I’ll never forget the tone in a client’s voice one day when, with much horror, she recounted having seen a sticker on her dog’s medical file that read “GERIATRIC.” Obviously she knew her standard poodle Rocky was 10 but to see the word “GERIATRIC” next to his name took her breath away.
I experienced the same terror in October when my Jack Russell Lucas turned 13. I mean, I can still remember bringing him home at 9-weeks as if it had been yesterday. His first tentative steps in the apartment followed by the slight bend in his knees as he peed on the carpet are crystal clear.
For 13 years, Lucas has been my heart so it was a big birthday for both us. Truthfully, it gave me a bit of vertigo. Fortunately my state of high anxiety was cut short when my friend Bonnie wrote on Facebook “He’s a teenager now.” That made me smile.
The reality is, Lucas is a very active senior. He does a small hike almost daily, still loves his squeaky toys and true to his Jack Russell nature, still gets into a brawl every now and then. Still, I’ve noticed of late he has occasional back leg tremors and sometimes it’s the front one. This is usually after waking up from a long nap.
The weather in Los Angeles has suddenly turned very cold. We’re not accustomed to 50 degrees and neither are our dogs. Lucas has really slowed down on his hikes and his walks. He still seems happy but his dawdling wreaks havoc on the mind of his overly emotional Dog Mom.
After writing about our friend Lucy, the paralyzed Doxie in my last blog, I got the idea to take Lucas to Two Hands Four Paws for what they call, “Fun Swim.” I thought this could be a way to preserve his muscle mass during the winter and lift his spirits — not to mention mine.
Lucas has always loved water. The week that I brought him home, he hopped into the tub with me while I was taking a hot bath. It wasn’t just the warm water the drew him in. On his first birthday he jumped into a freezing pond in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. From a very young age, he has been swimming at dog beaches all over Southern California. Lakes in Mammoth, California and swimming pools across Los Angeles.
One Fourth of July he swam for 14-hours straight — with self imposed potty breaks every now and then.In the last couple of years, he has assisted me in training rescue dogs. When dogs are placed at homes with pools, many rescues require a fence or gate around the pool. For those who don’t want to fence off their pool, the dogs are required to be able to find their way to the stairs in the pool. Lucas excelled at training the rescues and has had lots of fun doing it.
The “Fun Swim” at Two Hands Four Paws required an initial Swim Evaluation the cost of which is $100. One friend rolled her eyes when I told her we had scheduled an appointment.
“But you know he knows how to swim…”
Very true but if that’s what it took, I was more than willing to pay it.
We woke up to a very rainy Sunday here so I was worried about Lucas catching cold. I called THFP and they told me the pool was heated to 80 degrees. Like bathwater I thought. After packing up his swim bag, including a travel size hair dryer and buying him some special squeaky toys for the pool, we headed out to the facility.
Never having been to THFP, I didn’t know what to expect. It was really something. Sort of like a YMCA for dogs. There in the back was the giant pool equipped with a long ramp. Bryan was our swim evaluator. He was so sweet and very gentle with Lucas as he hosed him off and put a little life jacket on him. The cumbersome life vest was a little awkward for Lucas but Bryan assured me if he proved to be a good swimmer he would remove it.
Needless to say, all bets were off as soon as Bryan tossed Lucas’s squeaky fish into the pool. Lucas jumped right in and retrieved his toy. Bryan rewarded him by removing the light leash and the life preserver. It took me by surprise how emotional it was for me to see Lucas acting like a youngster again. I actually got teary eyed and had to tell myself to calm down before I made a fool out of myself in front of Bryan.
All I could think as I watched Lucas paddle, jump and splash around was how happy I was that I had taken the time to do this for him. It was well worth the investment which turned out to be just $70 since Lucas didn’t require much instruction. The biggest challenge was teaching him to use the ramp instead of pulling himself out on the side of the pool.
Overall our experience at Two Hands Four Paws was very positive and emotionally rewarding. My one suggestion is to ask if the vet exam can be done upon arrival. I was not advised there would be a quick vet exam at the end. So Lucas went from his ultra happy swimming self to his tail between the legs, “I’m at the vet” self in a matter of seconds. I would have preferred to have him leave on a high note.
Incidentally, I have heard Dr. Bailey is the best vet to see there. We did not see her but I am told by friends who are regulars at THFP that she is kind, patient and very compassionate.
Here are pictures from Lucas’s swim evaluation: