Stella is seven and a half which for a Great Dane is tipping into old age. In the mornings now, especially the chillier ones when our house is infiltrated by the promise of frozen air outside, she doesn't rise up out of her bed without some encouragement. She gets colder faster when she's outside so I'm having to put double layers of jackets on her or else she starts to shiver. I have to help her - just a little - when she takes that big step up into the car. And this morning, when she crouched down to take a pee, she was on a grassy slope and somehow lost her footing and balance and slipped and then she just lay there on her belly, looking at me, somewhat confused. "This has never happened to me. What is happening?" she asked.
She still grumbles at the new dogs at the park but the edge is off. She still barks at the squirrels and raccoons and possums in the backyard but instead of running at them full tilt, it's more of a trot. Even Rocky, with his own set of stiff hips, overtakes her in their pursuit of these backyard intruders. I use to worry about them possibly catching one of these critters. Now I know they never will.
Sometimes, when she is doing nothing more than lying in one of her beds, I hear Stella let out a sigh verging on a whimper. This is new behaviour and I wonder if she's doing it as a new stratagem for attention or if there is some new ache in her bones which is causing discomfort. Especially after that last round of mystery affliction, I am cautious and always trying to decipher the meaning behind every noise she makes.
But there are new curtains opening as well, revealing new prizes. Stella, always affectionate with her human friends, is even more so now, making more effort to appreciate her companions through nose nuzzles and body leaning and hello barks.
There's been a subtle shift on our walks. It seems our communication is better. Like when she wants to go left and I want to go right, she doesn't pull. She just stops and stands there and looks at me then looks in the direction she wants to go and she waits. If I am not in a rush to get into work and the weather is not too unpleasant, we go. I follow her to whatever scent pulls her. Other mornings, I say "No, not today" or "Leave it" and we go the way the clock pulls me.
At home, there's not just a sense of comfort in her routine and manners, there's a sense of security. If she clears the backyard of all interlopers, all will be safe. If she gets a bone to gnaw on after supper, all will be well. If she gets to sleep in her own bed, meaning I have to kick Rocky out of it (he's got his own but he prefers Stella's), the night will pass peacefully. During the day, Stella is most happy and pretty much immobile under her covers beside a window through which to look out and occasionally bark at the world. In her own mind, she is still the queen. She may be willing to give up the crown eventually - but just not today.
So, while I worry about her health, I am always hopeful that Stella's slide into her golden years will still be a smooth and uneventful ride.