Dad Has Dementia

Week 8: A Dog for Dad

Last updated: Mar 05, 2010


In a certain way, I sometimes feel what we've done to Dad is cruel: uprooting him from his home of 30 years, taking him away from his wife of 50-plus years, and moving him in with people who, to him, are essentially strangers. And yet, I feel it's not as cruel as moving him into a nursing home.

Still, I know Dad has been terribly lonely. He's cooped up in an unfamiliar house, alone, four days a week. In fact, in a rare moment of candor (Dad is not a man who usually verbalizes his feelings), he told us outright how lonely he is.

"If I had a dog or something, that would be different," Dad said as we watched an old Gene Autry movie. "The cats just disappear during the day. A dog would at least be some companionship."

Rewind to eight months prior.

Lee and I returned from a day trip to discover our faithful mutt, Tippy, in respiratory distress. We rushed him to the emergency vet, where X-rays revealed a probable tumor that had caused a massive pleural effusion. Essentially, Tippy's lungs were being crushed by excessive fluid around them.

We made the decision to say goodbye to Tippy. He was age 16.

As I set Tippy's collar on the fireplace mantel that night, I told Lee I never wanted another dog. The older I got, the harder it was to let go when the time came. Lee understood.

But now, Dad wants a dog.

So, after much discussion, the three of us agreed to get a dog. We each weighed in with our requirements. I wanted a dog that wasn't too big. Lee wanted a dog that wasn't too small. Dad wanted a dog with silky hair. I wanted a dog that didn't shed too much. In the end, none of this mattered.

Maxine, a border collie, introduced herself on a sunny Saturday while Dad and I sat on a bench at the fairgrounds, waiting for Lee to bring us tickets to the home and garden show. The animal humane van was parked at the event, and a handler was walking adoptable dogs around the area. Maxine emerged from the van and made a beeline for Dad. She sat down quietly at his feet and licked his hand.

It was kismet.

Maxine's devoted to Dad. He leashes her to his walker as he trundles up and down the sidewalk, and she calmly accompanies him. She fetches when he feels like throwing a ball. She's content to nap when he naps, which is often.

I love Maxine, but my feelings are bittersweet because I know she'll outlive my dad. And when that inevitable day comes, and we take Maxine to the vet for the final time, I'm afraid I'll feel as if I'm losing a part of my dad all over again.

I try not to think about that. For now, I focus on the joy Maxine brings to Dad's life. And I know we made the right decision "“ for Dad and for us.