Have you ever had that one dog? You know, a special dog who connected with you in a way none before them had? Thanks to the world of dog people that I occupy, I know that I am not alone in having this special experience.
My special dog got me to start a blog, and jump into social media as a dog advocate ten years ago. She showed me all the ways a dog could enrich your life, and that there is value of living in the present. Caring for and about my dog into and through her senior years, taught me patience and empathy for my aging parents.
With her passing, memories of our days together motivated me to get out of the house and down to Muttville Senior Dog Rescue this year. Each morning I'm there I get a dose of mutt magic, in exchange for doing their laundry, mopping and walks around Rescue Row.
For now, I'm content to care for them and help play matchmaker, but when I look in their eyes, I know that one of these days I will be ready to open my home to another dog. For now, I'm grateful to have this wonderful place in my town that lets me in the door every week, especially as I mark today, the two year anniversary of my dog's passing.
When my dog reached her golden years she developed diabetes and slowly lost her vision. She developed dementia. Throughout her aging process we checked in with her veterinarian to make sure our dog was getting everything she needed for a comfortable final chapter. We created some wonderful lasting memories during those two years.
We had a conversation about palliative care once our dog's age, vision loss, and dementia all piled up on her. We couldn't turn back time or heal her, so we focused everything on making every day count so that she had her best day ever, every day. I can honestly say that making that conscious choice helped me from having any regrets after she passed.
It was incredibly rewarding for me to spend my time with her knowing I was writing the final chapter in her life, and our life together. What I learned about the aging process had a positive impact on my relationships with both my parents before they passed away. I also have a little better appreciation for my own mortality.
I have seen first-hand this summer, young kids caring for and about the senior mutts at Muttville. It's pretty wonderful because all of them have expressed nothing but joy, and serious interest in these dogs and their wellbeing. These senior dogs have influenced the kids to feel empathy and compassion for another being, and what a great lesson for them to take back to school. Don't you think?
I believe strongly in the power older dogs have for enriching our lives. Opening your heart and home to senior dogs is worth the inevitable future loss. Why? That answer varies for many of us, but it could be simply that you appreciate quality over quantity. I learned this from experiences with my beloved dog. After she passed on, I miss her but the feeling of gratitude I have for the quality of time we had together overwhelms any sadness.
When a loved one passes away, their loss can knock you for a loop, even when they are showing signs their time with you is coming to a close. Imagine the devastation when two loved ones unexpectedly go within days of each other? That recently happened to long time senior dog lovers and adopters, Karl and Jessica.
If you missed them, I recommend you read their three guest posts from earlier this year, about their senior dog journey: It started with Tara, Continued with Bobo and Jameson, and their journey is Destined to Continue.
Karl and Jessica shared their sudden loss in an email, which they graciously allow me to share below. I hope you'll read it and take away the message of how the enrichment you get from caring for and about older dogs, far outweighs any pain.
An update to our Senior Dog Journey
Dogs enrich our lives in a million different ways, at every age of their life, and ours. When I decided to start volunteering at a senior dog rescue, my goal was to physically help older dogs live the last chapter of their life knowing that they were loved. What I didn't realize until recently is that they are reminding ME that I am still loved. How did that life lesson sneak in here?
Is it the compassion I have for older dogs that inspires me to step up, and to try and make a difference in the quality of their life? I certainly know that when I get discouraged by the news, my mood is lifted after spending a few hours with a wise old face.
Offering a discarded older dog simple affection can be rewarded with a happy expression, like Pepper has in this photo. Have you ever made any dog smile? I get a shot of electricity from it!
Getting involved in the welfare of older dogs in my community is a tonic. It's a reminder that we can do something close to home, that can have a positive tangible impact. When I come home from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue each week, I feel like I've helped add to the positive column, that my actions have cancelled out some of the negativity in the world.
My Emotional Enrichment Program
Ensuring that an older dog will know they are loved during their final chapter is my goal. Every time a Muttville dog is adopted or joins a foster home, I feel so much joy. My life is enriched from the experience, and knowing they will be loved the rest of their life.
Having a senior dog in your life is the best. Mine helped me focus on the important things and to forget about the nonsense, the noisy distractions. Thanks to my dog, I found myself caring more about her wellbeing than any reality show on television. I spent more time searching for savory recipes to make her special dog treats with. She made the distracting noises from our busy city streets fade into the background.
She isn't physically with me now, during this disturbing presidential election season, but guess what? I found a calming environment at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. These oldsters are exactly the right balance to the outlandish behavior on television and online.
Being with my older dog brought calm, and the rotating crew in the doggy are doing an amazing job at pinch-hitting for her! All I have to do is pop my head over one of the half-doors and say, "Good morning puppies! How did you sleep? Who wants to go for a walk before breakfast?"
The roles dogs play in our lives continues to grow and evolve. Millions of dogs are simple companions and best friends, while thousands serve as guide dogs, therapy dogs, and guard dogs. Their jobs often change over time, but one constant force they retain is their unique ability to positively influence us.
I have experienced the benefits from having dogs in my life at all ages. As a young girl, I felt a kinship with our family dogs. They were easy to understand, and seemed to understand me too. In all honesty, I felt closer to them emotionally than my own human siblings.
I especially remember spending quiet afternoons with Scooter, the patriarch of our crew of dogs. He taught me a lot about being still, and the power of empathy. That is one reason why when I volunteer at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, I love seeing the influence of the older dogs on visiting children.
"You don't seem like a Muttville dog, you are like a little puppy," she whispered.
A wonderful role these older dogs play is that of wise teachers. They are helping us raise compassionate children, often by just being themselves. The kids are learning empathy from their exposure to the world from the eyes of an aging dog.
Many city kids can't have pets. Their time spent quietly petting, or taking care of the senior dogs at Muttville allows them to experience the effect of caring for an elderly parent or grandparent. These dogs helps them see what it means to care about a live animal, rather than a stuffed one.
I've witnessed many moments, like the one above, when a young child reaches out selflessly to give one the senior dogs some gentle affection and appreciation for sharing their time. These dogs in the doggy loft are not caged so they are free to walk away from anyone, even a sweet little girl.
What is so wonderful being around these older dogs is their willingness to open up to the sounds of love.
They don't hold grudges for the turn in their life that caused them to end up at Muttville. Instead, they seem to grab the opportunity to show all of us how to let go, savor the little moments, and enjoy a quiet cuddle.
If you give them a chance, every older dog will give you their all. They are professionals at showing people of all ages what's so special about having an animal companion, and why senior dogs rule.
Does your community have a program where young kids can experience what it means to care for and about older dogs? How about older pets in general?
When I look at an old dog staring out of the window at the doggy loft, I see someone who understands loyalty. The older dog has experienced what it feels like to be a part of a team. They know what it means to be able to depend on someone. I sense they are feeling the loss and it breaks my heart. My compassionate response is to give that old dog all the love and affection they can tolerate, to show them that they weren't wrong to trust us. I feel compelled to step up and show them their loyalty is valued, even more than love.
Mandy is an old dog at Muttville who understands loyalty. I took her out for a walk one morning and her focus wasn't on peeing, it was finding a certain someone or their car. We race-walked down the street pausing at every, single, parked car. She determinedly sniffed each door and tire before moving down the row. I asked her repeatedly to please go potty, because it was nicer for us all if she did her business outside, rather than in the doggy loft among the other dogs. She ignored me. She had priorities.
I don't know many cocker spaniels but I do recognize loyalty, and what it means to be part of a team.
When I spend time with old dogs I always seem to come away with a new wisdom or reminded of a forgotten lesson. Recently I sat with a big old girl named Bridgett. Her quiet watchful gaze followed me around the room until I stopped mopping and came over. She had fit her large shepherd body onto a piece of AstroTurf along the far wall. I couldn't tell if she missed laying on grass or wanted a little private space.
Since her eyes were open I decided to go visit. I'm so glad I did. Bridgett lifted her sugar face up and calmly gazed at me. I took that as a green-light and sat down on the floor. We chatted.
When you look at an old dog, what do you see? Do your eyes go straight to any obvious deformities or unusual features, the grey muzzle, or white whiskers?
Is your focus on what they look like, or who they are? When I see an old dog my impression is built from the ground, up.
Starting at their feet, I'm checking out their mood and posture. Does their body language tell me that they want my company, touch, or attention? My first impression begins with their attitude. Like older people, old dogs don't have time to waste on stuff they are not in the mood for, and will not pretend.
If they prefer a nap to a walk, you know.
Military veterans need our support. Homeless dogs need our compassion. An Arkansas veterinarian is using his experience and position to help both.
What started as a chance encounter between dog and veterinarian has developed into a close-knit relationship and mission to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to get unconditional love from a service animal.
Dr. Zepecki besides being a veterinarian, is a veteran himself. In 2008 a dog came into his practice with severe wounds. The vet cared for the dog for many months and eventually adopted him. It was only while treating the emotionally traumatized dog that Dr. Zepecki realized he himself had been dealing with PTSD for decades with the help of his canine patients.
About seven years ago he started the process of finding out he could help fellow veterans and rescue dogs. He created an association that provides service dogs for veterans. They have helped almost a hundred veterans find service dogs so far.
Watch the video below, then read the inspiring story here.
When my dog got into her old age years, I noticed. I listened to her creaky joints when she would get up from a nap. She would step out or off of one of her beds, then slowly stretch her long Husky Shepherd legs out behind her, until her toes flared. My eyes went wide in surprise, the first time I heard her joints make small popping noises like my toes do sometimes.
I had more firsts with her the next several years. Looking back now, I'm seeing her movement into old age through changes in my own body. Previously I had seen my 80 year old mother in my dog's aging process, now I see myself.
Some people are born animal lovers. My mom described herself as a "horse crazy" child. I have loved everything about dogs for as long as I can remember.
Minding our family's dogs brought out the caregiver in me, and taught me responsibility. Tender moments together when they got older gave twelve year old me a chance to learn compassion and empathy.
Experiencing the special connection that's possible between a person and a companion animal is something unique, and for many, life changing.
This year, the British Columbia SPCA is celebrating that special human-animal bond with three different ads...all heartwarming and lovely.
“Our animals don’t see our flaws or shortcomings- they love us as we are, unconditionally, which is a pretty amazing gift,” said BC SPCA general manager of community relations, Lorie Chortyk.
We cannot deny how dogs and cats have moved into a very special place in our lives. Honestly, given the stresses in the world today, companion animals play an even greater role. They can provide a necessary, healthy balance to what worries us.
This unique bond we share is fascinating, made more so, because of the increase in scientific studies being done. People want to know how dogs work, how they understand the world, how they learn, and why do most of us in the western world consider them as family.
However, if we're already a dog lover, I think most of us are happy with our human and dog symbiosis. We don't need scientific research to tell us why we feel so good when we cuddle on the couch together, or play ball at the park. We only care that our best friend is healthy, and content.
What do you think?
Watch all three videos > here < via BC SPCA.
Maybe it's my own old bones talking, but I care a lot about senior dogs. At first, I thought my feelings were due to having my own old dog at home but she passed away almost two years ago. Then I thought it was because of my own rapidly aging parents, and watching their approach to life. But with all of them gone now my caring about old dogs hasn't diminished at all, in fact I care even more!
Why Caring For Old Dogs Matter
When I spend time with an old dog, my empathy for their lumps and bumps is real. If I see one dealing with poor vision, I find myself cleaning my smudged glasses in solidarity. Take an old dog for a walk, and savor their slow and measured pace. It's the perfect balm to impatience.
Bonus from Volunteering
When an old dog smiles with joy it feels like you just won a special prize. If one is feeling grouchy because of an ache, you'll find out fast. Old dogs are very present with their emotions. Spending time with them each week, I benefit from these mini-lessons and go home a better person.
When we care about, and for, old dogs, our lives are enriched as much as theirs. It's that simple.
Hey, the dogs with webbed feet were ringers! Service dogs who work with Invictus athletes had an informal dog paddle swimming contest to end this year's games in Orlando, Florida.
The 2016 Invictus Games took place May 8-12 in Orlando. Prince Harry, himself a veteran, created the Games in 2014 for servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injuries, both visible and invisible. The prince was on hand for the dogs' impromptu event.
I'd like to see the federal government do more to help our veterans suffering traumatic brain injuries, depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts: Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans. As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans. 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
We have too many veterans suffering, and dying, who deserve our help after serving our country.
We already know pet dogs play a valuable role. Mine uncovered missing items, made me feel protected, got me out of the house, introduced me to my neighbors, listened to my problems, and made me laugh when I was feeling blue.
Imagine what highly trained service dogs are capable of, and the immense benefit they can offer our injured servicemen and women?
Dogs and PTSD - PTSD: National Center for PTSD
New studies focus on service dogs and PTSD - Military Times
Over a Quarter-Million Vietnam War Veterans Still Have PTSD - Smithsonian Magazine