A few things I've learned this year caring for older dogs at Muttville

I'm so thrilled Sherri Franklin was named a CNN Hero of the year for her work with Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. Her mission to raise awareness about old dogs languishing in shelters, and being seen as undeserving of having a good home, seems to finally be resonating with a wide audience. 

Seeing the many celebrities openly share their affection for old dogs on camera helps bring attention to these sugar faces. Empathy is learned. It's important to show how special senior dogs are, and why they deserve our care.

Every week while taking care of little guys like Shiro here, I have added to my studies about life and dogs. It has been an eye-opening learning experience.

image from grouchypuppy.com

Here are a few things I've learned caring about old dogs this year:

  • When you take care of an old dog, you might get repaid in kisses, warm cuddles, or just happy eyes
  • Taking an old dog for a walk can translate into you both trotting or actually running an entire city block
  • Old dogs enjoy quiet time and alone time, just like us, but it doesn't mean they don't want you around
  • Little old dogs can be very good at asking for attention, sometimes more effectively than their larger cohorts
  • Just because a dog is considered old doesn't mean they can't be as playful and silly as a puppy

Old dogs have been able to make me laugh first thing in the morning, something not many people have accomplished. If you get a chance to study with older dogs, and by that I mean spend some quality one-on-one time together, do it! You won't regret it.

It's been months since I've been getting up early to take the morning shift with Muttville mutts, and even when it was raining, I haven't regretted volunteering for a minute. I never know what my lesson will be each day from these furry old professors, and I love it!!

~ Sharon Castellanos

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Little old dog plays very big role in Bay Area dental practice

Dogs are amazing adaptable creatures. They enrich our lives in many ways, including easing our stress and lifting our moods. When you're a dog person, even if you haven't been around a dog since childhood, engaging and handling one can transport you to a place of familiarity and comfort.

Enter Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and a stray Papillon from the streets of Hayward, California scooped up in September...

When a dog at Muttville gets adopted their new life often starts with a different name, in addition to a new home, as part of the matchmaking process. In the case of Babs, the Papillon, her name changed after she was adopted by Dr. Garrett's mother, and then again after Dr. Garrett moved her mom into an assisted living home and Babs took on the role of dental comfort dog.

Here's a special interview with Bay Area dentists, Dr Cameron T Garrett DDS and Debra Garrett RDH who realized a little old dog could play a very big role in their dental practice. 

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Karma, making dental patients happier


They tell us repeatedly that having Karma there makes the whole dental experience that much better.

 

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How dogs can lift our mood, help us shake off stress

Something older dogs seem to have in spades is the ability to shrug off their troubles. Have you seen a dog shake off water? For me, that is the perfect visual of what it looks like. When my dog was uncomfortable, and then wasn't, she would shake her body like she'd just had a bath or had run out of the ocean.

This physical twisting and spinning of her big fluffy body looked like she was throwing off the stress of the moment. She shook off the stress in a vigorous shrug.

Spending time with Muttville mutts every week reminds me of this lesson from my dog. I'll see a dog get into the personal space of another dog trying to sleep. The resting dog will respond by getting up and moving away, or giving a short 'get away, you're bothering me' bark at the disturbance.

 

Whatcha doin? #sillydog #poodlesofinstagram #sundayfunday

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The rebuffed dog will get the hint, and move over to the side while he shakes off the stress from the moment. Depending on the dog, and my body language, he may decide that I will give him the attention he is seeking. 

Notice Arnold here? He was a master at not letting the stress get to him! He slid into any open space where affection and attention was being offered. I laughed out loud watching his eyes light up when he saw an opportunity across the doggy loft!

This is what I love about dogs, and volunteering at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. I get these little reminders of how simple it can be to move away from stress, and toward happiness. Dogs make great demonstrators of stress management, a skill we can use during the holidays and beyond.

What simple lesson has a dog taught you, or reminded you of that you'd forgotten?

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Dogs don't know what a holiday is, only that you're there with them

You know what's so great about dogs? They don't care about the holidays. Dogs don't know about Cyber Monday sales. They only see the new toy or smell the freshly opened bag of treats.

Dogs have a way of getting us emotional humans to focus more on their funny antics, and less on those door-buster commercials running on television. Sure, they'll sit next to us on the couch to watch You've Got Mail for the tenth time, but only to get the belly rubs.

 

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Matchmaking at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

When I arrive for my morning shift at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, I never really know who will be there to greet me. The older dogs that come through the doors are from many different backgrounds. They are in various stages of emotional and physical health. Some dogs pass through quickly, bunking in the doggy loft only a couple of weeks, other dogs get scooped up and placed in a foster home or adopted before I see them.

Whether a dog is there a day, or years, all of the dogs become part of the Muttville family. They are loved by everyone associated with the nonprofit. Maybe that is why I never really feel bad when a familiar dog disappears from the group? I know with certainty they are in good hands.

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Open the book "UNCONDITIONAL: Older Dogs, Deeper Love" and feel your heart soar!

I have been writing about dogs for awhile now, from the perspective of a passionate advocate, and as a guardian. For quite a few years, I have been talking about the many ways old dogs are important, and how they enrich our lives from first hand experiences with my own dog. This year I have been volunteering each week with Muttville Senior Dog Rescue.

You can understand why I was excited to get a chance to review the book, UNCONDITIONAL: Older Dogs, Deeper Love, by Jane Sobel Klonsky. If you haven't had the chance to have your life enriched by an older dog, the heartfelt words and images in this book could possibly send you straight to your closest rescue or shelter!

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If you have known the love and companionship like I have from a senior sweetheart, be prepared for a rush of warmth straight to your heart, as you go down memory lane. 

And get ready to shed a few tears. This is probably the longest I have taken to review a book filled mostly with pictures. I probably averaged four to six pages, or about three dog portraits, between tissues.

You can't help but shed a few happy tears witnessing the deep, heartfelt love on these pages.

Jane has done a wonderful job of illustrating why I love celebrating how the human-dog bond is demonstrated by dogs, and those who love them, across Grouchy Puppy. This poignant collection of essays and beautiful photos is a celebration of the special bond shared in each relationship.

If you want to introduce what it means to have a dog to a young person, get this magical book. If like me, you already love old dogs the most, then these portraits and essays will remind you why caring about old dogs is important. You get to write the chapter in their life!

For everyone else curious about why dogs, and older dogs are the best, let me share eight reasons, some described in this book, to open your heart to an older dog:

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Thanks Muttville! Caring for old dogs helps on the anniversary of my dog's passing

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. 
 
image from www.grouchypuppy.com
"Daisy and Sharon have an understanding"
 
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.

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What does 'fospice' mean for dogs and for you?

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.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

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.

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Summer school with senior dogs!

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?

 

A compassionate education courtesy of the dogs we love. #backtoschool #compassion #seniordogsrule

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Serial senior dog adopters stay focused on happy times together even after unexpected loss

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.

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An update to our Senior Dog Journey

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Helping older dogs live their final chapter knowing they are loved

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?

 

Joy on the other end of our leash @muttvillesf with Miss Pepper #adoptdontshop #❤️

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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. 

Learn more about Pepper, the adoptable cutie shown here. Throughout August, Muttville is waiving adoption fees to qualified adopters.

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Older dogs show us how to focus more on the present

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.

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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?"

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Empathy and Compassion: The role older dogs play

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.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com

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? 

 

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My Muttville Moment: Old dogs understand loyalty

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.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com
Mandy

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.

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My Muttville Moment: Big old dogs know about grace

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.

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Bridgett

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