I love the smell of dogs. There, I said it, and I mean it.
Am I alone in this? I hadn’t thought before that something I was badly missing after the passing of my big fluffy dog would be her smell. Her thick Husky Shepherd triple coated fur smell. She had smelled like my beloved childhood stuffed bear who I took naps with and whose plastic nose I chewed. I still have that now fifty year old panda bear.
Today, coming home from my morning with the oldsters at Muttville, I silently kept noticing the smell of the dogs on me. I could see their hairs on my black yoga pants but I also got little whiffs of scent every time I shifted in my bus seat. And I loved it!
If you know anything about Grouchy Puppy you know that it began (and continues!) thanks to our adopted rescue dog from the San Francisco SPCA. Since her passing, I’ve gotten more involved with helping the sugar faces at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue find their new matches so they can have the best final chapter of their life.
You can imagine then how happy I was to get the chance to review an early copy of a new book filled with stories, life lessons, and advice related to adopted dogs and those who love them.
We are a nation of dog lovers and as someone who fell in love with a shelter dog, I know I am not alone in my appreciation for what these special dogs have to offer us. In the book, Rescued, by author and journalist, Peter Zheutlin, there is story after incredible story showing how the dogs in animal shelters are not always broken, that they can become your new best friend, teacher, exercise buddy or confidante.
Every chapter in this book is a reminder of how bringing dogs into our lives can make us more empathic, compassionate people. Both the stresses and joys we experience together can have a positive influence. I experienced that first hand with my adopted dog, and now I get weekly reminders volunteering with the oldsters at Muttville.
This book has all the heartwarming stories dog people tell each other, but it also has a great collection of pragmatic life lessons, experiences and perspective. The stories you’ll read are valuable to anyone thinking about having a dog.
Shelter dogs are not broken, and most often just need the right person to appreciate who they are and what they have to offer. Much of successful dog adoption involves the art of matchmaking. Dogs, in all their dogginess, have so much to offer us humans if we just pay attention.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, Rescued:
Our Dogs Are Not Our Children: How anthropomorphizing our dogs can lead to unrealistic expectations of their behavior
What is the number one responsibility when you have a dog? This can be answered with specifics but also with general notions such as setting them up for success. That was the mantra we heard when we adopted our dog from the San Francisco SPCA.
We posed this question to our Facebook community and their big concern was safety which I couldn't agree more with! When you choose to have a dog you're taking on the role of guardian. This means you guarding them, as much as they may be guarding you.
Keeping a dog safe includes have secure harnesses and leashes that don't break. It means being watchful and insuring your dog can't bolt out into a busy street or charge through an unsecured screen door. Good training as well as safe barriers protects everyone from tragedy.
Safety means watching out for chicken bones on walks, keeping toxic foods away from inquiring snouts, and making sure they get regular vet check ups.
Setting a Dog up for Success
Keeping your dog safe is tops, because that includes their health and wellbeing for as long as you are their guardian. But we'd add to that the notion that it's your responsibility to set them up for success.
I have met emotional support dogs and understand why you would feel calm having a dog close by at all times. Whenever I volunteer at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, the dogs turn any frown upside down.
Our family dogs not only made me feel safe and protected, but on many occasion they also calmed my adolescence. I could turn to any one of them when I needed to redirect my anxiety over family squabbling.
How did the stress of growing up in a turbulent household diminish?
Dogs wanted to play with me. Playing together distracted me for hours from our family worries. And with dogs, there was always poop to be picked up or bedding to be cleaned. They enjoyed learning and eagerly gave me all their attention if I wanted to work with them. Anyone with a dog who loves to fetch knows how easy it is to pass hours tossing a ball. If I wanted to have a dog even just sit next to me and listen to my worries, one of them always would.
Dogs have always been excellent at distracting me. Is there a certain dog gene I carry that makes me susceptible? Is this why someone would visibly and physically respond to a dog they don't know?
This ability to distract and engage my attention so completely continues with dogs I meet at Muttville. Each week, whether I am surrounded by new dogs, or dogs I met previously, they still offer a unique calming effect on my demeanor.
I can understand the role emotional support dogs play. Just look at Oscar's face in this photo, he's showing you how to thoroughly enjoy a walk!
When you look at a dog's face how does it make you feel? What about a dog's relaxed body language? When they smile do you return the look?
Endless belly rubs. Long bouts of toss the squeaky toy or playing keep away. Cuddling and tussling around with Rugby, the senior beagle, honestly was a little overwhelming at times.
Why? Because he never tired of me. Even my own dog at home got tired of me at some point, and would walk away into another room. This dog seemed to have unlimited energy, plus a steady need and desire to engage with people. If you walked away at any time, he would just get up and trot over to someone else.
As an acknowledged introvert, I could see how this little guy would be perfect for my community. He radiated interest, affection, and an honest joy of just being with you. If you had the energy to play, he would too. If you wanted to sit next to him and snuggle for one minute, or ten, he would too. He sensed your rhythm and worked with it to his advantage, and ultimately mine.
Have you ever thought about how certain dogs might be perfect for introverts?
I expect many people would believe all dogs are perfect for introverts but I think that is too simple. I would think that a dog's individual personality would have a lot to do with it too. For example. I don't think puppies are very good at all for introverts. Their energy is usually too manic and unfocused. Their sense of awareness is still unshaped.
If I was to use a broad brush, I'd say senior dogs are almost always perfect for introverts. All of the ones I have ever known have made sure I got outside, engaged with people, and generally focused my thoughts on the good that's out there. They calmly reminded me that it's worth it to keep giving fearlessly to the world. There are worthwhile people, causes, and dogs out there.
What do you think? Have you experienced a dog giving fearlessly like Rugby?
In our hurry up, I'm always late world, spending time with an older dog can be the perfect counterbalance.
Time together may help you gain a thoughtful approach to the next hour of the day, or maybe the whole week ahead. After a few one-on-one minutes with an older dog, I have left motivated and empowered, focused more the softer side of life.
When I met Sarge, all I saw was a big handsome dog who had the sweetest manners. His sugar face spoke of a gentleness and thoughtful personality. I never would have guessed that this dog had been thin, filthy and unloved.
It's moments like these that get my imagination going. I think about the thousands of available adoptable dogs, each with their own unique stories. Each dog offers a new family the chance to learn something powerful about themselves. My own adopted dog positively influenced our lives from the day she arrived.
Choosing to adopt an older dog can bring you greater awareness about your own weaknesses, and strengths.
When I adopted my big old dog, she began as a reserved lady. Similar to Sarge, she was under-weight from stress but somehow maintained unbelievable table manners. I wouldn't have blamed her for gobbling food or trying take anything that might give her some comfort.
My empathy for her emotional health allowed me to approach our new life together in ways that kept us on a path of wonderful discoveries. She, like Sarge, blossomed under the steady warmth and love being offered every minute of every hour. I didn't know if she'd ever fully look to me as trusted family, but she did, and that is a feeling I will always cherish.
We shared a mutual joy discovering how to communicate with each other. When I'd introduce a word or phrase for something, maybe a food she'd never had before, both our eyes lit up when she learned. The satisfaction you get when you set a dog up for success in their new life with you, in a new forever home, is immeasurable.
Imagine the shared joy of discovery
When I look back on adopting our dog, it makes so much sense now. We discovered how much we loved giving a dog the chance of a happy final chapter in their life. We had moments of mutual joy that is special between humans and dogs. Just getting to know each other brought us both to laughter. Yes, dogs laugh!
If you're a curious person, love dogs, and enjoy discovery then consider adoption. Head to your local shelter, humane society or breed specific rescue, or find them on social media tonight!
Last week I met a new Muttville mutt named Greta. She is a german shepherd, all legs, and currently skin and bones. Given our immediate mutual affection, I have a feeling she'll be plumping up soon. I can still smell the after-breakfast chicken treats I gave her on my fingers.
Having had a large Shepherd-Husky dog, I was drawn to Greta as soon as I saw her fuzzy gangly body. She loped across the doggy loft as soon as the door opened and I wheeled in the yellow cleaning bucket. Her concerned brown eyes locked on my movements, tracking the mop to the bucket and back to the floor. I was glad to see she was not spooked by my morning cleaning of the loft.
After the year I've spent volunteering at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, and experiencing the amazing personalities of small older dogs for the first time, I know what my future is going to include.
If my bones are shaky, we'll walk slow. Whether on my lap, or next to me on the couch, we can gossip and debate whenever the mood strikes. We can be each other's alarm clock, and reminder to get up. I might even call my little senior dog Siri.
Yes, like Sarah Lilly, my future self plans to grow old and cranky with a little dog always by my side:
Sarah Lilly, who just turned 90, and her 12-year-old Lhasa apso-poodle mix, Katy, have been inseparable for nearly two years. They wake up by 7 each morning, eat breakfast, take a walk and spend much of the day lavishly doting on the other. When in their favorite recliner, for example, Lilly strokes Katy’s soft, tan, loosely curled fur, and the cuddly 12-pound dog expresses her appreciation with wet kisses.
“She’s such a blessing,” said Lilly, adding that before Katy came into her life she had become a homebody after being scared by several falls. Now, she takes Katy for at least two walks a day and to visit a neighbor caring for his ailing mother.
Read all the ways older pets can improve your health, or your parents health, in this wonderful story about Sarah from Ohio and The Dispatch.
I bet now you understand why I believe senior dogs rule.
Volunteering at a senior dog rescue has exposed me to all sorts of dogs arriving for different reasons. Some dogs are strays, others have the misfortune of having their person pass away unexpectedly. Everyone agrees that all the dogs are loved no matter where they come from, or why they are with us at this advanced age.
Something that gets people to dance around is the subject of dogs who get surrendered by a family. I've heard people take absolute positions on this. They feel that if you decide to have a dog then you better keep that dog no matter what. These people have little empathy or compassion for anyone giving up a dog.
I have a more nuanced response thanks to dogs like Otis.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!!