Thoughts about old dogs, and a few special dog stories from 2019

As 2019 closes, I’d like to share a few dog stories from the doggy loft I visit every week on Rescue Row, in San Francisco. From my earliest years, dogs have been my favorite teachers, and best friends. This year, I’m particularly thankful for the optimistic attitude of dogs, in addition to their ability to be both simultaneously silly and affectionate. If I’m being honest, I’m still recovering from the massive invasion we had during the summer from Boston Terriers. Mostly though, I have finished many a volunteer shift with the oldsters feeling more inspired and calm than when I started. 

Enjoy these dog stories, and at the end, I’ve added a short list of inspired thoughts that came from another year helping in the doggy loft. Please share your own in the comments, and any special dog moments from your year, I’d love to read them - Sharon Castellanos 

Ay Chihuahua! Since I began volunteering in the doggy loft at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue three years ago, I have met more chihuahuas than I can count! They have been funny, scrappy, scared, fluffy, fat, skinny, silly, and shy. Boys and girls have expressed patience, frustration, crankiness and an unstoppable flow of affection. One little lady I met in January this year, Ginger Rogers, grabbed my attention and compassion all at once. She began her time with Muttville wanting attention while being left alone. She’d snap at people and other dogs alike if she felt like it. But she also could make you laugh out loud. I was on hand to help feed her breakfast several times and she would take turns eating, and lifting her tiny lip to snarl at me. When she was done, I would often be offered her butt for a brief soft scratch. This exchange brought me so much joy.

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Seeing her figure out how to be close to me, to show me her version of affection so soon, was heartwarming. Over many months, Ginger slowly blossomed, in her own unique way. I was on the receiving end of several tiny kisses, and a quick snuggle or three, before she fell in love with a member of the Muttville staff and went home. I’m so thankful she found a place like Muttville filled with people who gave her the chance and space to shed her worries and welcome in all the love and care she deserved.

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Fluffy dogs come in all makes and models. Having had the experience of living with, loving and caring for a small dinosaur, also known as a shepherd husky dog, I never really knew what Pomeranians, miniature poodles, papillons or corgis were all about. We get many of these dogs or blended fluffy versions coming through the doggy loft. Who knew fluffy dogs came in so many types and sizes? What has been a gift this year is getting a chance to experience these dogs. You get some really beautiful examples of true sugar faces from the darker fluffs. Also, I can’t tell you some of the funny expressions on these dogs faces just because of a little contrasting hair! If you ever watched Seinfeld, I’m describing some dogs who could give Uncle Leo’s eyebrows a run for their money. My dog had three layers of fur to shed, which gave me a chance to use many different types of grooming tools. I am happy to report that I have been fortunate enough to get a chance to have my share of brushing parties this year after breakfast, with many satisfied customers.

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The blind and wobbly. How endearing is it to have a dog get up and teeter over for some love from a stranger, first thing in the morning? I am astonished every morning I walk into the doggy loft and a blind or vision impaired dog works their way towards the sound of my voice and greetings. I mean sure, the smell of breakfast or the sound of metal food bowl would be one sure way to get any dog’s attention, but a loud lady chirping “good morning” and “how did you sleep” to mostly dogs she has never met, is a crap shoot for getting a blind dog to respond. All year I have been thankful for periodic reminders from these dogs to never give up, to persevere and to keep my sense of humor. They show me how to live each day to the fullest, and taking it slow is not a bad idea or anything to be embarrassed about. I love their joyful expressions, and appreciate their fierce displays of optimism!

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I am reminded this year that dogs are still one of my favorite sources of life lessons! Here are some thoughts and inspiration gained from dog encounters (mostly in the doggy loft) in 2019:

- Dogs are really good at teaching you how to take every ounce of compassion and affection that crosses your path.

- These incredible companions of ours show us what is important, and to move towards your goals one small step at a time.

- No matter how old or impaired you get, never lose your sense of humor!

- Don’t let distractions, like the sounds and smells of other dogs, get in your way. 

- Even if you can’t see exactly where you are going, keeping moving forward.

Oh, also naps are your friend, and learn to delete really old dog photos from your smartphone because no one needs over 15,000 of them at any given time.

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A final inspiring note from 2019: This adorable fluff came into Muttville and immediately showed us all why senior dogs really do rule. If you get a chance, stop by their website, visit them in person, or subscribe to their newsletter. You will read more dog stories and discover more about how to live life to the fullest by these sweet sugar faces and grey muzzles.

 

 

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Why older dogs? Imagine the experience of reminding them they’re loved 💞

Something I have discovered with adoptable senior dogs is the incredible feeling I get reminding these pups that people love them. That they are worthy of love, just give us humans a chance to show them.

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What I love about dogs is their ability to “let it go” as Elsa would sing. Who else do you know that can do this, at any age? Physically, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a big hefty dog “trust fall” over onto you for some belly rubs! My human family has to say their peace, and talk a blue streak, before they can come close to letting anything go. Our family dogs on the other hand, how fast can you say, “want to go for a walk?”

Trust Fall

There is something extra special about older dogs who are in need of love. It’s heartbreaking to see any older adoptable dog shut down. If I see an oldster in the doggy loft of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue with body language that says their love tank is on empty, then it will be my mission to take steps to lift their spirits before my volunteer shift is over.

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Celebrating dog adoption, big adult dogs, and a Grouchy Puppy muse

On the fifth anniversary of her passing, and ten years after we adopted her from the San Francisco SPCA, I’ve written a letter to my Grouchy Puppy muse. November is a big month here. November is Adopt A Senior Dog Month, in addition to these two auspicious anniversaries. Dog adoption, and adopting a big adult dog in the city changed my life in such a profound way, it felt right to send a virtual thank you to the shepherd husky responsible. 

Dear Cleo:

Thank you. It has been five years since you went on ahead, and though we miss you every single day, I have gained so much insight about people and dogs since your passing.

Image from GrouchyPuppy.com
Best Big Dog Ambassador Ever

I am so grateful we chose to adopt you. Our life together forever positively changed my views on dogs, what you can expect from life with a dog, and I realize that loss is not something to avoid or be afraid of.

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Gaining an older dog’s trust is slow but I am in no hurry 🍂

What’s amazing about adopting a old dog is the experience of gaining their trust.

There is something special, almost sacred about gaining someone else’s trust. When that someone is an old adoptable dog, the experience is out of this world. It can be life changing for both dog and person.

From my first meeting with an old dog in the Muttville Senior Dog Rescue doggy loft, I observe their manner. I watch each dog for signs of interest, or aloofness. I love these old timers but I am in no hurry or rush. No one wants to be overwhelmed when they are in a new place. My job as a volunteer, and as a human being is to remind these sugar faces that they are in a good place. We are on their side.

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Imagine how your life can change for the better when you adopt a dog

When you start thinking about having a dog in your life, it can be a simple decision, or a consuming series of scenarios. Having a dog is life changing. From your daily routine shifting to center around being, to your Instagram filling up with photos documenting every new experience together. I can still remember adopting my first dog from the San Francisco SPCA.

It helped me to have previous experience with dogs from my childhood, but not by that much in all honesty. The world is a different place from the 1970s and I found everything I needed in the dog community. The benefit to social media and to us being a nation of dog lover is that it didn’t take long for me to find answers to my initial questions, to find supplies, to learn about how to take care of a dog in the city.

Deciding to adopt a dog from a shelter turned into the best, and biggest decision I had made since deciding to get married. Seriously. I really felt everything shift around me after we brought our dog home from Rescue Row on that rainy fall night. Who knew in a few short years our life together would inspire the creation of Grouchy Puppy? I didn’t, but I did embrace wholeheartedly our new life and tried to live in the moment with her.

She introduced me to experiences that no one else can. Our dog human relationship was based on respect, and fellowship. We had our own girl club. As months went by, we learned about each other and probably unsurprising to dog behaviorists, we supported other. Receiving compassion from a dog is a unique experience.

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Our time together has informed my life ever since. When I walk into the doggy loft at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and meet a dog like Midnight, I am reminded of my girl. I can feel the pull from Midnight to spend time with her, to understand her, to appreciate her. Every dog is unique and individual. It is our job to uncover and celebrate their qualities. I can tell you from my experience that when you embrace a dog for who they are, life gets better. Your life together glows brighter. They share even more secrets and magical life lessons with you!

When you choose to adopt a shelter dog give them extra. Give them extra love, and time to get to know you. Give them extra patience to learn how to live in their new life with you. Give them extra reasons to trust you. When you set them up for success, when you trust they are doing their best, that their intentions are pure, your heart will thank you. Your life will glow with goodness and light. A dog who believes in you will only make you a better person.

Midnight reminded me of all these things in our short time together. Imagine what you can learn, how your life can change for the better when you decide to adopt a shelter dog?

Learn more about Midnight, a beautiful adoptable from Muttville: https://muttville.org/mutt/midnight-6052

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My big beautiful reward from a pit bull dog

One of the reasons volunteering at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue is worthwhile for me is the education I receive. Each week there is a lesson related to dogs, palliative care for old dogs, myths about dog breeds, or what life is like with a dog.

Last week, I was reminded about how easy it is to make assumptions when around pit bull type dogs. A very sweet old lady, Gemma, was in the doggy loft when I arrived for my morning shift. She’s a big girl with a steady gaze. I blinked first.

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I love all dogs and it surprised me that I reacted to her with even a millisecond of nervousness. My verbal greeting was met with a hoarse bark but no wagging tail when I arrived. With her block head and solid body, I wasn’t sure how to engage with her.

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Ten (10) of the most common things said to dogs first thing in the morning

It’s been over three years since I began showing up for morning volunteer shifts with the senior dogs, and it still never gets old. Ha! These old timer jokes write themselves when both the dogs and the volunteer (ahem, that would be me) are on the older side of life. Yes, the dogs are old but helping them start their day off right is very enriching, for both of us.

image from www.grouchypuppy.com
Good Morning! How did you sleep?

Something I've noticed over time is that the dogs coming through the doggy loft may change but many of the conversations remain the same. I certainly have noticed a pattern to some of the morning rituals and remarks passed between dog and volunteer. It can be quite endearing to see new volunteers be surprised at how fun the morning shift can be, and how relatable the oldsters are. 

The following are the ten most common questions or exchanges, I say or overhear (!!) on my mornings at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue:

  1. I don’t have anymore sweetheart.
  2. Oooh, what's your story little one?
  3. How’s that? Does this feel good?
  4. Hmmm that’s some pretty wicked morning breath you got there buddy!
  5. Ahhh, look who’s sleeping in this morning 
  6. Shh don’t tell, here’s a little extra piece of chicken
  7. Good morning! How did you sleep last night?
  8. Do you like to be picked up? You do! Okay, let's go look outside and see what everyone is doing this morning!
  9. Hey! More poop?! Didn't you just come back from a walk? Lol
  10. Whoa, man! That’s a whole lotta backwash in your water bowl

I love seeing new volunteers embrace these senior sweethearts and their morning routines. For some it is their first time spending meaning moments with an older dog. I spoken to a few about the similarities between these dogs and their grandparents. We laugh together and I believe many of the younger volunteers take away experiences that reinforce compassion for the elderly, and for animals overall.

Can you guess which comments or exchanges were from me? How many of these or similar questions do you have with your own dog? 

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Reasons why we should love old dogs

Why do I love old dogs so much? This is a fair question given how popular puppies always are. While I have nothing against puppies they are just not for me. Their high energy and constant need for education and monitoring is exhausting. I love all dogs very much which is why puppies keep me in a constant state of worry over their development and care. By the very fact they are in this stage of growth, any mistakes or bad habits they develop thanks to me, are mine to deal with at a later date.

Given all that described potential stress, you might guess that I have never had children or been a school teacher. I’m also the youngest amongst my siblings so my supervision skills are strictly based on managing a few people, or the occasional project at work, not the best skill set for taking on the responsibility of a puppy. However, older dogs are a whole different beast. To begin with, there is my absolute love for the oldsters.

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Having experienced my own dog going through her golden years, the affection I feel for seniors is deep. Spending weekly volunteer shifts at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue has confirmed my love for the sugar faces is not limited to my own dog. Big ones, little ones, blind ones, deaf ones, three-legged ones, terminal ones, I absolutely love all these old dogs, and I am here to tell you why!

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It ain’t easy being a big adoptable older dog

Given my personal experiences, I might have to confess to having a special place in my heart for adoptable big older dogs.

The bigger the dog, the bigger the love? For some of us, it sure can feel like you’ve been hit by a ton of bricks when you feel the love and affection and attention from a big dog like Hamilton or Nikki. When they gaze into your eyes you want to always have the right answer to their questions. If they want to go for a walk, you want to say yes. If they want a little taste of your hotdog, you want to say yes.

Thank you Muttville

When I learned that the guardian for Hamilton and Nikki passed away, which is how they found their way to Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, I felt a rush of compassion for this pair of big dogs. They are big hunks of love and they know how to engage with people.  

The morning when I arrived at the doggy loft, and took these photos, I laughed when I saw how Hamilton convinced multiple volunteers to take him for walks, while Nikki napped and lazily greeted newcomers with big head butts of fluffy affection and tail wags.

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They had thoroughly worked their magic on us all. Now they are in loving homes but their story is a wonderful example of how, even in the big city, giving a big dog another chance at a loving home is worth it.

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Thank you Muttville Senior Dog Rescue for stepping up for these big older dogs, who still had a lot to share with us humans about why dogs make life better, and why yes, sometimes the bigger the dog the bigger and heavier the loving affection.

My big dog may have crossed over but these encounters are wonderful reminders of why we fell in love with her and what an incredible opportunity she gave us. I’m still grateful for her many lessons and experiences together, unique to life with a small dinosaur.

If you get a chance to have a big adopted dog in your life, I hope you’ll consider it.

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Lessons learned from dogs and my biggest mistake made I still feel guilty about

Have you ever done something to a dog, that years later, you still feel bad about? Maybe the biggest mistake I made when we adopted our first dog was six months after we first brought her home. I can still remember every detail and this moment happened over ten years ago. All I can say is, thank goodness dogs don’t hold grudges, and are predisposed to living in the moment. Sure, I can make excuses to let myself off the hook but I decided it was better to focus on learning from the experience and appreciate her ability to teach me such an important lesson.

The short version of this story is that I assumed (yep, big mistake right there) that because we’d only had adopted her six months ago, and because she was a dog, staying with another dog, in the home of a dog trainer, that she wouldn’t miss us. I was wrong. Very wrong. I didn’t know that she could, or would, bond that quickly with us.

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Why dogs are adoptable and why we embraced the word ‘surrender’

We fell so hard in love with our adopted dog that within months of bringing her home, it felt like she had been with us forever. I remember staring at her wishing I had known her as a puppy. I dreamed up scenarios of her life before us. We exhaled in her presence, as if we’d been holding our breaths expecting her to disappear, as if she was too good to be true. She was about five years old and perfect. It took no time before it was clear she was the missing piece to our family puzzle. She plugged herself into our life and home completely and seamlessly. I pinched myself every time she walked into a room, or I walked in the front door and saw her big fluffy face.

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Owner surrender

Adoptable dogs become adoptable for a bunch of reasons. They are often picked up as strays. Sometimes their person passes away, or their family is moving somewhere and can’t take them and the dog is taken to a shelter or rescue. Many of the Muttville Senior Dog Rescue dogs were strays or surrendered for some reason.

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Discover why senior dogs rule and caring about dogs matter: Meet Ginger Rogers

Is it true that like attracts like? I do find myself pulled towards certain older dogs when I enter the doggy loft each week at Muttville. Sure, some are just so outwardly engaging that most dog people would notice them and respond. I certainly greet all the dogs with happy good mornings, followed by questions about their night. I try not to wake any who want to sleep in, or generally disturb any of the dogs who just don’t do mornings. Not everyone is perky first thing, and that includes dogs.

Spice Girl or Spicy Dog

There is a dog that has been with Muttville longer than usual who I find relatable in a million ways. She is what is called “spicy” or rather, she can snap at you if you’re not watchful. What I love about her is that I get it. I can relate to the desire to react negatively or at least guardedly to others. She’s wary, but at the same time I can see her desire to engage. I can see her body language trying to communicate that she wants to be pet, but just in a certain way and for a certain length of time. If those planets don’t align, then forget it.

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She needs to call the shots and that’s okay

I have a strong feeling that Ginger Rogers is a wonderful little dog who just needs someone who gets her. Someone who maybe has their own particular set of rules, therefore appreciates and respects hers. She needs someone who respects her individual nature but also appreciates it and will accommodate it...maybe even enjoy it. She needs patience. I used to enjoy seeing my big dog tell other people when they were doing something wrong. She told them when they weren’t petting her properly, or when they were too loud near her.

Ginger Rogers is a sweet old lady. I know she will find her person. I’m glad she has Muttville in her corner.

From Muttville:

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Do you have a social contract with your dog?

Before we adopted our first dog, I told my husband that having a dog, especially an older dog we didn’t know meant we were taking out a social contract with the dog. For me, choosing to bring a dog into my home and family is something I take serious, because I believe loyalty goes both ways.

People talk about what loyal companions dogs are but they deserve loyalty too. So when my husband was ready to have a dog, I made sure he understood what intentions would be and what my part in the relationship would look like. I explained that any adoption meant that I was agreeing emotionally, financially and spiritually to commit to this dog forever. Til death us do part. 

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And when we finally adopted our dog from the San Francisco SPCA, that night, I literally looked her in the eye and shook her paw, saying I will do my best to set her up for success and give her the best dog life she could have in the big city. I promised her that I would try to never let her down, to not take her for granted, and to appreciate her dog qualities, for as long as she gave us. We had nine incredible years together that I believe were made indelible because of this social contract.

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My Muttville Story About Adoptable Tag

What is it about big dogs that I love so easily? Is it their large body proportions? Their often out-sized personalities? This week when I met a new big shepherd-like boy at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, all of my empathy responded to his presence.

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This dog came at me as soon as I entered the open doggy loft. He thrust his big plush head into my lap to say pet me. So I did. His thick fur was rich. I immediately smoothed his face and cleaned his eyes, telling him with my hands and expressions that he is loved, and in a safe place.

Some people get nervous when a big dog isn’t shy about telling you that they need and want you. This dog’s body language said he was open but wasn’t a pushover. He let me kiss his face, and enjoyed some cuddling but he wasn’t lazy about it. He seemed to orchestrate how you could engage with him, as if he was saying, “I want you to pet me, only right here, not there, and like this.”

He reminded me of when we first met our newly adopted dog. She was a big fluffy girl who acted very open and willing, but only to the untrained eye. In reality she was just showing you that her confidence in herself allowed people she barely knew to engage with her. But as we learned over time, she knew what she was doing and if you did something she didn’t like, you knew it.

Tag, the big shepherd boy, was showing me similar signs. What I hope to communicate to anyone interested in adding him to their home is this lesson. Trust him. Love him. Set him up for success, and he will be your fiercest buddy and confidante.

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From Muttville:

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Can you believe we began Grouchy Puppy a decade ago?! 😳

Happy New Year dog lovers and Grouchy Puppy peeps! It’s storming here in San Francisco and it seemed like the perfect time to sit indoors with a cup of tea and return to writing blog posts. 

Have you seen or heard about the #10YearChallenge on Facebook or Instagram? Quite a few adorable side-by-side photos of dogs growing from puppy to adult have filled our news feed. Ten years is a long time and for most people and pups, it’s hard not to see significant changes, though I swear some of the dogs at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue do not seem aged at all.

So this challenge had me looking back at old blog posts and I realized that Grouchy Puppy is ten years old. Can you believe it?! The oldest post I have saved is over on Cleo’s blog because this is where it began, with my overwhelming love and new life with this enormous, fluffy, adopted dog from the San Francisco SPCA — a dog who people thought was a wolf and a boy! 

Today, January 17th, ten years ago, inspired by my dog and our new life together in the big city, I launched a blog and website. The posts and site have ranged from simple, funny, and deep, but always devoted to the human dog bond. Take a look in the archives and you will see what I mean...

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I didn’t even use any photos of her yet, just this sentence that I imagined she would say based on the look she gave me after she did the dramatic drive-by around the foot of our bed. Hahaha, dogs are such expressive creatures! Every week at Muttville, there is at least one dog whose face or body language is speaking volumes about how they feel or what they want to do, or don’t do. I love deciphering or at least trying. 

MAGIC

When I look back, is it any surprise the first blog post is titled Magic? For me, all dogs are magic. I’m as passionate today as I was ten years ago about dogs, and our unique connection with them. I am fascinated by the evolution of our relationship. With that in mind, I am thinking about how to celebrate this wonderful decade Grouchy Puppy has officially been in existence. 

#GrouchyPuppy10

How does a giveaway of some fun dog books sound? To celebrate ten years of all things Grouchy Puppy, I have some ideas but would love to hear from you instead. We have 11 months for festivities!!

Share any and all suggestions in the comments below, go to the Contact tab above, or send your email to info@grouchypuppy.com — or use hashtag #grouchypuppy10 and Tweet or Instagram us your ideas! 

Thank you for sharing our dog-filled journey!

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