Kerry Mcmyler lives in Lancashire in the UK. She’s had her dog Kenzo, a Labrador Collie cross for 15 years–ever since he was a puppy. She says he chose her from a litter of nine, barging past all of them to go to her.
When she moved away some six years ago, her parents took responsibility for Kenzo who was then about 10. Then a couple of years ago, he started barking in the evening, and showed other signs of anxiety and restlessness. The family also noticed a pattern where these behaviours would start in the late afternoon and continue until midnight.
While researching Kenzo’s symptoms online, Kerry came across information about Sundowner’s syndrome in dogs, where dementia-like symptoms worsen at night. She says it all came together for her then, especially when the vet later confirmed it.
Sadly, Kerry’s father passed away last year, and it’s been an emotional time for her and her family. Kenzo was dependent on her dad for routine and connection, and she feels one of the triggers for his behaviour could be pining for her father.
Kerry is 44 and a healthcare Science Associate Practitioner in Microbiology (Infectious Diseases) with the Royal Lancaster Infirmary in the UK.
She and her partner moved back to take take care of her mum and Kenzo, and I caught up with her during a very busy time. We spoke via email.
What was your reaction to the diagnosis? What went through your mind?
How myself, my mum and my partner Sarah were going to cope with just losing dad. Was he just missing him? Was he grieving? I gave him an old jumper of dad’s but he wasn’t interested. He shows all the tick boxes of Canine Cognitive Decline (CCD) except the incontinence.
What treatment –that you know about–is available in the UK for dementia in dogs?
Unsure at present. We have him on a calming pill called Xanax and he also has arthritis so he has 1/2 paracetamol twice daily. We have tried CBD (Cannibas oil) too which did help for a while but he has run out of this at present. It does calm the barking down but not the restlessness.
You say that at the beginning of Kenzo’s dementia, he was living with your parents who had a routine for him. But now this has changed because of your dad’s sad passing. Can I ask, how bonded was Kenzo to your father?
Very much so, he was the person that took him for walks. So his routine has had to change. I now take him when I arrive home from work. The shocking factor for me was mum was quite socially phobic having arthritis herself and relied on dad to help her get about. However, whilst I was at work a few months ago, she decided to walk him on her own. It was a huge turning point for her [in] regaining her confidence. Kenzo walked with her slowly and did not pull which was so lovely.
You’re the primary carer for your mum, and I wonder if you could describe what that means to you—being a carer.
It is a responsibility of selfless love. After dad passed away, my partner Sarah and I gave up our jobs 320 miles away. I withdrew from my [university education]. I was one year off finishing my biomedical degree. However, sadly this hospital cannot fund or allow me time off to complete it. And now I have had a change of heart about where my life is heading to after much reflection.
I left my job of nine years in microbiology, and Sarah [left hers] in helping the elderly in rehabilitation. We moved in with mum so she did not have to sell the house, and to help her with daily tasks, bills and to give her company. I know we have done the right thing and it has set us all in a new direction. As an only child, I love my mum dearly and I want to make her time on this earth as special as it can be and make as many memories as I can with the time she has left.
What’s the hardest thing about watching dementia in Kenzo?
His confusion. His age, his restlessness. His falling off the sofa when he does not judge it correctly. We have said if he becomes incontinent we would put him to sleep. It is too much for mum to go through at 78 years old, having just lost dad too. I don’t want to lose her too. It would be the kindest thing to do however, for now, we are coping the best we can.
Are the demands of Kenzo’s care taking a toll on you?
It is tiring, after a 9-hour day then to walk him, be up till midnight with his constant barking, crying and restlessness. We try to reassure him but it is simply draining when you still have a daily life to live and chores to do. During the day he is fine, however, I work so I don’t really see the quiet side of him. He is great with mum during the day. It is when I come home after 5 pm this starts. There has been quite a lot of tears and a huge relief when he is finally asleep.
How would you describe your relationship with him now?
I love him to bits. He still greets me dutifully when I walk through the door of an evening but not of a morning. His eyesight is failing so I have to bend down to have eye contact with him but if I ask for a kiss sometimes I still get one off him. For that split-second, everything is back to normal. He recognises me, how can I possibly put him to sleep. Just another month…let’s see how we go…and the cycle continues.
You say that you will “know when it’s time”. It must be the hardest moment. What will tell you that, and how do you imagine that moment in the future when you will have to say goodbye to Kenzo?
Heartbreakingly when he stops being responsive. Stops eating, drinking, or [becomes] incontinent. I would not want him to be in constant pain with his arthritis so if his back legs keep failing him there has to be a point where we end his suffering and do the kindest last thing a human can do. But we don’t say goodbye it is always “until we meet again”