Tag Archives: dog lover with Alzheimer’s




Our dog Zeus had a bit of excitement last week. I was driving to the grocery store when Ralph called and announced that Zeus had been in combat with a wild boar, or at least a feral pig, or maybe a domestic hog that got loose. Whatever it was—Ralph said it had black hair and weighed a lot more than Zeus—must have drawn the dogs’ attention while they were in the yard outside Ralph’s workroom. Ralph said he heard a ruckus and found Ralph in a dried gulley with his teeth in the pig/boar’s neck and the pig/boar trying to get at Zeus. Somehow Ralph managed to separate them and the pig/boar ran off. (If you are thinking, ohmyGod, Ralph could have been badly hurt himself, I know I know but can’t dwell on it or I’ll go nuts.)

I could tell Ralph was upset and excited at the same time, basically on the adrenaline high anyone would experience under the circumstances, and he seemed surprisingly in control of the situation. He said he’d cleaned up Zeus who didn’t seem to have been hurt. By the time I got home with the groceries man and dog were already asleep and I assumed fine.

However the next morning, Zeus was definitely limping when I let him out for a pee. I had an appointment I couldn’t cancel and left soon after, having warned Ralph to check Zeus more thoroughly. Ralph called me half an hour later to say he’d found a gash near Zeus’s belly that he hadn’t noticed. By then I was driving through pouring rain, and my phone was barely working, so Ralph was pretty much on his own.

Although I directed him where to find the vet’s phone number on the fridge, Ralph called on his own, made an appointment and took the dog in by himself: In the poring rain. To the vet’s office that’s not on his usual driving radar.

When he called back to say that Zeus was scheduled for surgery and would be staying the night, he sounded definitely in control of the situation.

I was impressed. Guilty that I had not paid more attention to the situation. But mostly impressed, thinking that maybe I shouldn’t underestimate Ralph, that I need to recognize he is still up to handling a crisis.

Of course in the morning I did have to remind him where Zeus was and why. And luckily I was in the room when the vet called because afterwards Ralph wasn’t sure what the vet had just told him. I called back to give the vet office my number for future reference, they explained they wanted to keep Zeus an extra day. (Zeus is now something of a vet celebrity by the way, our own local Old Yeller, especially after they pulled coarse black hairs out of his mouth where Zeus lost a fang from biting down so hard.) Still, I was feeling really good about Ralph’s competence when we picked up Zeus and brought him home.

But here’s where things get sticky. The meds, morning and evening pills, I can deal with myself, but keeping Zeus inside, per the vet’s instructions, has depended on Ralph’s help. And this he seems incapable of remembering, any more than he can remember that the wound is on Ralph’s thigh not his stomach. Each time I catch Ralph and the dog outside, I go through the routine of reminding and explaining Zeus’s injury, his treatment and that he is supposed to be inside until the stitches heal. This recovery process is driving me crazy of course.

Gotta go make sure Zeus is in the house……

Ralph and Lola

lola day 1

So we have a new puppy.

Ralph is devoted to his lab Zeus. The two of them spend most of Ralph’s waking hours together, up in Ralph’s office, where Ralph supposedly paints while Zeus dozes, out on the porch where Ralph drinks beer and smokes while Zeus dozes, or at the kitchen table where Ralph eats and reads while Zeus begs for scraps when he isn’t dozing. One reason I can’t get Ralph to go out to dinner, let alone away for a vacation, is that he doesn’t like being away from Zeus.

But Zeus is eleven, maybe older. He has epilepsy. And weighs at least 85 pounds. Big dogs don’t live as long as small ones. So for a while I have been worrying about what would/will happen when Zeus goes. We are not dog buyers usually. Our dogs have come to us through friends or through the pound or because they wondered up tagless. But given the reality of Ralph’s prognosis with Alzheimer’s, I began to think a companion dog with special skills might be in order. Plus I loved the idea of a non-shedding  fluffy dog and maybe a dog that was in the 30-pound range. I also worried that if I waited too long, Ralph would not be able to help with training a puppy—I am not by nature a dog person myself and have never trained a puppy. So last month I registered with a labdoodle breeder to be on the wait list for a mini-doodle puppy.

Evidently a labdoodle is not in my future however.

Because ten days ago I walked into my gym and my Pilates instructor announced she had just picked up a stray puppy and didn’t know what to do with it. The dog had wandered or been dropped at a busy neighborhood intersection. She’d already been to the vet who found no i.d. chip. Everyone in the gym was gaga over the lab mix puppy, which had on a collar but no tags and seemed underweight but not mistreated. With her pale blond coat and dark eyes, she looked like a mini-Zeus. Very mini. Whatever part of her is not lab is something small, a terrier or maybe a beagle. She—my teacher, not the puppy although come to think of it her too—gave me one of her most winning, beseeching smiles. I called Ralph. We agreed to foster the puppy and maybe keep it if no one claimed her. The signs and Facebook announcements were already going up.

Ralph immediately named her Lola, as in “whatever Lola wants…” My granddaughter came to visit and fell in love. So did my daughter. Zeus not so much. Ralph and I tried to keep our distance in case someone showed up. But Lola was, is, awfully cute. No one called. I took her for shots and signed her up for puppy class. She began to house train in earnest.

Which means I am house training her. I am also feeding her and teaching her to sit and come—as far as I’ve gotten in basic dog etiquette. Basically I do all the disciplining and getting up at the crack or dawn and at midnight for “do your business” walks. Ralph cannot keep straight what and when Lola eats or how much to feed or that she needs to go out when she whimpers, but Lola adores him and vice versa. He is the one she sleeps with on the couch. She follows him everywhere when she is not following Zeus, who has gradually learned to tolerate her. I admit I resent that she needs me as soon as I sit down at my computer, and I also resent that she prefers to snuggle with Ralph. It is baby rearing all over again.

But I realize it is good we have a dog to train now rather than later, when it would be too much for Ralph even from the sidelines. I was about to write this up this afternoon when my cell rang.

“Do you have Lola?” Ralph was calling although I thought he was downstairs with the dogs.

“No, you saw me go upstairs.”

“I came up to the barn. I thought you had her and now I can’t find her.” Basically, he couldn’t remember if he took her with him to the barn or left her in the house. I said something snarky that I shouldn’t have and ran downstairs calling her name.

“She isn’t in the house.”

“Stop blaming me. We have to find her!”

Ralph’s calm in a crisis was always one of his signature traits, but not anymore. He began to panic, the way he does these days.

I went outside and called her name but was worried myself. We live on acres and acres of pasture and farmland. It would take no time at all for a small dog to disappear. At the front of the house, I called again. She came running from the direction of the barn.

The good news: Lola comes when called and will probably grow into the perfect companion dog for Ralph. The bad news: I really can’t expect Ralph, who has raised countless dogs over the years, to keep track of the puppy he loves.
ralph and dogs

ps.  Ralph says he thinks we should get the labdoodle puppy for Lola to play with.