The Yearly Teeth Cleaning: A Reflection on the Passing of Time

Cabela and Ziva stand by the door of the vet’s exam room. Tired, they sway on their feet like a couple of soldiers who’ve just returned from a lengthy skirmish at the front. Cabela has been through more, and she struggles to keep her butt in the air and her back paws planted on the smooth, slick floor. They look at me, their superior officer, and wait to be told, “At ease, girls, dismissed.” I look at the vet, this is her briefing, so my dogs and I wait.

They haven’t really come from a battle, but from having their teeth cleaned. They were anesthetized and x-rayed. Neither of them had to have teeth pulled.

Cabela in shorts

My dogs watch me watching the vet. We all seem to know the drill. Be quiet, listen, nod. The more efficiently we can do this, the quicker we can go home, Cabela and Ziva because they’re worn out, me because I want to cry. My dogs are 14 and 11½ years old. These days the sand trickles faster through the hourglass.

Cabela had a benign cyst, the size of a small rubber ball, removed from her left hindquarter. She has a two-and-a-half-inch incision and a dozen stitches. The vet says Cabela shouldn’t lick her incision. I head off any discussion of her having to wear a cone: “I have a pair of shorts she can wear.” Medical treatment with dignity.

I wonder if I’ll have Cabela, the oldest one, put under anesthesia for a nonemergency surgery again, or perhaps any surgery. The older she gets, the riskier surgical procedures become. Today I worried—more than in the past—that one of my dogs might not wake up. I chose the option to have the vet call after each dog’s teeth cleaning was done instead of waiting until they were both done.

The vet explains Ziva has bone loss in her jaw, but she still has enough bone to avoid having teeth pulled. This time. Cabela has bone loss too, but less than Ziva’s.

The vet relays all this to me and shows me x-rays from this year and last year.

I trust the vet—I don’t need to see the pictures. But I don’t say this. I stand at attention, and pull myself up as tall as I can, perhaps to make up for my dogs who sag under the lingering effects of anesthesia.

The vet clicks an icon, and ghostly black-and-white images of Ziva’s teeth parade across the computer screen. I feign deep interest, but I want to go home. My dogs’ noses are nearly touching the exam room door, willing it to open.

The vet wants to explain the medical stuff—like a fourth root on one of Ziva’s molars that she hadn’t seen before. She sent the x-rays to a veterinary dentist for a consultation. I tell her that’s fine. I knew her before she was a vet, and she’s been our vet for over twenty years. She’s doing her job, taking time with us, treating us with respect.

She asks if I have any other questions, and I don’t. She can’t tell me how long Cabela and Ziva will live. She can’t tell me how long I have before I sit in front of doctors who explain age-related medical stuff to me.

I watch my dogs and see my future.

10 thoughts on “The Yearly Teeth Cleaning: A Reflection on the Passing of Time

  1. We said goodbye to our dog Truffles over the winter; she was 14 & 1/2 years old. A mini-doxie who was always on high alert. We had two other dogs before her; this last time going through old dog years made us take a pause on having another dog. It’s a hard place to be. I miss them all.

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    • I’m sorry about Truffles. I understand what you’re saying about the loss of dogs over the years. I know when my father was getting old, he also worried about who would care for his dogs. We assured him that his dogs would be well taken care of. My siblings and I are all dog lovers.

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  2. Yes. It is difficult to watch our loved ones age, people and pets. Dogs are so giving. Our last dog, Stanley, a doxie, went to heaven twenty years ago. It was so hard we agreed we wouldn’t have any more pets. In our vet’s office is a poster that says: “It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” We had eight dogs in our married life, so we feel very blessed. After a few years, we were adopted by a cat who came into our office and stayed, then came home with us after a few weeks. He opened our hearts again and now we have three cats. Cats are so much easier to care for as we get older. They give their own kind of affection but it’s not like a dog.

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    • Thank you for sharing your story. I will keep the words from your vet’s poster in my thoughts because it’s so very true. The cat who came to your office and stayed is very smart.

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  3. I’m not sure which is worse – the indignities associated with lingering or going all at once.

    I hope you are able to enjoy the time you haveleft with your doggos and with your people.

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