Old dogs are like an old favorite hoodie: comfortable. They might be a little worn around the seams, and a little out of shape, but they bring comfort like no other and they're always there when you need them most.
Many dogs have come and gone from my life, but none have impacted me as profoundly as Gabe.
Gabe was a rescue from South Carolina who spent the first 10+ years of his life tethered in someone's yard. When he arrived to our house he was more than a little worn. He could barely walk, his hair was matted and filthy, plus he wreaked like skunk. WREAKED.
As an experienced foster one of the very first things you prepare yourself for are behavioral issues associated with pain or discomfort, or just anxiety. Not knowing how Gabe would respond to touch, we gingerly walked him into the house with the first stop being the bathroom for a desperately needed tubby. He, with some help, happily plopped himself into the bath tub, and so began the very long process of bathing and shaving his matted coat.
He was SO happy to have hands petting him, rubbing him, washing the filth from his body. Truthfully, I think he would have been happy as long as we were touching him, he wouldn’t have cared if it were a bath or a total shave down. He could have come out of that tub looking like a drowned mole rat and he would have been pleased as punch.
When we were done, the true condition of his body became very apparent. Not only were his hips and elbows riddled with stress sores from laying on concrete for prolonged periods of time, but his skeletal structure was far more visible than it should have been. It was evident that poor old Gabe was starving and so, so very arthritic. But there he stood, happily wagging his tail and smiling up at us as we held back tears.
Even though we were supposed to be his foster home, I knew nearly from the moment Gabe got out of the car that he wasn't going anywhere. We were his forever home, the last stop on his journey. What I didn’t know was how profoundly Gabe would impact our life.
With good quality food, and supplements to help manage the pain and discomfort of arthritic bones, Gabe began to flourish. He gained weight, began to walk more steadily, and even started to initiate play with the other dogs in the house. His play sessions were drastically shorter in comparison, but they were funny and brought him such happiness and that’s all we really cared about. He even had his own orthopedic bed in front of the fireplace. He was no longer someone’s lawn ornament, but rather a cherished member of our family. So much so, the corner of our couch effectively became known as “Gabe’s corner.” If you were sitting there and he gave “the look” you moved and nothing made him happier than being on the couch, next to his humans.
It was shortly before Christmas, about 3 months after his arrival, when he collapsed in our living room. We rushed him to the emergency room, and stroked his aged body while the doctor explained what happened.
Gabe was old, this we already knew, what we didn’t know was that he had a massive abdominal tumor expanding and growing deep within his abdomen. Abdominal tumors are frequently silent, with little to no outward symptoms. That is until they burst, and once they burst, there is nothing that can be done.
Saying 'goodbye' to Gabe was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but I had to do what I knew his previous owner's never would have done. I had to hold his big gray paws in my hands, kiss the top of his head, and tell him what a good boy he was, and how much I loved him. I had to give Gabe what he always deserved but never received: comfort, peace, and most importantly love.
Gabe was the type of character that came into your life when you were least expecting it. My husband had always referred to him as the smelly, ugly, old dog. It was true. Looking at him wasn’t like looking at a beautiful sunset, but his eyes, and those gray hairs that framed his face. He was old. He was wise, and he gave and received loved like no other dog I have ever known. The appreciation he had for the simplest of gestures is just unexplainable.
My heart may have sank knowing the care and adjustments that would have to be made to accommodate an elder dog into our home. But every adjustment, every little “extra” that was given was returned tenfold. My only regret is not having had the opportunity to show him the true compassion and love a human heart is capable of. Three months simply, by no means, was long enough to give him the life and compassion he deserved.
The point of this post, of these pictures, is to bring awareness to the number of elderly or senior dogs that are dumped in shelters every year and the impact you could make on their life simply by giving them the opportunity to love you. Many families relinquish ownership of their senior companions with the intent to replace them with a puppy, especially around the holidays. This means shelters in your area are likely to have a lot of senior pets looking for homes in the next few weeks. Statistically, most do not find new homes, most spend their final days in a cold kennel, alone.
While it's true taking in an older dog may mean a few more medical expenses, it could also mean less training. Less time spent mopping up pee, or chasing a dog whose stolen a sock. Not to mention older pets have already developed personalities; what you see is what you get. Looking for a cuddly dog who loves to veg on the couch and watch the latest episodes of "the Walking Dead," it'll be a lot easier to find that personality in an older dog. Puppies are still growing and developing, Fido might be cuddly when you met him at the breeder, but he could grow up to hate snuggles on a cold night.
Older dogs are also ideal for homes with small children or toddlers as they likely already know their manners and you won't spend extra time, that you don't have, training them how to behave.
November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, so if you're in the market for a new furry companion, I implore you to consider an older pet. Remember, older pets are never too old to receive love and certainly never too old to give love. You truly will be saving a life, and if your experience is anything like mine with Gabe, your life will forever be changed.
Search for senior pets in your area, click HERE.
With over 10 years of experience through ownership and rescue work, I hope to share my knowledge and insight to happier, healthier fur kids. Have a question, feel free to ask!