Ginger’s 7th Birthday
What’s Life All About, Alfie?

Ginger celebrated her 7th birthday very much like all her previous ones. She received a small birthday cake, which was a candle attached to a Purina Dental Chewz.

Under Ginger’s birthday cake was a gift wrapped in blue birthday paper. After tearing off the wrapping paper, Ginger attacked her Winnie the Pooh toy.

After our celebration, Ginger rested at my feet while I wrote this essay. First, I checked to make sure that you multiply the dog’s age by seven. My effort to verify the math wasted an hour reading several essays about that rule of thumb, which was incorrect. I knew that smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger ones. However, the old rule of thumb was tweaked because the dog ages faster as a puppy and ages slower as it gets older. After all the time I spent reading recent research, the American Kennel Club views Ginger to be 50 years old rather than 49.

Canine longevity

Canine longevity

However, Ginger has spent more time in her last three or four years at her local vet and Purdue Veterinary Hospital than any other dog. She suffers from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and related other complications. For the last several years, Ginger hasn’t eaten anything that isn’t a prescription food. To address IBD, she has taken all sorts of pills, capsules, powders, and shots.

Ginger’s vets aren’t attempting to cure her IBD. They merely want to lessen the side effects related to her illness. Ginger is healthy and happy for a month or so, and then she gets sick again. That cyclical swing had been repeated over and over again for several years.

Several months ago, we returned to Purdue Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Gibbs, the head doctor, looked over her situation and began the process of changing the various medications. Ginger is taking a new drug while she is being weaned off most of her old meds. In a couple of weeks, Ginger will be down again at Purdue. Dr. Gibbs and I hope Ginger will be able to maintain her new drug regime.


It is interesting to me to see the parallels between Ginger and me. We both have done a couple of dances with death. At one level, I would have preferred not to have had a subdural hematoma or prostate cancer. Additionally, I would also have hoped that Ginger didn’t have IBD. Nonetheless, they were the cards that were dealt us.

The benefit of doing the dance, whether as a human or a dog, teaches us to live in the now. We wouldn’t have grasped that our clocks were ticking without our having done our dances. Everyone knows they are growing old and aren’t immortal. However, do the dance, and your Weltanschauung charges drastically.

Granted, Ginger doesn’t grasp dying. However, when she gets very sick, and I fear the worst, I do everything that I can to assist her through those trying times. I’ll provide the meds and care for her by petting and talking to her. It is a time, amid the storm, that she knows that I am there. After the storm abates, Ginger responds to me differently than usual. She spends far more time next to me. She’ll lick my hand or face. It is her means of showing appreciation.

Our regular routine each day is going for a walk late in the evening and then off to bed. This bedtime routine is precisely the same each night. Before I turn out the light, I look at Ginger and talk about what we did that day and will do the next day. It is our quiet time together. When Ginger thinks I have fallen asleep, she will move to the foot of the bed. Her job is to protect me if an intruder were to enter the bedroom.

Several nights ago, I woke up with Ginger’s head on my thigh. Initially, I thought she was showing appreciation for something I had done for her. I said something to her and went back to sleep. It wasn’t a minute later that Ginger was on top of me. It was then that it dawned on me that she must have heard the thunder from somewhere miles away, even though it wasn’t raining. I need to be able to communicate to Ginger that an 80-pound Irish Setter on top of me isn’t much protection for her.

Even those times, amid my slumbering moments, I remember as we journey down our yellow brick road in our twilight years.