Our BIG Christmas Gift this year.


Meeting our newest family member, Duke, for the first time. Dec. 2013.

For the first time in my life I own a dog. A beautiful, smart, sweet, 5 month old bundle of joy. Hard to imagine that at 43 I have never had a dog. There are lots of reasons why ,starting from when I first asked for one around the age of 4.

Through the years I have owned cats (many), fish, parakeets, a turtle or two and hamsters (ok, the hamsters were Frances’). After I got my first apartment, within a couple of months I had a kitten. So, I have loved having a pet, just never a dog.

We have lots of friends with dogs. But I don’t coo and cuddle and show much interest in their dogs. It isn’t that I don’t like dogs, I actually do. But none of those dogs are mine. None of those dogs have a history with me. They aren’t there when I wake up in the morning or go to bed at night. They certainly aren’t sitting next to me making sweet dog sleep sighing noises as I type away on my computer.

The kids have been asking for a dog for years. As most kids do, they want everything: Cats, dogs, birds, fish, flying squirrels, rabbits. You name it, they have asked for it at some point. But the dog thing has been pretty consistent for many years. I could relate. I used to want one too when I was a kid. Something finally clicked this year. They are 9 and 12, so they are old enough to help with the care of the dog. They are full of energy. They don’t sit in front of the TV or computer for hours so they can be active with the dog. They both are good with animals and have demonstrated (somewhat) with the cats that they will help out. This year, a dog was top of the wish list at Christmas for them both. (I have since found out that was a planned act of collusion.)

When I finally made the decision to get a dog, everyone I told had the same reaction,”NO. Don’t do it. Are you crazy? You know how much work they are? You already have too much on your plate. You are too busy a family.”

Well, as I have mentioned before, I am hard headed.

Guess what? We got a dog. A Border Collie from a rescue organization. Getting this dog was more cumbersome than having a kid. Referrals, more referrals, a home visit, follow ups required. If only every parent had to go through this….

Wanna know what changed my mind? Frances.

Several months ago she said something that honed in on my weak spot.

“Mom, you know if we don’t get a dog soon, it will be too late. I am almost 13 and in a few years I won’t want one anymore and I will have spent my whole childhood without a dog.”

Bam. There you have it my friends.

So, I started warming up to the idea and REALLY thinking about the pros and cons. The pros won.

I did research and realized that the dog would not only be great for the kids as we deal with Jim, but the dog will be great for Jim as well.

Whenever you ask Jim what his favorite animal is, his reply is always the same. A dog. He had a dog (Sasha) growing up and I have heard many, many stories ever since we met about Sasha. But when I would mention us getting a dog, he was always very adamant about not getting one. I am not sure why.

Now that we have Duke, he is very happy. Jim plays, pets, talks to and spends all day with our new family member. I asked him why he never wanted one when he is clearly so happy having a dog and his reply was, “because they are a lot of work and I didn’t think we could commit to that.”

Well, we have and it has been great. So far anyway. I don’t want to jinx ourselves. We were very fortunate that the foster mom taught Duke many things before he joined us.

I think I made the right decision. All of us have bonded with him. Brad has been having a hard time with the obvious decline Jim has shown in recent weeks and now that Duke is here, Brad is happy and focused on something else.

Frances sees Duke as someone to take care of and another reason to make some lists and to work on a project.

Jim has a companion and a buddy.

I have a family that is happy and relaxed and able to think about something other than Alzheimer’s. And I have fallen in love with him too. I miss him while I am away at work and worry that Jim is remembering to let him out or to put him in his crate. But it is a different worry than I am used to now. It is a worry that I have some control over. The obvious irony is not lost on me.

Yes, a dog is a lot of work. Yes, we are a busy family. Yes, they are expensive. Yes, it will be more responsibility for me. Yes, I now have to make sure Jim is cognitive and aware of something else during the day. Although we have had a few minor incidents, Jim has stepped up to the plate and I think this has been really good for him. It has been a rough holiday season and Duke is a very bright spot for us all.

The smiles, laughter, excitement, happiness and joy far outweigh any of the negatives that were thrown at me.

posted by Karen in Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (10)

10 Responses to “Our BIG Christmas Gift this year.”

  1. Shirley Sehar says:

    Wayne has a buddy who is with him all day, a little one-eyed Chihuahua who I pray lives until after Wayne is gone! It is very important for Wayne to have a friend!

  2. Maureen says:

    Yay! Fabulous decision, no Really!!! Riley keeps my hubby company all the time. He is our Granddog. But, when my son Ryan recently moved out he said to me,
    “Mom I think if I take Riley from you and Jerry (his stepdad) Riley will be depressed!” so, lucky for us Riley, a beautiful four year old Golden Retriever, is on this journey with us! And when I’m feeling down, he makes me smile. And, I know he is company to my hubby when I am at work. One more thing Karen, I think our husbands are at similar stages, but you never mention any details. Would love to chat with you sometime. Have a wonderful Christmas! xoxo Maureen

  3. Rita says:

    Today is the one year anniversary of us getting our little dog. She has brought laughter and purpose into our lives. We have something to talk about. She gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Alzheimer’s is a depressing and lonely disease.

  4. Cat says:

    Congrats!! I hope Duke continues to be your bright spot!

  5. Kimberly says:

    I’m so glad you have a new fur baby. We already had a Boston Terrier that is my husband’s constant companion. We adopted a Pug puppy, six weeks ago today. She loves everyone and has been really good for me. She has given me something else to focus on other than Alzheimer’s. Pets are a huge responsibility, but they offer so much love and they can sense when we are sad or sick. They really are good therapy and well worth the time. Praying for you and your family.

  6. Karen, what a great story and wonderful addition to your family. Pets, especially dogs, can have such a positive impact on those living with dementia. I think this was a great decision for Jim, for the kids, and for YOU! I will tell you that in my darkest moments with my mom, my little Yorkie was my saving grace. Always at home waiting for me with tons of unconditional love. Don’t know what I would have done without him then (or now!)…

  7. Glenda Miller says:

    Yay!!!! Yes, dogs are all the things you named, but he will be there for Jim in ways you can’t imagine. We have 2 dachshunds and the male especially can go to a place with Scott that no one else can reach. They are worth every dollar, every hassle. . .because they give so much. Enjoy!!

  8. Lee Ann says:

    I’m the opposite of you. I’ve never been without at least one dog, usually two. Oh, a couple of months here, or there, but probably 58 out of 60 years have had at least one dog around. They are a lot of work, but its perfect for Jim and the kids. And for you too. I think its wonderful.

  9. Jenn says:

    My mom has earlier onset Alzheimer’s as well and she dog sits for my energetic, anxious beagle while I’m at work. They walk and snuggle all day – they truly have an amazing bond. I hope you and your family get to enjoy that same kind of bonding. Enjoy your new family member!

  10. Kat says:

    Thanks for rescuing Duke and making him a member of your family. We have two rescues and believe they have also rescued us with their unconditional love. My uncle, who had Lewy Body/Alzheimer’s, responded to our dogs and the therapy dogs at his care center long after he could not respond to us. The love and connection was amazing to watch. God bless you all and Merry Christmas.

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