It is so painful to watch. The time slips by quietly most days, with an occasional ruckus. We watch their bodies fail in small ways and large ways.
They have trouble getting up from lying down. Then stairs become difficult. Stairs become impossible. They need help stabilizing to pee or poop. They can't get up.
They don't hear us grab the leashes for a walk. They don't hear the mail carrier. They stop responding to their names because they can't hear us calling. The alert barking at the front windows of our houses stops.
In our family of Danes, three of four have physically wasted away. Conan, whose hips and spine are prominent below, was number three.
This is the start of the downhill slope without brakes. This wasting breaks my heart; it's what naturally happens with bodies that are slowing down. Stuff doesn't work as well as it used to. The changes in physical ability do not necessarily correlate with enthusiasm, joy, or love. All of our old fellas have been delighted to get out of the house for a sniff fest. There were walks that were to the end of the driveway and back, and that was enough. There were days we could do a half- or quarter- mile and those were wonderful, too.
Conan loved to walk. When we walked together, I would talk to him. He would listen. I felt heard. I felt loved.
I miss our walks. What I wouldn't give to go to the end of the driveway and back with him.
Conan lived with nerve damage in his neck and arthritis in his spine and hips from the age of three. Getting around was challenging. I miss his boniness. I miss his grunts as he settled in his chair to rest.
When I look through the pictures I took of him, I briefly relive those amazing and simple moments we had together. I remember what it was like to hear the tops of his back paws drag slightly across the ground when we walked. I remember the smell of his breath when he stretched his neck as far as he could to smile and lick my face. I remember the thumps and thwaks his tail made against every conceivable surface because he was so happy all of the time.
He was full of love and I am thankful he shared his life with me. Seeing him in pictures grounds me on the hard days. I know I have this way of connecting with him and I can turn to it when I need.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.