Adopting a new dog is never easy. There are new routines to establish and new behaviors to be taught (and oftentimes old behaviors to undo). Many dog rescuers will lament that adopters always seem to want puppies and that a mama dog will stay behind long after her puppies are adopted and almost fully grown. The same is true for senior dogs; ones whose heyday is long past and the silver has already crept into the fur of their muzzle. They stay behind long after the adorable puppies are settled in a new home.
Adopting an old dog isn’t easy, although I can’t say that there is a clear-cut spectrum of easy to difficult when bringing a new life – no matter his or her age – into yours. You are a stranger in a long line of other strangers that s/he has seen or been handled by. S/he doesn’t know you or your intentions. You are just another person in a long-ish journey of uncertainty.
My old guy’s name is Brooke. He joined our family roughly a month ago. He is approximately 13 years old and was dropped at a shelter in Harlem by the one and only family he had ever known. He was skinny – and I mean skinny – and depressed and very sick with kennel cough. He was on the euthanasia list. I saw him online and knew we had to do something for him.
Life with an old rescue dog is great and wonderful and scary and unnerving. We have two other dogs – a senior basset hound whom we’ve had for the majority of his ten years, and a three-year-old pittie mix – so having a dog isn’t a foreign concept to us. Our dogs are loved, pampered, spoiled rotten, heeded to, hugged, kissed, and treated better than most humans treat each other. We are those people.
Brooke is a love. He is kind, gentle, and curious with bouts of puppy-like energy followed by bouts of hardcore sleeping like an old gent. We’ve learned a lot about him in the past month, like that his past didn’t include dog beds (they still confuse him) and that his former family didn’t clean his ears or trim his nails or invest in any routine veterinary care for him. We are learning that he is hard of hearing but that his nose works just fine.
We are learning what makes him feel safe – and what scares him, even when we don’t want to learn that. There was the time I went to hug him while he was sleeping and he awoke in such a frightened state that he screamed. And he kept screaming as he ran into the next room. I had barely touched him, but something about my touch on his back while he was asleep set off a visceral flight response that we had never seen before. I couldn’t help but burst into tears. It was not my intention to scare him, but I couldn’t tell him that.
Life with an old rescue dog can break your heart, because you know that time is short. The haze in his eyes will never clear up. His hearing will only get worse. We can put weight on him, but his body will never be fully strong and whole like it was when he was young.
Life with an old rescue dog can make your heart sing, though, and show you that it’s the quality – not the quantity – of the time that matters. I’ve had several life events in the past few years that have shown me this lesson.
Life is short, so value the time that you spend.
Time is currency, so spend it wisely.
I don’t know how many days (or weeks or months or, hopefully, years) we will have with Brooke, but we will cherish the rest of the journey.