Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Earl, Our Special Senior Dog


Earl and Sawyer in their younger days, chasing each other in the snow, Christmas morning 2009


We're out of dog food again.  

Our dog Earl is twelve years old.  He's a Great Pyrenees mix.  He weighs about 75 pounds, all skin and bones.  And fur.  Lots and lots of fur.  Year round.  He's a finicky eater, which I think is weird for a big dog.  He always has been.  Even when he was a puppy.  He never ate shoes, or shit, or any of the gross things puppies are prone to sample.  He has such a delicate stomach he's been known to throw up when Will and I shout at each other.

Earl turns up his nose at most bagged dog food.  After years of struggling to find a dog food he'd eat fairly consistently, I finally found one: Purina Dog Chow Active 7+ for seniors.  I'd prefer something more natural, but I swear he won't eat anything but this stuff.  They must spray it with chemicals that smell like leftover people food, because that's his real delight in life.  He'd rather lick peanut butter off my knife or eat a half-eaten raw carrot left on my plate than a full bowl of Wellness Super5Mix super premium dog food.

I feed both Earl and our ten year old, fifty pound, Beagle/Lab mix Sawyer the same food since they're both in the 7+ category and it's easier than buying two separate bags.  Sawyer is the opposite of Earl.  She will eat anything.  And lots of it.  I could easily free-feed Earl and he'd be the same scrawny dog he is now.  If I left food out 24/7 for Sawyer, she'd weigh 150 pounds and our bank account balance would be 0.

As it is, with me meticulously portioning out their food each morning and night, because they're both big dogs, we go through bags of their food fast.  A couple of years ago I could still find the big bag--32 pounds--at both the grocery store and Petsmart.  Then the grocery store stopped carrying that size, offering the 16.5 pound bag as their biggest option.  Then Petsmart stopped carrying the 32 pound bag.  I can still buy the 32 pound bag online, but with the added cost of shipping it's cheaper to just buy a 16.5 pound bag twice as often locally.

I got to wondering why it's so hard to find big bags of a pretty popular brand of senior dog food.  Then it hit me.  Big dogs generally die much younger than little dogs.  Most senior dogs are little dogs.  Thirty-two pounds of dog food would spoil before a little dog could eat through it all.

I've always known my Early Bird is special.  Now I know my time with him is especially short.  I forget sometimes how elderly he is.  He still jumps up and down like a puppy when I reach for his leash.  He's slowed down some, and I'm practically pulling him along toward the end of our neighborhood walks, but it doesn't stop him from wanting to go.  Same with guarding our house.  The other day a friend stopped by.  Earl had been down in the basement asleep on our futon.  When he heard someone knock on the door he sprung into action, kinda.  He made it half-way up the stairs and then suddenly stopped, stuck.  He'd been barking like crazy until then, and his silence made the situation that much sadder.

"Oh, Earl, let me help you up the stairs," Will said as he gently supported the big guy's back legs, which were trembling.  Once at the top of the stairs, Earl resumed barking like crazy and raced to the door like the badass he still thinks he is.

Goodboy Earl Carleton, age 12, ready to bark at intruders

Goodboy Earl Carleton, age 12, napping on the futon in our basement

Earl, age 12, napping on the futon in our basement