milligrams of melatonin for restful sleep. Whew! That’s about the same as what some older human beings might take.
But the real secret to dog longevity is daily walking. This prevents arthritis and boredom from setting in, which can lead to cognitive decline. My secret was walking Sophie in different places around my neighborhood of Westover where she could pick up new scents and keep her mind active. A favorite place was past the Willett School and down Westover Parkway, hopefully meeting other dogs along the way. The trails on Adams Farm in Walpole were another popular place; we’ve met other dogs and their owners on this well-maintained jewel on the Norwood-Walpole line.
Deafness in older dogs is hard to deal with. I love those sweet dog whistles, but after a while they were no longer being heard. You learn to cope. Once when I got no response after repeatedly yelling, “Sophie, come inside,” after she forayed into the wintry backyard, I reached for a cowbell and started ringing. It’s the same loud, full-bodied sound marathoners hear in the last mile of a race. That worked well for Sophie. An air horn completed my duo of devices needed to make that beagle come at my command while I stayed warmly tucked inside the doorway.
Sophie loved the snow and the smell of the outdoors, and enjoyed a good run around the backyard among newly-fallen flakes. She also loved any kind of biscuits, but especially the gourmet ones from Polkadog Bakery, made in the South End, and purchased in a funky store at The Street at Chestnut Hill.
And I loved that, even though Sophie was getting older, one part of her that wasn’t affected was her tail. It wagged constantly and always made me smile, until her failing kidneys made that high-flying tail — which reminded me of a fox — go limp in that last week.
She faced many challenges at the end. I injected her with fluids to keep her going as long as possible, but when she stopped eating and eagerly walking, I knew her quality of life was deteriorating.
Our last walk together around the block was on a cold afternoon, a slight breeze pushing against her fur. She went out because she wanted to please me, like so many things a true companion does.
Side by side we strode on our last walk together. It was just one more thing Sophie did for me. I know I did everything I could for her. Woof, woof: Until we meet again, beloved friend.Debbie Spingarn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.