Sweet Senior Girl: After Our Dog’s Diabetes Diagnosis

Four years ago I heard about diabetic alert dogs from Dee Bogetti. I knew how common it was for dogs to be diagnosed with Cushing's disease, but until my dog's own diagnosis, I really had no idea dogs could many older dogs become diabetic.

The Grey Muzzle Organization asked me to share our story about what life was like with an older diabetic dog. The following is a little about how we discovered her diabetes, and how we adjusted our life to keep our sweet girl living as vibrant a life as possible.

One lesson that still remains huge for me is how much our time together mirrored my diabetic father's experiences. I will be forever grateful to my sweet senior dog for opening my eyes to the similarities between her life with diabetes and my elderly father's. Thank you Cleo.

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Read more about how we handled our dog's diabetes diagnosis [...]

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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...


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

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Majestic canine art in San Francisco

San Francisco loves dogs and when you go for a dog walk, or explore the streets on your own, you will find canine images. The Mission District is home to lots of murals and street art of small and large scale. This majestic canine image was found a couple weeks ago, possibly part of the Clarion Alley Mural Project. Sometimes the artist's name is clearly shown but in this case we couldn't find it. Maybe it's the body language, but doesn't he remind you of Aslan, the noble lion and king of Narnia? 

Your Majesty!

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Maddie's Fund President Rich Avanzino will retire this summer

There are few people in animal welfare I admire more than this guy, Richard Avanzino. When I first started writing about dogs after adopting my first dog from the San Francisco SPCA, I learned about a man who fought for the life of a little dog named Sido. As the President of the SF/SPCA in 1979, Rich stood firmly against the current California law that allowed someone to “destroy an animal like a piece of furniture." Thanks in part to his efforts, the law was changed and Sido was given a second chance.

"San Francisco Superior Court Judge Jay Pfotenhauer ruled that the right to dispose of property after death does not extend to killing a living creature."

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There is no doubt if my big dog Cleo had been around at the time of Sido, she would have been euthanized, but fortunately perceptions and practices changed, thanks to the work of Rich, the SF/SPCA and Maddie's Fund. I will always be grateful to them.

Maddie’s Fund® announced that its president, Rich Avanzino, will retire this summer [...]

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Nine ways an old dog shows that they love you

It has been such a gift to have a dog grow old with me. Adopting her as an adult made our experiences interesting, and after our years together, I'm convinced that senior dogs rule. 

Spending time together I learned about her likes and dislikes. We discovered her favorite, over-the-moon, reward. Hint, liver or sardines, in either order, or even better, together.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com


Living with my first old dog had me experiencing life in a new and unexpected way, giving me a point of view that helped me better understand my aging parents.

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Senior dogs give love even when you don't ask

Last weekend, my husband and I were walking in Napa before breakfast. As we passed by the fairgrounds, I slowed down to watch a man slowly walking by the entrance with his pair of Shelties. They were beautiful dogs and in the distance their fluffy bodies reminded me of my beloved Cleo. I smiled at them and seeing our interest, the man made his way in our direction. Nudging my husband, I whispered to slow down. Hopeful that he was friendly and wanted to engage with us, I was thrilled when the stranger steered his dogs directly towards us.

He told us how he noticed our interested faces across the parking lot. I half-listened to him and immediately spoke directly to the dogs. They were soft and silky, playfully sniffing us and leaning in for some pets. They swirled around our legs, very happy and comfortable with our affection. The man told us the dogs were seven and nine years old but from their energy level you'd never have guessed. 

image from upload.wikimedia.org
How beautiful are Shelties?     Photo credit: Jenny2513

That pair of senior dogs knew what they were doing. These Shelties were giving us some much needed love, even though they didn't have to. You know, it's not the first time I have noticed that older dogs seem to know stuff that we don't, like when to offer affection to passersby. It happened the week prior as I walked to the store in my neighborhood.

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You too can find inspiration from strangers dogs

My canine muse is no longer under foot or snoring down the hall, but that doesn't mean she isn't working her magic by way of other people's dogs. 

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

Her presence is missed more than ever because now that the immediate grief is passing, we are talking about our memories of her.

We recently laughed and pointed down at some deep scratches on the floor saying, "Remember when Cleo would fly down the hall when you came home, then hit the couch and end up dancing around your legs?"

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Thanks to all the dogs we love...

We are a pack of dog lovers influenced by the dogs we love to be better people.

This week our Grouchy Puppy morning question on Facebook asked, "#ThankfulThursday We appreciate all the new dog loving friends we've made in 2014 because of our Cleo. Because of your dog(s), what's one new reason you're thankful this year?"

The following is how readers responded. In the comments below, I'd love to see what you're thankful for this year[...]

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What's so special about a senior dog anyway?

If you want to know what pure love feels like, live with a senior dog. If you want to experience the friendship that Oscar and Felix from the Odd Couple had, live with a senior dog. If your idea of a best friend is the unquestioning companionship of a golden girl like this one here, then you have begun to understand what's special about loving an old dog.

Image from www.grouchypuppy.com



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Get Your Copy Now! "Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca"

I have written for years across Grouchy Puppy about all the many ways my own dog Cleo has taught me valuable lessons about growing old, and living in the moment. I've also shared many other dogs out there who give fearlessly, like the therapy dog who helps distressed children. Dogs are amazing creatures and the human-animal bond is something to behold.

Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham

A new book out today is about the incredible journey of Lucca, a real life canine warrior whose military service saved many lives overseas. She is an inspiration.  TOP DOG is the second amazing read by New York Times Bestselling Author, Maria Goodavage.

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How to win friends and influence people

When you live in a big city like San Francisco, with a big old dog like we do, it's been a mission of ours to win over our neighbors. We want them to know that we care about them and the neighborhood.

Dale Carnegie writes, “Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.”

image from www.grouchypuppy.com

For a senior dog, or really any dog, based on our experience, we have a few ideas on how they might positively influence neighbors. We came up with four ways to turn the dial [...]

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Who else needs a really fun dog toy that you can make yourself?

What a great project and fun dog toy! This video was circulating on Facebook last month. They are calling it a bottle game in the video. Not only does the dog toy look simple to put together, the materials look easily sourced. Everyone with a dog who enjoys puzzles and treats will love this.

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We'd say "Senior dogs are awesome"

Every morning we ask a dog-related question on the Grouchy Puppy Facebook page. Recently we asked people how would they respond to someone who didn't believe having a senior dog in their life could be fun. Given how wonderful our older dog is, and how fun she makes life, it was inspiring to read the many answers. 


Do you have a senior dog at home too? Have you had to correct assumptions that your older buddy wasn't fun anymore? What did you say?


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