Pipina, who will be 16 on April 1, 2015, has been with us since she was about four months old. Okay, the date of her birth is fudged, as are the birthdays of our other two dogs, Bodhi and Big Papi, because they are all rescues and we can only estimate the actual dates of their births. We try to pick holidays or memorable days so it’s easier. So Pipina is April Fool’s Day, Bodhi is New Years Day 2007, and Big Papi is February 29, 2008 (Leap Year Day).
Pipina (also known as Pini and Pini-Pie) is a dachshund/beagle mix who was found wandering around in a field near Charlotte Motor Speedway. My husband Emmett and I were just moving to Concord in 1999 when someone who worked at the Speedway called him to say they had found this little puppy and would he consider adopting her. He said, “Tell you what, you call my wife and ask her, and if she says okay, then we’ll take her.” When they called and told me the mixed breed they thought she was, I said, “Good Lord, a mix between and beagle and a dachshund?” I could not image what she would look like. But when they brought her over, just after we had moved into our new house with our three dogs and a cat, I fell in love with her immediately. She looked like a baby fawn, and she had the sweetest demeanor of any dog I’ve ever known. Most importantly, our inside dog Governor, a Yorkie-poo, loved her at first sight.
Pipina has been quite healthy and not much trouble at all her entire life. We have always fed our dogs Science Diet in a mix that is about four parts dog food and one part people food–always quality people food, never fat trimmings or scraps. We had not really shied away from giving them bites of cheese or pizza or spaghetti, though. Not much, just a bit. When Pipina was about 12 or 13, she developed a really bad case of pancreatitis. Her poop would be loose and wet, and at the worst, it had blood in it, which is very scary. The vet advised a very plain, low-fat diet, like boiled chicken and rice. We also around the same time came to realize the evils of rawhide bones, which had been a snack for our dogs for years. Rawhide is extremely fatty and just plain bad for dogs, except for the teeth-cleaning quality. We got rid of all the rawhide and switched to Nyla bones.
Pipina in the last couple of years has been very difficult to feed at times. One day, she would be fine with chicken or turkey mixed in with her dog food, and the next day she wouldn’t touch it. Nor would she eat just plain dog food. She lost weight, which at first was intentional on our part, because the vet said she really should be around 25 pounds instead of the 31 or so she was at the time. We got her down to 25 pounds but that coincided with her being more finicky and having more digestive problems. She kept losing weight down to 22 and then 21 pounds. We were faced with the tough balancing act of trying to get her weight up but not giving her foods that aggravated her pancreatitis (or whatever her specific ailment is). What we found was that she really did not require a low-fat diet; her problem was dairy. She could have no cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, or milk. She can eat eggs. She can also eat beef, pork, poultry, fish, and it does not necessarily need to be trimmed of all fat. It was the dairy that was the big issue.
But the problem was still not solved because some days she simply was not interested in the meat I had to offer. In part, I learned that I had to rotate her dog food mixer. After a few days of ground beef, she was tired of that, but turkey was good. Or low-fat, all-beef hot dogs. She seemed to demand variety. When you see your dog, who is supposed to be 25 pounds to be at a healthy weight, struggle to maintain 19 pounds, you really try anything you can. So some days, I would try six things before I finally hit on salmon, which she wolfed down, after rejecting shrimp, tuna, beef, pork, chicken, ham, and eggs. It’s crazy. If you hit on the right thing, she eats heartily, which is what lets me know she still has quality of life and makes me determined to keep trying.
Another problem is just getting her to maintain focus on eating long enough to follow me, holding her food bowl, to her eating spot. If my husband walks from his desk to the den at the wrong time, she starts to follow him instead of me, even though I have the food! Or if the other dogs start barking because the UPS man is parked outside, she might walk away from food. (She can’t hear well enough to hear the UPS man herself, she just gets excited when she sees the other dogs barking and running around.) I might have good enough luck to get her to follow me to where I set the food bowl, but then she walks up, sniffs, and turns around. I cannot explain this, but often when she does this, if I close the two of us in her room and hold the food bowl chest-high for her, she will eat. I know this is crazy. I’m squatting down, holding her dog bowl at a friendly 45-degree angle, about four inches off the ground, and somehow that makes her comfortable enough to eat most or all of the food.
Last but not least, I have found that instead of twice-a-day feedings that she was accustomed to for many years, I now have to feed her three or four smaller meals spaced throughout the day. Sometimes one of those feedings might be at 3:00 a.m., when she has gotten awake and will do nothing but pace, click-click-clicking her nails on the floor until she gets something in her tummy. Hand in hand with this habit change is the fact that I now take her outside about five times a day. The dogs have a room with newspaper down that they know is their “go-to place” if they need to poop or pee and cannot get outside. Pipina was a model at using that room for about 15 years. She now seems to have forgotten it’s even there about 90 percent of the time. She rarely pees in the house, but it is not uncommon for me to find poop in the hall, maddeningly near, but not in, the dog room on the paper provided.
I write all this in the event it helps someone else caring for an old dog. I think it requires great flexibility and the knowledge that just because your dog had certain habits for many, many years, those habits and her needs may change drastically in old age. It can be frustrating at times to try to learn your old dog’s eccentricities, but when I see Pipina finish a meal, come in from the back yard, and run in looping, crazy, happy laps around the basement, I know all the effort is still worth it.