Have you ever noticed how some dogs smell like a stuffed animal?

When I was three years old my parents rehomed an older dog. At the time, we lived in the high desert of Southern California, in a tiny town of cinder block houses. Her family knew ours and my mom thought the dog would fit in. She did, so much so that I stopped playing with my dolls and only wanted to be with her. She was a big, fluffy Samoyed dog who I believed needed me to brush her, every chance I could.

I could sit for hours on the dirty concrete in our car port, surrounded by potential playthings, and only care about her well-being in that hot arid climate. I felt so calm next to her dusty fluffy bear-like body. I would smile into her panting face. Why care that my doll could walk with a push of a button, when I had an open mouth breathing lion to care for? I had a wild beast as my best friend, who smelled like a stuffed animal.

We were inseparable. I never played with dolls again. When I look back fifty years later, I can see this was no coincidence but fate. I had been destined to be a dog lover.

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Enter Chispa. During a recent morning session volunteering at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, I met this lovely lady that you see here. In less than a minute, she brought back memories of my Samoyed. Softly petting Chispa between the eyes, letting her creep closer as she accepted my love, I felt a familiar warmth pass between us.

Without hesitation I leaned in to feel her fluff with my face. Not only did she let me, she closed her eyes and settled in for whatever else I had in store. Is my response common to other older dog lovers? Do we all have this imprint that stays with us? You read the phrase, "dog print on my heart" but this sensation I feel is at a molecular level.

My time volunteering at Muttville is always satisfying, but moments with dogs like Chispa are restorative. I hope someone out there with extra love finds her. She will repay you with the sweetest breath, the kindest eyes, and a quietude to balance the noisy world of today.

Thank you Chispa for taking me back in time.

Have you noticed the similar smell between a stuffed animal and a dog? When did you know you were a dog lover?

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Offer some affection to a senior dog, and your heart will get HUGE

What is so special about dogs, especially old dogs, is their ability to pull you out of a funk. You know, when you feel blue or maybe just out of sorts.

Dogs seem to do just the right thing, at the right time. It doesn't have to be a dramatic move, but it could be they simply need you to take them out to go to the bathroom or give them a few scratches in a place they can't reach.

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Dogs have a way of getting you to focus less on whatever is bothering you and more on them. Their sweet but steady demeanor reflects a serenity that can quiet the noisiest mind. 

Introverts would do well to spend time with a senior dog. Someone prone to depression could benefit from time with a dog.

What is so wonderful about a dog is the simplicity of your time together, and interactions. They love you without reservation. Their needs are not complex.

A dog has no hidden agenda or ego. They offer a pure form of companionship that can change your life for the better.

The hardest thing is quieting your own internal dialogue so that you can hear and understand what a dog is saying to you. 

If you can be quiet then no doubt you'll learn about how dogs communicate, and as you spend time with them don't be surprised to feel their positive influence

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You can feel TREMENDOUS when you spend time with senior dogs!

A little known secret in the medical and canine community is that older dogs have super powers. Yep, senior dogs have the power to heal you, to make you feel tremendous!

If you've never experienced life around an older dog, you might be skeptical of these claims, but hear me out. I am speaking from recent experiences with senior dogs, not just remembering my life with my old dog. 

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Look at this image above, and tell me you can't imagine how it must feel to get that many close snuggles at one time. Not frantic puppy love, but slow and steady warmth.

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Give your time to older dogs and get swamped by love!

Investing a few hours every week caring for older dogs at my local shelter is returning HUGE dividends. Senior dogs like Miller here, get straight to the point. 

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He tracked my gaze, watched me walk over to one of the dog beds, and saw I wasn't faking my interest in offering a belly rub session.

It's reassuring to have such a clear call and response with the dogs. I always leave feeling good, and believing that I'm a good judge of character.

It also just feels nice to show these sugar faces some deserving love while they find a new family.

If you're wondering about how to add some positivity to your new year, I highly recommend investing your time volunteering at your local rescue or shelter.

And if you're looking to add some senior sweetheart loving into your home, you can find Miller at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco. 

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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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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

A photo posted by grouchypuppy (@grouchypuppy) on

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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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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Older dogs offer you something special, often intangible

When you spend time with older dogs, it feels like you've been given a free meditation lesson. Hanging with Murphy here in the doggy loft at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, I literally could feel his soothing aura embrace me while I sat next to him on a bed.

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Older dogs offer you something special, often intangible.

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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 #❤️

A photo posted by grouchypuppy (@grouchypuppy) on

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.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com
Bridgett

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