Senior Dogs, Senior Moments — Cody and the Case of the Garage Pisser

It’s 5 am and Cody has to go. I know this because I know his bathroom habits better than my own. He fidgets in the elevator — turning his little 7-pound body in circles and impatiently stamping his front paws as we descend to the underground garage. The exit from the garage is about 50 feet from the elevator and like a bull from a chute, Cody charges towards it. I’m walking — half running — to keep up with him. Cody is in a full trot performing his signature skip on every third or fourth stride. We make it almost to the door. I’m reaching for the handle when I look back and he’s either confused deciding he is already outside or he simply cannot hold it any longer. He has stopped and is leaving a steady stream in the center of the garage about 6 feet from the door.

A quick panic sets in. My eyes dart back and forth along each side of the garage hunting for potential movement — hoping none of my neighbors, like me, are early risers. I gently tug at Cody’s leash — praying he’ll break the stream and hold the rest for the fresh patch of turf 3 feet beyond the door. For a split second, Cody seems to realize where he is. He stops, breaks his stream and trots out the door making it almost to the grass before he decides to finish emptying his bladder on the pavement just outside the garage. I call this a half-success.

We duck back in the garage — a scruffy criminal and his accomplice acting as lookout. I quickly stride past the puddle of urine putting my best “must-have-been-some-other-dog” face on.

Footnote: I am the only one in our condo building who takes his dog out the garage.

I determine we are in the clear and see no other neighbors or movement in the garage. Our clandestine mission nearly complete, I decide to take the stairs to avoid any potential early risers.

Footnote: Our “Mismanagement Company” for the condos only cleans the garage floor once per year. It is actually so filthy and dusty in the garage, I theorize Cody’s urine is less a hazard than the layer of dirt it quickly soaks into. I’ve even managed to convince myself we’re providing a bit of a cleaning service at no charge since urine is sterile. I’m pretty sure this logic is not remotely sound. Yet it beats an image of me traipsing back down to the garage at 5 am, attempting to wipe a thick puddle of “urine mud” from the floor — not to mention I would also risk incriminating myself a second time.

In the past year, Cody has begun to have a very weak bladder — necessitating taking him out about every 3 hours. I theorize this is connected with his kidney issues. His incontinence, is obviously worse in the morning and I have consistently been getting up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning to take him out. This problem is not only a morning problem though. Cody is a Maltese — not necessarily a dog bred for the brutal winters of the north. This adds a unique layer of complexity to our winter bathroom routine.

The Maltese, as per its name, is to believed to have been largely bred in Malta — a rather arid and warm climate. They have no undercoat and are, thus, vulnerable to colder climates. Cody absolutely abhors snow and cold weather the way a feline hates water.

Additionally problematic: The Maltese has a long history with royalty — a history that does not seem to escape Cody’s awareness. There is ample evidence to suggest the breed was widespread throughout the Mediterranean region in the ancient world. History shows traces of the breed in as far away as Egypt where it may have been worshipped. In Ancient Rome, it was known as the Roman Ladies’ Dog and it has been referred to as the Aristocrat of the Canine World for 28 centuries. This may partially explain Cody’s penchant for sitting on cushions in our condo and his high maintenance, imperious behavior.

Ultimately, this has led to a situation where I am unthinkingly subservient to a 7-pound Maltese. Over the past decade, Cody has slowly trained me to serve his needs, address what I perceive as his dislikes and answer to his whims. This is not a completely selfless endeavor on my own part. There is ample incentive for me to ensure Cody is treated as a little king.

It’s early on a January morning in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago. Cody is still sleeping on his special shag rug (one of his many “cushy” options in the condo) while I quickly pull on a set of snow boots and a survival jacket. I can see the snow weighing down the pine branches from our fourth floor condo and estimate at least 4 inches has fallen since the previous evening.

Half asleep, I stumble to our garage storage unit where we keep a snow shovel — a leftover from our days of owning a real home with a real yard and driveway. I quickly make my way to the garage exit where upon opening the door I am blasted with arctic wind carrying fresh snow — my morning wake up call. The fresh patch of grass where Cody usually does his business is now covered in snow. I stop for just a moment looking out and absorbing the insular silence snow always seems to bring — as though I am in some sort of sound booth and the world seeming to have grown just a bit smaller.

I begin working the shovel to clear a 4x4 patch in the grass. The goal is to clear the snow down to the grass without scalping the lawn. Cody only stands about 5–6 inches tall. With snow like this, he becomes buried and cannot move around to do his business.

It is a heavy snow and the work heats me up providing a barrier against the frigid Chicago elements. The only thing that is cold is my face. But I continue working as clouds of my hot breath dissipate into the air. I am soon finished and stop to surmise the work — small blades of grass peaking through the plot with two fresh banks of snow flanking the perimeter. I check my watch — 5:30 am and on schedule.

Footnote: Consider living in a warm climate should you decide to own a Maltese.

Back in the condo, I beat my boots against one another over the floor mat before walking across the carpets to where Cody is still fast asleep. I slowly pet him, my way of gently bringing him out of his slumber. No luck. He jumps up like a guard caught sleeping on duty — puffing out his chest, sniffing and taking a quick inventory of his surroundings. Little Big Dog. He smells me in the dark, signaling all is clear by wagging his whip-like tail. I scoop him up and we are soon headed for our arctic adventure.

In the elevator, I leash him. He stamps his feet and scurries in a tight circle, completely unaware, it seems, of the night’s changing weather pattern. Charging from the elevator, he makes a beeline towards the garage exit. As we near the door, the cold air seeping in gives him slight pause. He knows what is coming. We are covered in darkness and out less than a minute before he begins his characteristic shivering. He pees, sniffs around a bit and then steps off the curb heading back to the garage for cover and warmth. Business done.

I am more than a little relieved to be back inside as well — stamping my boots on the floor and unzipping my jacket as we walk back. We are nearly halfway to the elevator when I feel a slight tug on the leash. Looking back, I see Cody in a fully hunkered pose. He has apparently decided “Number 2” would be more convenient in the warmth of the garage.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Sometimes he doesn’t even make it outside the first time. Cody is quick to pick up on just how cold it is and often decides to conduct any needed dog business in the warm garage — anything to avoid northern exposure.

I shoot a glance towards the elevator doors, half expecting someone to emerge. But, I am in the clear and prepared with a bag in hand by the time I walk back to where Cody is still hunched over. Like a little Roomba Pooper Scooper, I clean up after him while I urge him back outside — tugging on his leash the whole distance. He grudgingly comes with me and finishes his business again.

Back inside and undetected. I call this a half-success.

In the past few years, Cody has managed to “mark his spot” in nearly every imaginable public area of our condo building.

Garage. Check.
Hallway. Check.
Lobby. Check.
Elevator. You guessed it — check.

Given the number of times this has happened, it seems a statistic anomaly there has been only a single instance in which a neighbor was present and, it seems, aware. In the lobby one winter afternoon, my wife was bringing Cody back in when he decided he was not finished with number 2 — probably the result of the cold weather. As she is picking up his business on the lobby floor, she hears the elevator ping and rushes to get him into her arms. It turns out to be our gabbiest of neighbors who, of course, engages my wife in conversation. Cody, in my wife’s arms and still not finished with his business, decides to drop his final turd. It hits the floor and rolls to a dead stop between the two of them. The neighbor continues gabbing only to stop briefly and point out that my wife seems to have dropped something.

Footnote: Don’t take Cody out through the lobby in the winter months.

It’s difficult for any dog owner to not find incidents like these embarrassing. But, Cody is a senior citizen — making this behavior not only justifiable given he likely has some form of dementia, but also forgivable. I am, however, unsure as to whether my neighbors might feel the same.

It’s 5 am again. Cody and I are on our way downstairs when he just decides he is going to pee right there…on the floor in the elevator. He seems unaware of where he is. I, however, am clearly aware of where we are. We are in the fucking elevator and my dog is taking a piss. In the space of a few seconds, my mind moves from fits of panic to hysteria.

Alarmed at the huge puddle of piss forming on the elevator floor, I pick him up thinking this will jar him into the reality of his surroundings and he’ll stop. But he doesn’t. Instead, I pick him up and am essentially holding a “piss fire hose,” watching as he pisses all over the inside of the elevator door and me. At this point, I am in full on panic mode.

We hit the first floor, I get him outside and he goes even more while I am attempting to formulate a cleanup plan in my mind and wondering if I will encounter any neighbors at this hour of the morning. Plan A: I rush back in to take the elevator back up to our floor so I can get something to clean up the mess. But, when I hit the button for the elevator, I discover someone else has queued it and I am apparently not the only one up at this ungodly hour. I quickly surmise the situation — someone is going to discover an elevator full of piss, may be on their way down now and I’ll soon be face-to-face with a neighbor — me standing their with a Maltese in my arms. No need for a judge and jury — guilty as charged.

Plan B: With Cody in my piss-covered arms, I hightail it up the stairwell. Red in the face and out of breath after the 4 flight dash, I queue the elevator, rush back down the hallway, drop Cody off in our condo, grabbing some paper towels and some Lysol before rushing back down the hall to catch the elevator.

I start mopping up the puddle of pee — stopping momentarily in amazement at how much pee can come out of a 7-pound dog — when the elevator is queued again. I would assume this is the same person who queued the elevator earlier — maybe another dog owner taking their dog (who doesn’t pee in the elevator) out. But I can’t be sure. The elevator in our building is like an evil robot. It doesn’t necessarily stop when you break the plane of the door. This seems to happen when someone else has queued it.

I am on my hands and one knee — mopping up piss with one hand, spraying Lysol with the other and have placed my right leg beyond the plane of the door to hold the elevator on our floor. The door begins to close on my leg and then open again…and then close on my leg again. This feels like some sadistic game of Twister as I stretch my arms far into the elevator, keeping a right foot pinned outside the elevator and a left knee on a clean tile inside the elevator — all the while wiping and spraying frantically.

Right foot carpet. Left hand yellow piss puddle.

I eventually have to move completely inside the elevator and let the door close because I need to wipe the inside of the door free of urine as well. I end up on my way back down again. The last thing I want at this point is to be standing in the elevator with Lysol and paper towels when the elevator arrives at its queued destination. So I punch the third floor button, finish cleaning and dash back up another flight of stairs — red in the face and completely exhausted.

Back in the condo undetected. I call this a half-success.

Footnote: This elevator incident has happened twice now — necessitating I hold Cody in my arms (especially in the morning) until we are in a “safe zone” with a patch of grass.

Footnote to the footnote: Holding Cody in my arms does not necessarily guarantee he will not pee…on me. This has also happened twice.

The average lifespan for a Maltese is 12–15 years. Cody is 18. In human years, this would be the equivalent of an 88-year-old. Despite this and all of the incidents described herein, he does quite well for his age.

We have a bit of a game the two of us play. I have trained Cody to race me down the hall to our condo each time we come back in from outside. Unfailingly, Cody still tears after me each day — running like a young filly.

He runs, still jumps and is as lively and playful as a puppy. People have trouble believing his age when we tell them and we are often asked if he is a puppy. But, if you have known Cody as long as I, there are the telltale signs of his aging. I have come to call these signs his “senior moments.”

Cody does not always seem aware of where he is. He can’t see very well any longer and occasionally gets “stuck” — a strange behavior where he just stands in one place for a very long time staring at what, I don’t know. He also just falls over sometimes. And of course, there are the bathroom issues described herein.

Footnote: Many 88-year-old humans have trouble walking or standing and they often wear diapers.

This is all part of his journey. It has been a long journey and I am, for one, honored to take part. I have become his primary caretaker over the past several years and these senior moments, while sometimes heartbreaking, are often cause for laughter. And they will be part of the memories I have of his life — of our life together.

Ultimately, I will find my way to where Cody is now. My journey will eventually bring me to a place where I have my own senior moments. It is an inevitable fact of life should I live into my golden years. I only hope I can manage those years with the same humility and spirit as Cody.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy each day I have with him — seeing them as gifts. And, I will continue to smile at each mess I have to clean up — at each senior moment. Because these are moments born of another day with Cody.

Healthcare User Experience Designer in the Greater Chicago area

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Chris Kiess

Chris Kiess

Healthcare User Experience Designer in the Greater Chicago area

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