And Reasons Why I No Longer Want the Responsibility, I Think.

Recently, I became an official member of the Medicare cohort. As I transition, my thoughts run counter to what is considered the norm, which is nothing new in my world. I’ve often acted and thought about things in direct opposition to standard operating procedures. I am an artist after all and will continue to write about it as I feel the need to send those contrary thoughts out into the universe.

And usually with Medicare, retirement is right around the corner. Albeit for me, as an artist, retiring is not a concept I embrace because creating is a lifelong endeavor from which I will not need to retreat.

Slow down and focus more on what moves me, yes, retire from, no.

On the other hand, my spouse just left 35 years of practicing medicine (which doesn’t include medical school and residency – add 12 years). He had planned to wait until he turned 65, but the system got to him six months before that goal.

Winter was not the optimal time to leave his full-time career, especially since there was no trip planned to a sun-drenched location. The weather was not on his side where we live, which prevented him from exercising his love of the outdoors and golfing. Add to that, our aging Weimaraner who needs constant attention.

Mia, 5 yrs, (my daughter’s dog), and Sophie, 7 yrs, 2017

So my spouse struggled a bit the first couple of months, not just because of weather issues, but also his realization that his time is now basically his own 24/7. A concept not experienced for years.

His daily life shifted from taking care of patients to taking care of our Weimaraner, Sophie. She is 14, losing control of her back legs, is deaf, and balding. Add to that her bowel and urinary habits are a bit wonky and sometimes unpredictable. At this stage of her life, she seems averse to inclement weather and sometimes refuses to do her business without a bit of force from my spouse. Often we can’t leave her alone for more than a few hours, preventing any trips that don’t involve her being able to come along.

An all too candid mirror indicating the signs of aging we prefer not to face as humans. We see in our dog what we hope to stave off in ourselves as long as possible.

So even though my spouse has all the free time in the world to do those things by himself or with me there will be no hiking, biking, kayaking, trips on a plane, etc. now or in the near future. This further adds to my long held bitterness about the fact that throughout his years as a dedicated physician, we were prevented from traveling or just taking off on a whim as a couple or a family.

As an artist and former professor, my schedule has always been less rigid compared to his. Not to mention when he began his practice, he took call a majority of the time including weekends, first out of necessity and then to make extra money.

So I traveled without him because I could and needed to for my own health and artistic well being.

It seems now and really since a couple of years ago, it’s our dog that is keeping us from doing things together. We rarely used dog kennels or sitters in the past. And with Sophie in her current stage, leaving her with anyone but us (mostly my spouse) is not an option.

Sophie, 7 yrs, spying on me in my studio, 2017

Within our family of three, we’ve had seven dogs over 35 years and several times we had three dogs at once. Two yellow labs, two German shorthairs, two Weimaraners and one Great Dane. Besides my daughter’s labrador, Mia, Sophie has had the longest and most fulfilling life of all our dogs. Bird hunting in North Dakota, long hikes, walking the Oregon coast beaches, frolicking with dog friends, rolling in the grass, eating snow, getting to know all the neighbors, warming herself in the sun, inviting herself into houses and garages when the doors are open (when off leash) and hanging out with Mia. She is no doubt a special part of our family.

Sophie, 9 yrs, Bend, OR winter

I have so many great photos of her personality which bring me a great deal of joy.

But I concede that even as a dog lover, I’m ready to not have the responsibility of one. And because raising and training a dog has been a coveted desire for all these years, I’m certain my spouse is not totally on board with the dogless concept. As he transitions from his structured work life, he probably believes that training and parenting a dog is how he’ll fill some of his time.

However, I do have other plans once Sophie is no longer with us. So many thoughts ruminate inside my brain about the whole concept of owning or parenting dogs at this stage of our lives. Yes, they do provide unlimited companionship, entertainment, and exercise. But I also think too often we substitute pets (and many other diversions) as a means to deny or thwart our relationships with humans. Have you ever noticed how you talk to someone through your pets? We do this all the time in our household.

It’s cute but weird and somewhat manipulative. I would like more meaningful communication with humans, specifically my spouse.

Sophie, 10 yrs, and Mia, 8 yrs, on the Oregon Coast, 2020

And let’s not deny the reality of dog related injuries in folks 60 years and older. As a physician, my spouse brought this up not too long ago. We don’t move quite as fast as we once did, our bones may be a bit more brittle if we fall, and a puppy on a leash is an accident waiting to happen. Not to mention attempting to take dogs for walks during harsh weather conditions.

I have had a life of responsibilities as a parent, a daughter, an educator, an administrator, a spouse, etc. It is no longer a priority for me if that responsibility lies outside my immediate “human” family. I deserve to come and go as I please without constraints and so does my spouse. Right?

Currently taking care of Sophie is weighing on us. My spouse goes back and forth as to whether he wants to keep going down the path of dog parenting. Of course, that’s my impression. In truth, he probably has no intention of being dogless after Sophie is gone and is just keeping it to himself to avoid conflict.

He is also aware that I am a sucker for puppies, which is his ace in the hole.

In the past, when our pets have reached an age when they can no longer enjoy walks, or are crippled and sick, we have decided to let them go to that big wide universal dog pasture in the sky. It’s not easy, but it’s a compassionate way to proceed. We have discussed that this will be our course of action for Sophie as well.

In the meantime, she continues to surprise us with her spunky, albeit annoying behavior mostly around mealtime. She’s big enough to put her head comfortably on our dinner table as she sways us in with her large and on alert ears and wide eyes as we are prompted to relinquish a few morsels of what is left on our plates.

The neighborhood dogs and dog owners love seeing her out and about and will miss her when that time finally comes around. She’s a big dog and hard to miss. Most can’t believe she is 14 even though these days she is sporting a couple of cut off men’s socks to protect her paws and legs because they drag and sway to much and a sweater that hides her bald spots but keeps her warm. In any case, she is still a beauty.

My spouse, Sophie, 14 yrs, Mia, 12 yrs, and my daughter, Portland, OR, 2024

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