Sometime this year Rosie turns 11.
You’d hardly know it, short of looking closely at her eyes, which have developed the typical cloudiness for an older dog. She’s as energetic as ever when she grabs a toy and does her “I want to go outside” dance (which closely resembles her “I’m hungry” and “I want some attention now” dances.) And while she’s developed at least one white whisker and the little patch on her chin nobody ever sees has grown a bit, by all appearances she hasn’t aged a day since she walked in the door almost 9 years ago.
Yet one telltale change is marking her time on Earth. Over the past several months I noticed her hearing seemed to be diminishing. Her ignoring of my “c’mere”s seemed a little beyond passive stubbornness, and it was obvious from her startled waking growls that she was no longer able to hear the cat’s plaintive greeting meows. I mentioned this to the vet during her annual checkup in May, and she confirmed there was nothing outwardly wrong with Rosie’s ears, so it was surely age catching up with her. She’s such a sweet, responsive girl it didn’t really matter; she rarely used “I didn’t hear you” as an excuse.
But one morning last week at breakfast, Rosie was looking me right in the face when I gave her the “ok” to eat. (I make her sit and wait when I place her bowl on the floor. I told you she was a Good Dog.) After I gave her the command she just continued to smile eagerly at me, awaiting permission. I tried again louder, then a third time, at a shout. It wasn’t until I added a swipe of the hand in the direction of her bowl that she jumped up and dove in.
She’d done this before, hesitating as if she weren’t sure I really meant “ok.” But usually that was accompanied by a false start and some tail swishes. Not today. It was as if she’d forgotten to turn the volume up in her world.
Over the next few days Miss Chef and I repeatedly tested the dog’s hearing, calling her loudly from right behind. It became apparent from Rosie’s startled reactions whenever we touched her that she had no idea we were anywhere nearby. Seemingly overnight, her hearing had gone from “poor” to “practically nonexistent.” Thank goodness she’s such a calm dog and never reacts aggressively when we frighten her. I’ve been searching for gentle ways to awake her from her naps—waving my hand in front of her nose worked once, and tapping the floor if she’s not on the carpet works too.
Though it may seem like “aw, such a shame,” I’ve actually been kind of enjoying this new adjustment. I guess it’s the scientist in me, testing new ways of communicating and interacting with her. Fortunately I had already taught Rosie many hand signals—come, sit, stay, look over there cover most of our daily needs. Oh, and the “Where’s your toy?” shrug. Yes, I taught her that! I’m glad she’s such a quick learner, and had picked them up almost effortlessly along the way.
This is not me. Also, crazy eyes are not part of the signal.
The only thing I wish I’d developed a signal for was “good girl.” Because I can tell she misses the balm of verbal praise. She often comes over just for a little pet-pet, seeming to want that reassurance that she used to get so frequently via tone of voice. I’m trying to teach her a “good girl” sign now, but it doesn’t seem to have clicked yet. That’s ok, pet-pets are a nice substitute, if a little hard to achieve when one’s hands are full.
And then there are some other benefits. Like when I want to go from bed to bathroom to bed again without a dancing, huffy escort who thinks any post-sleep movement means it’s time for breakfast. Or when I let her in the backyard, she no longer hears me close the door and turns around with a look of betrayal; she just goes on about her sniffing and peeing business.
So, all in all, I’m content that it’s her hearing that’s gone, rather than sight, mobility or general well-being. And aside from missing her “good girls,” she doesn’t seem to care at all. As long as she’s still able to hang out in the front yard and sniff the world wafting by, Rosie’s a happy pup.
In case you were wondering, that second picture is her yawning. Not so fierce, actually.