Philip Gutis, a writer for NY Times says that his husband, Tim, and their two Jack Russell terriers became an integral part of his life in 2004. One of the dogs was Osceola Jack, who was a champion Frisbee player and was once the star actor in the Mighty Dog commercials, and his daughter, the mighty Samantha. Soon after the meeting Tim, Osceola Jack, and Samantha, came the arrival of Beatrice, a cattle dog mix who came from Tim’s brother in Florida.
Gutis writes that he has always been an introvert and being so means he has not always had the best people skills. Yet, he somehow had an uncanny ability to connect with animals. Though the memories are beginning to fade, most of his best memories involve animals and the roles they have played in his life.
During the summer of 2016, at the age of 54, Gutis was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Now, aside from his obvious worries and concerns that come with being diagnosed with such a disease is the devastating fear that he will lose his ability to connect with his beloved animal companions, or forget them altogether.
Since he was in his 20s and 30s, Gutis has struggled with remembering things and moments. He says he once even forgot that his best friend from childhood had worked for him at the Penn State school newspaper. Gutis always wrote off those memory gaps as a byproduct of a busy life and career. He always did work long days, spent several hours commuting by train and plane, managed several dozen people at a time, and had to deal with quite complicated issues on a regular basis. He always told himself that it was ridiculous for anyone to expect him to retain everything when he was so busy with work, under so much stress, and dealing with so much information. All of the keeping busy and staying stressed had probably just taken a normal toll on his ability to remember anything and everything.
Philip first started to notice that his performance was declining a few years ago. He found it increasingly difficult to keep track of big projects. Suddenly the skills that he’d always found challenging (such as remembering names, reading maps, understanding directions, doing simple math) became completely impossible for him to do. Some of his days were so bad that he wanted to wear a shirt with a sign that read, “Sorry, I just cannot remember your name.”
It was Philip’s sister who was first worried enough to take action. She called a number listed in an online advertisement that was intended for people who were worried that they might have memory loss issues. Philip called the number and the representative scheduled him for an in-person evaluation screening. The representative politely told him to bring someone who was familiar to him.
He brought his Tim along with him, who stayed close by his side as the neurologist conducted the screening. Philip had to undergo “vials and vials” of blood tests and several memory tests.
The neurologist told him a story and Philip was able to remember it fairly well. Then, came a memory test involving a drawing in which he did horrible on. Next was a list of words and then a simple subtraction test, both of which he failed miserably at.
The researchers had Philip and Tim wait for a few moments, then returned with the news that Philip had scored low enough on the test to qualify for their Alzheimer’s clinical trial.
Philip says that he felt the energy in the room change as he learned of his likely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Next, he had to endure various testing, including psychology, neurology, PET and M.R.I. scans, genetic testing, and several more tests. Philip and Tim were suddenly thrust into a world where they had to confront endless issues that they’d never imagined (financial, long-term care insurance, household). Philip wondered if he could keep working or if he should go ahead and apply for Social Security Disability.
Those questions that rang through their minds were nothing compared with the crippling fear, the sadness, the depression, and the anxiety as they entered into the world of Alzheimer’s. Philip wondered how much longer he would be himself. How much longer would he live? How much longer would it be before he could no longer remember his partner, his family, and his beloved pets?
There was one morning, not very long ago, that Philip remembers coming out of his bedroom and being greeted by their orange tabby cat, Max, who usually spent most of his time prowling around outside. Philip was happy to see him and said hello with a loving pat. According to Tim, it was only a few moments later that Philip came back out of his room and asked Tim if he’d seen Max lately.
Then there was this other afternoon when Philip was walking on the hiking trail near his office when he stopped to pet a dog who was being walked out in the sun by his owner. Philip asked the owner what the dog’s name was and found out that it was Sadie. Philip says that he knew somehow that he’d once had a dog named Sadie but couldn’t remember who it was. Later on, he remembered that he still had a dog named Sadie. Sadie was a pit bull/lab mix that he and Tim had rescued from a shelter.
As Phillip puts it, “When you live with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you learn to live in the moment and appreciate what you still have rather than what you may lose. I have my sister, nieces, nephew and extended family. And, of course, Tim, the man who I’ve been with for 13 years and who agreed last fall to marry me even though we do not know how much longer I will be me.”
Aside from the dogs, a Jack Russell named Abe who accompanies Philip to the office every day, Sadie the rescue, wandering Max the orange tabby, and Obie, a cat that Philip brought home from work, he also has his beloved turtle, with the creative name, Turtle, and Leo the bearded dragon.
Philip knows that there may come a day in which he cannot remember his beloved pet companions, but he still tries to enjoy every moment he can with them. And he revels in knowing that they will always remember him.
Gutis, P. (2017, June 9). Holding On to My Pets, as Alzheimer’s Takes My Memories. [Web]. In NY Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/09/well/family/holding-on-to-my-pets-as-alzheimers-takes-my-memories.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FPets