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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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 #❤️

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: I see you, you old dog!

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.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com
Coco Chanel

If they prefer a nap to a walk, you know.

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The positive influence old dogs have on managing our own aging process

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.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

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.

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Older dogs can help you meditate and relax

With my first senior dog I discovered that older dogs can help you meditate. Spending our days together, I experienced real moments of complete relaxation and peace. Was it her zen-like personality, or as an older dog did she know something I didn't?

Look at her expression! Not sure about you but my heart rate is slowing just looking at her photo...

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

5 Reasons Older Dogs Help You Relax

  1. Soft snuggles rule and induce the production of endorphins
  2. Destructive puppy phase is long past, they're way more interested in just chilling
  3. Older dogs enjoy laid back walks more than marathon hikes or runs
  4. They can show you what aging gracefully looks like
  5. Feeling her absolute trust is incredibly empowering

If you are looking for a way to counter the stresses of the world, or need your own live-in yogi, consider an older dog. 

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Let an older dog teach you about life

As my friend says, adopting a senior dog isn't hard because you get to write the final chapter of their life. Isn't that a great approach? Rather than letting fear or sorrow motivate you, choosing to bring an older dog into your home and life in order to have your love and care be the last experiences they have is just wonderful.

You can't make old friends. Experiencing life with our own senior dog taught us a lot.

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Whether you have a dog who is approaching their senior sweetheart years, or you are thinking about adopting an older dog, here are some of the life lessons an older dog can teach you: 

  • Older dogs show you how to savor naps. No more 20 winks! Learn to let the wash of serenity soothe your spirit.
  • When you slow down to enjoy the sights and smells of a walk you often make new discoveries, even in your own backyard!
  • As they age, senior dogs love and appreciate feeling protected and nurtured as much as any puppy
  • None of us know what we will experience after we leave this earth, but feeling the steadfast fellowship of another being as we go forward is something we all would cherish
  • Living in the moment and focusing on the simple pleasures found around us each and every day is a gift, and something older dogs know well.

What has an older taught you about life?

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How adopting a shelter dog challenged and changed me

I wonder how many people are surprised by the positive influence a shelter dog can have on them. It's Adopt A Shelter Dog Month and since my dog Cleo was adopted from our local shelter, the San Francisco SPCA, I thought I would share what the biggest challenge was and how she changed me.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

 

Biggest challenge to choosing adoption of a shelter dog? Fear

For me, probably the biggest challenge of adopting a shelter dog was the fear. I was fearful of the unknown. You have to trust that the people running the animal center, the shelter, and the humane society are making sure the big dogs they offer for adoption aren't going to rip your face off while you sleep. Okay, that is a joke, but it kind of did cross my mind on our first night together because we chose to adopt a big Shepherd-Husky.

But you know what, I learned later on that being afraid is okay because I didn't let it stop me from acting. I am beyond thrilled that I chose to adopt a shelter dog. Look at us together!

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

How did adopting a shelter dog change me?

Choosing to not let my initial fear stop me from adopting Cleo, taught me about the power of trust. I learned how to trust my gut. I learned how to trust my relationship with my dog. I built on my history of love for dogs as a child, and forged a wonderful bond with this girl. Our life together and its many experiences changed how I viewed rescue dogs forever.

When we're ready, I will most certainly adopt a shelter dog again. And again. And again.

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Saying goodbye to our dog taught me how to bid farewell to my father

Saying goodbye to our dog taught me something about how I want to bid farewell to every loved one in my life.

This time of year in San Francisco is especially beautiful. The pink skies in the evening are filled with all sorts of clouds, while the mornings have a slight damp chill as the marine layer slowly pulls back its cover off of the city. Frequently, I find myself rising before dawn so that I can watch the city wake up. The quietude allows my thoughts to roam, most recently toward thoughts of loved ones and death.

image from www.grouchypuppy.comMy beloved Shepherd-Husky, Cleo, died a year ago, and it was tough on us to witness her decline in health. She was a big dog, robust and full of personality, until she wasn't. I saw her, again, and again, meet each new physical challenge, and win. She faced allergic reactions to foods, diabetes, seizures, blindness and dementia. It was a huge blow to suddenly realize that she was fading, that the grim reaper had his grip on her and wasn't letting go.

I had to let go, before she did.

A year before Cleo passed away, our vet told us we would know when it was time to say goodbye to her. He was right.

Watching her closely, getting down on the floor to see what life looked like from her eyes, and just spending quiet time together, I saw her decline. Her body was steadily deteriorating no matter how much I loved her.

Cleo loved exploring the sights and smells of the city. She was the mayor of our neighborhood. From shopkeepers to school children, everyone knew her. She was larger than life!

The look of joy on her face after she had pooped was priceless. Her posture erect, she'd proudly kick dirt back over her deposit, daring the next dog to top it. No wonder people thought she was a boy. More than a few times I took a few handfuls of dirt in the face while I bent to scoop her poop. She would look back at me grinning. I'm sure my laughter fueled her zealous display.

It was heartbreaking when Cleo began losing control over when she pooped. I saw her face when it just rolled out of her and onto the sidewalk. She stopped caring about an activity that had been her signature for years. Now her wobbly stance and loss of control, produced a dispirited expression.

I learned so much about myself and what "quality of life" means from this dog. As she came to the end of her life, I appreciated why we should not dwell on the past, or only focus on the future. She showed me how to be present, and to quietly embrace our time with loved ones.

When the time came to say goodbye to Cleo, I felt that I had done everything I could to be ready. I would only find out if this was true later.

A year has passed and I have the chance to lean on those experiences, to see how they stand up with the recent death of my father.

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More people understand how wonderful old dogs are

Stroll down the street in San Francisco and you will see people happily walking, or sometimes toting in a modified carrier, a senior dog. In my neighborhood, especially on weekends, I see people of all ages with an older dog on the end of their leash or in their arms.

The tide is turning and attitudes about older dogs are changing. Just look at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue on Rescue Row in San Francisco. They have saved and rehomed more than 3,000 senior dogs since 2007.

If one organization, in one city, can have that kind of positive impact, imagine as more cities and communities across the country focus on ensuring our senior sweethearts have a forever home.

More people are appreciating how wonderful old dogs are...

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Are you finding more people in your community loving a older dog?

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