Gipsy is an old dog now. As we walk meditatively around the block it is hard to remember the days when she would chase balls endlessly and run three miles for every one I rode. However, I still have a lot to learn from her, the end-of-life lessons can be powerful. Recently I had a lesson in simplicity, and ‘seeing what is’. An oft repeated lesson I have to admit.

I had been away for a month, teaching and looking at properties in Portugal (great country, lovely people, moving in September). On my return I find Gipsy happy and relaxed, but with a shamefully scruffy coat, and walking more crookedly than usual.

Nayana offers essential oil to her old dogGipsy has always been the easiest of dogs to care for, very much a ‘wash and wear’ sort of girl. She washed in streams, lakes, oceans, water troughs; I shampooed her a couple of times a year at the most. She scratched and rolled around on the lawn to loosen up the undercoat, and I helped her out with a bit of a brush as needed – more in moulting seasons, less if she was being particularly impatient about it. Her toe nails never needed clipping because she wore them down with exercise.

People often commented on how shiny her coat was, and me and my natural care regime would take the credit, even though I think her natural vibrancy would have shone through whatever. So not only was her scruffy coat a sad reminder of her approaching demise, it was a personal insult to my animal therapist ego. What would people think as I walked down the street with my dull-coated, limping dog dragging along behind!

I considered taking her to the vet, maybe I was missing something and she was suffering in some way, guilty drama running through my head. Then I calmed myself down and started to look at the facts in front of me and what I could do.

I checked her diet. Was she getting everything she needed? Did she need more organ meat maybe? Less bone? But on reflection it all seemed fine, and she refused to eat extra liver. So I added olive oil for it’s anti-inflammatory and coat shining benefits, and my peace of mind.

I offered her essential oils for pain relief, coat condition and stress (plai (Zingiber cassumunar), violet leaf (Viola odorata), carrot seed (Daucus carota), German chamomile (Chamomila recutita)). Nothing, no interest, gave me her ‘yuck, not oils’ look and disappeared. Which told me she was feeling okay.

I inspected her thoroughly for fleas or fungus, shampooed her with organic coconut shampoo and soaked her in Repel Boarders, my natural flea repellent. I brushed her with this brush and that. She still didn’t shine and her undercoat was clumpy. I resigned my self again to her imminent death.

And then I bought her a new brush, the kind with two rows of metal rolling prongs. You can’t believe the amount of dead hair that came out, black hair rolling down the street like tumbleweed. All she needed was a good brush! Not being able to scratch well or roll around (she has two sub-luxated disks in her spine) meant she was not self-maintaining her coat anymore, especially through this springtime moult.

Once her undercoat was cleaned out she seemed brighter and more lively, more comfortable in her skin. Such a small thing, but it must be frustrating for her not to be able to groom herself properly. In beauty parolour mode I also noticed that her inside toe nail was too long, so for the first time in her life we clipped her toenails, and the crooked walk vanished. So simple!

Our tendency to think ‘It’s just old age’ and sigh sadly when Gipsy seems to be going down hill, almost led to me missing a simple solution to a small problem. It’s something that is easily done when caring for an older dog. Those of us who are caring for the elderly need to listen attentively to our animals and pay attention to our management, feeding and exercise habits so we can adjust and modify if needed.

I am now brushing Gipsy everyday, but have to do it quickly as she is back to her usual short patience span for the beauty parlour stuff. In her view, she’s a tough dog with a job to do! The front gate must be watched at all time — you never know when the boxer may walk past and need barking at, and the kids would never manage to cross the road without her (not our kids, all the kids from the junior school who know her by name and pet her as they pass).

At 16 years old Gipsy may not have much time left in this physical body, but as long as she is here, I must keep my eyes clear and my listening senses open. If I am present with ‘what is’ rather than living by past habits I can be the best carer I can be for this much beloved friend.