The animal is aging. Not surprising; I knew it would happen eventually, but I didn't make any provisions to deal with that eventuality. Somehow the reality crept up on me. And now it must be dealt with, day after day.
It is restless in the night, moaning about aches, unable to find a comfortable position for sleep. It awakes me too early, muscles stiff and reluctant to move but unable to return to sleep. And if I let it sit still, it dozes off in the middle of the day. Finding foods it can eat without upsetting its digestion has become a task as it rejects more and more foods but balks at the monotonous diet it can manage. And despite restricting its food, it is putting on pounds, its middle thickening as the creature loses strength, loses flexibility.
When it was young, I drove it hard. I fed it whatever was to hand, or didn't feed it at all. It slept only when I no longer needed its labor at the end of a long day. Day after day of steady work, night sleep sacrificed for more work; It didn't seem to mind. It could run, it could climb, it could carry heavy loads. It was never the loveliest of its kind, but it had endurance and strength beyond what some others possessed. It still does, but it pays more dearly when what I demand exceeds what I should expect of it. It never had fast reflexes, and now it's even slower to react.
The animal remembers every harsh thing I've done to it. I kept it too long in the cold, frostbiting its feet, and now every cold floor reminds it of what I did. I have degenerated its joints to keep to a schedule. Now its grip is fading. I risked its eyesight by staring endlessly at a screen, and now the colors are fading out of its day.
As our time together is winding slowy to a close, I wish I'd taken better care of it. Better food, more exercise, more relaxation . . . but I also wonder if it would have made any difference. I tell myself it still has useful years ahead of it, even if it can't do some of the things it once accomplished with ease. I reflect, sheepishly, that it is the only animal I have ever treated this way. Would I have fed a beloved dog stimulants to keep it working when it needed sleep? Never. Would I have dosed a cat with a mild poisoning of alcohol to relax it among strangers? Of course not.
But this one animal received no mercy from me. And I regret that now.
And so we enter our 70th year together. Me, and the animal I live inside.
Be kind to animals. It's never too late to start.