Category Archives: Older dogs

Living (and Dying) with Seniors

IMG_2078Viola is my seniorist senior dog in my pack.  We make exceptions for Viola at this age. She doesn’t have to go upstairs behind the gate when I go out. She doesn’t have to sit/stay to get her dinner.  She doesn’t even have to do anything to earn her good night treat – she’s earned it because she’s still with us.

Viola breaks my heart because I know one day, probably sooner rather than later, she will leave us and cross over the Bridge.  My goal right now is to keep her happy and comfortable.  We won’t be doing heroic procedures with her.  No surgeries. No miracle drugs. She has a DNR in my mind.

Viola gets all her needs met – monthly heartworm medicines, good quality food, comfy dog beds to sleep in (she no longer can get on the furniture even with her doggie stairs), love and attention.  The decision not to treat a chronic illness in a senior’s life is huge. In my last round of seniors, we treated every lump and bump and eventually there was nothing left to do but hold their paws and let them go.

Viola’s had some masses removed a few years ago that turned out to be cancerous – a tumor inside of a fatty deposit.  Recovery was hard for her. Now we figure she’s around 13 or 14 or even 15.  We’re just not sure but we know we’ve been blessed with her in our pack for the last 10 years.  Sometimes she sleeps so deeply I can’t even see the breaths move in and out of her lungs. Her legs aren’t running in fields of rabbits during these deep sleeps.  Her ears aren’t twitching at some dream butterfly landing softly on her head.  These are the sleeps that scare me and cause me to get on all fours and put my hand on her chest to see if she’s breathing.  I’ve had to desperately shake her awake a few times because I just could not tell.

The other day, I changed the linens on my bed and threw the dirty ones on the floor.  I watched her meticulously gather all the pillow cases, the top and bottom sheets and form a little nest for herself. She looked like she was in heaven, engulfed in the smells of the sleeping human she loves and the other members of the pack.  She would sleep in the bed every night until about six months ago.  A week later, the pile of dirty linens is still on the floor and she sleeps in them every night. I can’t bear to pick them up to wash until I have another pile for her to sleep in.

I believe she’s pretty blind now, at least in one eye.  She no longer can catch the bedtime treat like she used to so I put it in my closed hand so she can smell it and gently take it from my palm. The other dogs in the pack watch her like hawks to see if she drops the treat. They know they can find it before she could.

I think she’s had a good life at the Litt Palace of Puppy Love. I will continue to give her special privileges as the grande dame of the pack. I think if she could talk, she’d be in agreement with her DNR.

A Gentle Giant — Sampson’s Story

IMG_1708Have you ever had a giant breed? I am currently fostering this guy named Sampson.  He’s 138lb male.  I call him “My Little Pony.”  Or Sammy. Or Dude. Or Dudee.  Sampson is a handsome boy but he’s sad.  He’s maybe the saddest pup I’ve met.  He’d lived his whole life with his mom and a few weeks ago was signed over to us to find a new home.  His mom has terminal cancer and a lot of other medical issues.

Sampson is such a people dog.  He just wants to be with his people.  He’s not food motivated or toy motivated.  He’s people motivated.  Sam is a lover…maybe a cat in another life.  He has a little bit of joy rubbing his massive head all over your legs.  If he sits next to you and your are standing, he will lean in so he can be touching you.  If you stop petting him, his robustly giant nose will whack you to continue the stroking.  Besides the love, if you are welcoming a giant breed into your home you’ve got to understand their needs.  Sampson does go through eight cups of food a day…about 20lbs a week.  He loves snoozing on the couch but he also needs exercise!  If you are not a fan of drool, then the jowly Great Dane may not be for you.  Expect to fill up a lot of water bowls and to mop up water dribbles from every drink.  While he is a gentle giant, Sampson will challenge you so continual training is a must and honestly, not something he’s been exposed to a lot.

Yesterday was his first foray into open adoptions at a large Pet Store where we have weekly adoptions.  Usually we set up crates and sometimes pens if we have puppies either inside the store or in front of the store and people searching for a new pet wander around looking at the dogs and cats. We don’t have something large enough for Sampson so I set up a folding chair and had him with me.  Boy did he get a lot of attention!  People usually have initial fear reaction to him because of his size but then they are on the floor hugging him and scratching him and stroking him.  It made him happy to have all the attention.

IMG_1704Then something caught Sampson’s attention, a noise that was familiar to him.  His massive head tilted as he recognized the noise and he stood up and started to get very excited.  He wanted me to take him closer and then we understood what made him so overjoyed — a woman in a motorized wheelchair rounded the corner of the aisle in which we were camped out.  I saw light in his eyes and he dragged me over to the wheelchair where he was trying to climb into a startled woman’s lap. Sampson thought Mom had come to get him.  My heart broke for him.

Sampson, while extremely handsome, does not have great genes.  He’s got Anisocoria, or over-sized pupils and I’m convinced that he doesn’t see in detail.  Hence, he knew a motorized wheelchair but couldn’t see that the woman wasn’t his mom.  Ethical Great Dane Breeders will not breed a “Merle” dog because of the chance of having puppies with double Merle genes and a higher propensity for health issues like blindness, deafness and even stillborn puppies.  Predominately white is not a recognized coat color by the AKC either because of the genetic propensity for deafness and blindness.  But at seven years old, Sampson is considered an old man for a Great Dane.

Sampson is being offered for adoption through Mostly Mutts Animal Rescue in Acworth, GA.  Adoption fees are $175 and every applicant is carefully screened.  Our top priority is getting the best home for the dog that he will prosper and be successful in.  Do you have room in your heart and your home for this Great boy?IMG_1711



Hola Viola — Story of a Rescued Dog


This is Viola when we adopted her almost nine years ago.  Sorry for the terrible picture but this was from a phone nine years ago! She wasn’t in bad shape but she was definitely of the couch potato lab lineage (unlike Phoebe who was much taller and leaner and athletic).  She didn’t ever really play with the other girls — not interested in playing ball or chasing the other girls in the perpetual game of tag that went on in our backyard.  Viola was a gypsy!

Mostly Mutts told us that Viola was turned in because she kept breaking loose and taking over the neighbor’s pool. We experienced her wanderlust the first day we had her as she bolted out the front door and took off.  We hadn’t officially adopted her yet — we were fostering her!  I took off in my truck looking for her and found her in the new subdivision that backs up to my neighbors backyard.  She was in the middle of a makeshift dumpster that the construction workers had made wallowing in all their trash!  She was in hog heaven!

We wondered if she was the right dog for us because we couldn’t seem to keep her from getting loose.  The doorbell rang, she’d bolt out the front door.  She could run really fast on her short little legs and would run and run and run.  Every time we got near to her she would maneuver and keep running.  We learned that if we didn’t give chase she would just run down the street and come back and knock on our front door to be let in.  As she got older, her interest in what was outside that front door waned.  Now she rarely bolts from the front door. But when she does, she comes right back home.

We recently had to get her stairs for the bed.  She is able to jump into the bed, although it is getting more and more difficult for her.  She wakes up in the middle of the night and get off the bed.  Then she barks — we think she is disoriented and doesn’t know how to get back up with two human bodies and several dog bodies.  At first she wouldn’t use the stairs.  We tried them in several different places but the place that clicked for her was on Andy‘s side of the bed, basically where the pillows are.  She has a thing for sleeping on the pillows anyway (while we get scooched down to the middle of the bed).

Viola’s always been the dog that the puppies and younger dogs go for.  They like to sleep on her and snuggle her.  Sophie the Jackahuahua is never far from the warmth of Viola. Viola_and_Sophie16850_1366237840731_1375207069_1009455_5953740_n_2She is very snugalicious.  Viola has always, until lately, snuggled with me in my chair in the family room.  Usually with Sophie on top of her or wedged between me and Viola. Now, she hardly jumps up on anything.  Sometimes when she is just standing her legs splay out from under her.  She says that it is ok though because she really did want to lay down and take a nap.

But there are two things that liven her up.  One is the dog park.  She must run and run and run and visit all the humans.  In one dog park we frequent, they have named her the mini M&M because there is usually a choco lab of regular proportions there making Viola look even more shrunken!

The second is swimming. She does LOVE the water and is always anxious to go to her favorite place to stay, Gone to the Dogs, a great bed and biscuit that my friend Eileen Francis runs in Kennesaw GA.  Eileen has a pool for the dogs to swim in and Viola is always the first in and the last out!

Viola just went for her annual check up and had a large mass removed from her paw.  We called it her potato.  She has another “fatty deposit” in the muscle around her rib cage.  We call that her side car.  Last night I just felt another one on her shoulder.  The thing I want to do for her now is just make her comfortable and loved.  Other than these growths, the Doc gave her a good bill of health.   We guess she’s about twelve or so…that’s pretty good for a lab.

She may gray eyebrows and a gray beard and gray paws and chest but every morning she runs down the stairs and swats at the other dogs like a puppy! Here’s hoping she never stops!

Rainbow Bridge…Coping with Losing Your Best Friend

rainbowbridgeRainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

— Author Unknown

Two of my good friends lost their beloved dogs this week.  I know they are sad and grief-stricken. The grief you feel losing a pet is real and it is painful.  My dogs mean the world to me and I probably spend more time with them than any single human including my husband.  When the time comes to consider their quality of life versus my need to have them on this earth with me, I hope that I will make the right choice.

I’ve faced this decision many times in my life and each time it is a painful experience.  I am a believer in the advancement of veterinarian technology and our policy in our house is to do whatever we can to save the dog.  My dog, Beatrice, who went under anesthesia to have a biopsy done and never woke up, haunts me.  I can only imagine her scared and amongst strangers when her life ended.  With my other animals, I’ve always been there with them, holding them and comforting them as they pass through to Rainbow Bridge.

My eldest dog, Viola, is starting to experience some health issues related to age.  Here eyes are clouded with what looks like the beginning of cataracts.  Her back legs are beginning to give out on her and she falls down.  She recently started waking up in the middle of the night and barking because she doesn’t seem to realize where she is.  We don’t know how old she really is because she was a rescue.  We guess her age to be about 11 or 12.  None of these symptoms, for me, are enough to look at putting her down.  My factors are first, how much pain is the animal in?  Second, what are the chances of recovery?  Last, what is the degree of recovery and the quality of their life?

We adopted Viola almost eight years ago.  My husband, Andy, found Viola at a rescue group showing their dogs at a PetSmart.  The problem was that he found her just about an hour after we had to put down our beloved Riley.  Andy literally left the emergency clinic where they couldn’t save Riley – he had a chronic disorder called “mega esophagus” and couldn’t get enough air into his lungs because the stretching of his esophagus caused him to have chronic pneumonia and lung infections from food and water getting stuck and causing infections.

Riley was in an oxygen tent and he was holding on just long enough to get his family there.  Both Andy and I had been out on Saturday morning.  When Andy got home, Riley had collapsed and did not appear to be breathing.  Andy put him in the car and drove to the emergency vet.  All the while calling me.  I was in a class and had turned my phone ringer off.  When we went on break, I looked at my phone and saw 14 calls from Andy.

I rushed over to the emergency vet as fast as I could.  They had managed to get him breathing again but he was suffering terribly.  When he looked me in the eyes, I felt him tell me to release him.  I could only manage to get one hand under the oxygen tent and I held his front paw and was able to scratch his chest a little.  It didn’t take very much and he was gone.

Although we adopted Viola a week later, she wasn’t a replacement for Riley.  Each dog is a one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable.  Andy didn’t show me the picture he took of her until I came home on Tuesday and told him about another dog we had to rescue, Phoebe.  That Saturday, just one week after Riley’s passing, we welcomed both girls into our house.

For each family, it is different.  Some people vow never to get another animal when they go through the grief of losing a beloved pet.  Some families think adopting a younger furbaby while their senior is still around gives the older animal some extra energy.  I believe the elder dog teaches the younger dog the lay of the land and what’s expected of them.

Grief is a personal issue and every person will deal with this catastrophic loss differently.  I love looking through old pictures of the dogs I had in my past and remembering their stories.  Those stories help me work through the grief and heartbreak.  You never really lose a pet because you keep their memory close to your heart.  And I do believe that one day when i’m about to cross Rainbow Ridge, all my friends will surround me and welcome me!