An Old Dog Teaches Me New Tricks

An Old Dog Teaches Me New Tricks
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I found a walking buddy, and he’s teaching me how to live with my husband’s ALS.

When my gym closed, I turned to cross-country skiing every day. When the snow melted, I took up Nordic walking around our fields.

One day, returning from my walk, I went to check on my husband.

“Comet’s upset,” Todd said. He often speaks on behalf of his dog, as if he can read his mind. “He was looking out the window at you walking, and he was whining. He kept looking to me like he wanted me to do something about it. I told him, ‘Yeah, you and me, too, buddy.’”

Todd wanted to get a dog after we had built an accessible home in the country. I feared a dog would mean more work for me. I already felt maxed out with our young children and Todd’s progressing disability. But I had fond memories of growing up with pets, so I came around to the idea. The kids were excited.

After seeing an ad in our local newspaper for goldendoodle puppies, we went to inspect the litter. We fell in love with one of the curly blonde pups that the breeder called Lazy Boy. I liked the idea of getting a low-energy dog, but he dropped the act as soon as we brought him home. We named him Comet.

That first summer, Comet was Todd’s buddy. He followed him wherever he went. When Todd’s legs began to weaken, Comet would ride on the floor of Todd’s scooter.

Hoping to extend his lawn mowing career, Todd got a zero-turn lawnmower that he could operate with a single joystick. Comet hopped up on the deck, and the two of them maintained 5 acres of property.

Comet was Todd’s shadow in the summer of 2013. (Photos by Kristin Neva)

One of Comet’s first disappointments in life was when the neighbor boy took over mowing and didn’t want Comet riding around with him. But Comet adapted.

Comet’s second big disappointment was when Todd traded in his scooter for a wheelchair. At first, Comet was excited to see Todd’s new ride, but by that point, he was a full-sized, 70-pound dog. Comet tried to climb on, but the foot rest was much too small. Comet still happily followed Todd around the yard.

Comet has adapted well to Todd’s shrinking world, when the disease made it difficult to leave the house. He’s a social dog, so he was delighted when Todd started getting caregivers in our home. He was a little obnoxious, nuzzling the bath aides or physical therapist for attention, so Todd taught Comet to “show ’em your rug.” Ever eager to please, Comet picked up his repurposed bathmat and wagged expectantly. Now it’s the first thing he grabs whenever we have a visitor. People usually affirm him for this behavior, reinforcing the idea that humans love to see his rug.

Todd now spends most of his days in his office, because he feels most free when he is on his computer with access to the world through the internet. Comet spends much of the day lying behind Todd’s wheelchair. Todd enjoys having another warm body in the room with him. Todd can’t pet Comet himself, but sometimes he has one of the kids place his hand on Comet’s head.

Comet tells Todd whenever he wants to go out, using that telepathy trick they have, and Todd will call for me or one of the kids. Comet practically begged Todd to ask me to let him join me the next time I went walking.

“Oh, I suppose,” I said.

Comet wagged harder.

“Ready? Let’s go.”

Comet on a walk with Kristin. (Photo by Lani Siirtola)

Comet has been my walking buddy almost every day for a month now. He’s a good companion. He wholeheartedly enters into whatever happens, whether it’s a trip to the big lake or a walk around the field. But he’s also usually content to lie in Todd’s office.

Of course, Comet gets disappointed when he doesn’t get to do things he’s come to expect. The other week, he missed out on a couple days of walking after I got exasperated when he ran off to play with the neighbor kids two days in a row. Todd said he sadly watched me out the window and whined. I don’t begrudge him that. In fact, I can even relate to him because there are times I feel similar disappointment when I see others doing things I wish we could do, too.

I sometimes whine a little in my journal. But then I try to be like Comet and get on with life as it is. Comet doesn’t dwell on the past. He doesn’t dread the future. He embraces the moment.

***

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.

Kristin Neva is an author, mother of two, and caregiver for her husband, Todd, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2010 when he was 39 years old. Knowing they would need family support, they moved to Upper Michigan and built an accessible home on property next to Kristin’s childhood home. Kristin enjoys spending time outdoors, especially on the shore of Lake Superior in the summer. Todd no longer has use of his limbs, but he stays active working on projects on his computer using adaptive technology. They try to find joy in the midst of sorrow as Todd’s health declines.
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Kristin Neva is an author, mother of two, and caregiver for her husband, Todd, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2010 when he was 39 years old. Knowing they would need family support, they moved to Upper Michigan and built an accessible home on property next to Kristin’s childhood home. Kristin enjoys spending time outdoors, especially on the shore of Lake Superior in the summer. Todd no longer has use of his limbs, but he stays active working on projects on his computer using adaptive technology. They try to find joy in the midst of sorrow as Todd’s health declines.

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6 comments

  1. Dave Reckonin says:

    The ‘Mindfulness’ concept was designed by dogs like Comet, all across the world. It’s big business now! Lots of money involved……lol
    “(Marketing)Man’s Best Friend.”

  2. Cate says:

    This is my favorite column I’ve read from you. My dog is sleeping on my legs as I read. I worry about the day I can’t pet him, but as he’s a little dog, I hope he’ll still sleep and snuggle with me as my movement is diminished. He can be naughty, but like Comet, Nigel brings a lot of love and fun to our family.

  3. Dr. Bernie Gryef says:

    We have the laziest golden-doodle in the world. He loves to play ‘Chuck-it and will run, grab and return the ball multiple times, then will just grab the ball and run home and go to sleep. He will chase rabbits in our back yard a couple of times, then finds it as too much effort and let them run around not chasing them. He once caught a baby rabbit, was playing with it, tossed it up in the air and accidently swallowed it, spent the next 10 minutes looking for it, then went to sleep.Vet says he is very healthy, just lazy.

  4. Christy says:

    I absolutely loved this story!I also want to thank you and your husband for what ya’ll are doing.You both have been very inspiring to me. Theres lots of great things I’ve been able to use or have a good understanding on how to cope with reading your articles. It really hit home for me.my daughter Dixie is 25yr.she was diagnosed with ALS in june 2018. ALS quickly took hold of her body. Speech problems,swallowing issues she is unable to do anything for her self.We have a small dog Penny(mixed breed). It breaks dixie heart cause she can’t pet her anymore so we do the same put Dixie hand on penny or we stuff a treat in Dixie hand for Penny to get. I am Dixie’s full time caregiver.we are trying to get home health in now. Which has been a major struggle.

  5. Maggy Dempsey says:

    What a beautiful article!
    I too have a golden doodle who was just about 2 years old when I was diagnosed-words escape me as I try to describe his impact on my life, my family and friends and my home care staff. Like Comet – he too greets people at the door but with a favourite stuffed animal orangutang. Now, I cannot do as much for him as before but still he remains my soul companion. I am so lucky I am surrounded by family / friends who are also animal lovers – as I lose mobility they pick up the slack to meet Mavericks needs – some days it tugs at my heart that his bond strengths with those who can still play with him but at the same time I am so
    so grateful my boys needs are being met. Maverick is a joy in my life 💕 bringing smiles and comfort to both myself and my family.
    Thank you for sharing your story of Comet!

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