A friend mentioned to me a while back that it was his impression that it is currently trendy and fashionable to adopt puppy mill dogs. There has been a lot of publicity surrounding mill dogs recently and a lot of high profile people and celebrities are adopting them. His concern was that other very needy and very adoptable dogs then languish without homes, especially senior dogs. I agree and understand his concern. Since adopting Kira, I have become very devoted to educating people about the horrors of puppy mills in the hope that with enough public outcry, the situation will change for these dogs as a result of stronger laws and stricter enforcement. It is my sincerest hope that we will come to a point in this country where it is considered completely unacceptable, and illegal, to house dogs in cages and treat them like livestock.
That said, I also am very aware that not everyone should adopt former puppy mill dogs. These are dogs with HUGE issues and challenges that the average pet owner is just not prepared to deal with. It is an enormously rewarding journey and I feel blessed every day to have Kira in my life, but it is a journey that requires significant sacrifice, commitment, and lifestyle changes that are hard to implement if you have a house full of young kids or a busy schedule.
Senior dogs on the other hand, do well in virtually any home, are very low maintenance, and are past the age where they require a lot of time or energy. Old dogs tend to go with the flow and are thrilled with a soft bed and an occasional walk around the block or an afternoon in the backyard. I have spent many, many years advocating for senior dog adoption because the sad truth is that A LOT of people in our society dump their dogs at the shelter when they get “too old.” (sometimes, horrifyingly, because the family wants a new puppy! Yes – this happens!!) These wonderful old dogs have spent their lives with their families and are confused and afraid in the shelter. Sadly, many will end their lives sleeping on a cement floor, surrounded by strangers. This is one of the saddest things I know of. When people have asked me “But how can you adopt them when you know that you will lose them so soon?,” I always answer, “Well, when I know the alternative, that they will be alone and afraid at the end of their lives, with no one to love or comfort them, how can I not?” It is such a rewarding thing to be able provide a loving home for an old dog and promoting senior dog adoption is something that I will always care deeply about.
So this week I am “cheating” a little bit and using Kira’s blog space to share something I wrote a few years ago about another collie who I loved dearly. Merlin was 13 years old when his owner died and no one in the family wanted to keep him, so they dropped him off at a shelter. He had lost the only home and family he had ever known and was depressed; refusing to eat or interact with anyone. Merlin was not very “adoptable.” Potential adopters would walk right past him. No one wanted an old, depressed collie at the end of his life. He had multiple lipomas – benign tumors – that made his skin bumpy, significant arthritis, and bad teeth. The fate of such dogs in a shelter is not good….
The shelter was worried about him and asked if AHDRO would take him and, of course, they said yes. Through them, Merlin came to me, arriving on a beautiful summer day in 2008. Once he was in a home environment, his personality emerged and what a personality he had! Merlin was a funny, eccentric old collie man with a million endearing little quirks. He lived with us for a little over a year before succumbing to old age. It was really hard to say good-bye, but I would not take back one moment of my time with Merlin and I still smile to remember how happy he was during the last year of his life. So this week I want to share Merlin’s story and hopefully help people to see how rewarding it can be to give a home to an older dog. To those who worry about losing them too soon, all I can say is:
It’s worth it. It really truly is.
IN MEMORY OF MERLIN (9/15/2010)
He came to us in the summer, a wee little collie man, with a scratchy old nose and bumpy old body.
I remember the first time I gave him a bath and how pathetic he looked, dripping wet and skinny with lumps all over. But I sat with a brush and blow dryer and a little while later he looked magnificent with his silky, shiny collie coat and striking white ruff. He bounced on his front legs and barked, knowing, I think, how beautiful he looked.
Merlin loved his back yard. He spent many hours lying on the back porch, watching over his world. Even when his old legs ached, he jumped up each time someone passed the yard and he ran to the fence with his awkward old gait, his raspy bark warning intruders that it was his area and he would protect it. Then he lumbered back up to the porch, eyes shining, and tail wagging, proud that he had defended his family and warded off danger. Sometimes he chased birds out of the yard. Sometimes he barked at birds that tried to fly through the air space above his yard. He took very seriously his job as guardian of his home.
He followed me everywhere when I was outside and laid and watched me do yard work. When I wasn’t outside, he laid by the fence and watched the neighbors. Sometimes he just laid under a tree or in a spot of sun. I have so many memories of him in his yard, with his happy collie smile, as content as could be. Some days he would roll on his back in the grass and kick all his feet in the air.
The black dogs he lived with caused him fits. They liked to play ball. They liked to run all over the yard. Merlin wanted them to stay together and he wanted them to stay still, on the porch. He herded them relentlessly. He barked at them and snarled at them and tried in every way he could think of to bring them to me and keep them there. When the younger dogs bumped him or knocked him over, he would follow them around barking and scolding them for the rest of the afternoon. They mostly avoided him, fearing his wrath, but they quietly sniffed him while he slept and when a puppy once frightened Merlin with his rough play, Obi quickly placed himself between Merlin and the puppy, protecting his old friend. The black dogs treated him with the respect due a dog his age, and if they forgot, he was quick to remind them!
When he first came, he laid everywhere except on the dog beds. He didn’t seem to know that they were for him. But he soon had his own special orthopedic bed inside and another waterproof one outside. Merlin slept beside my bed at night, but sometimes he slid underneath and got stuck, so I propped up a pillows for him. He slept the deeply peaceful sleep of an old deaf dog. Nothing disturbed or woke him. He hated to wake and find himself alone in the living room, with everyone else having gone to bed, and I could hear him scramble up and run to the bedroom to find us. So I always woke him when it was time for bed, though sometimes I’d have to shake him a few times because he was so deeply asleep. During his last months, he sometimes needed to go out in the middle of the night and we sat quietly outside together, looking up at the stars.
He was as tough and spirited a dog as I’ve ever known. He was fiercely proud and independent. With all of his health problems, I never once heard him cry or whine as he struggled to stand up, sometimes falling back down multiple times. He didn’t want to be helped; he always wanted to do it by himself. Because of an enormous tumor, his back leg stuck out at an odd angle when he laid down. He had devised a way of sliding it under him when he laid down that didn’t seem to cause him pain. He was frightened of slippery floors. One day he patiently let me put little non-slip sticky pads on all his paws and then, when I wasn’t looking, he patiently removed all of them and left them in a little pile on his bed. We got carpet runners for all the floors instead. We built him a ramp to go outside, but he had to be carried in and out for the last few months.
He loved his mom, and oh how I loved him. He came to me wagging his tail and pushed his head against my chest while I petted him and scratched his favorite spots. In the end when he wouldn’t let anyone else touch him, because he feared it would hurt him, he still wanted to have his head pressed against me. He closed his eyes and just stood.
He was my friend, my protector, my sweet old collie and I miss him so terribly much.
Merlin was 13 years old when I got him, knowing that our time together would be short. I had to cram the love of a whole lifetime into just 1 year. Though it shouldn’t be the case, I think we love better when we remember that any day could be the last day we have. Old dogs remind me to live and love each day to the fullest and to appreciate every moment of happiness. Merlin had lived almost as long as my daughter at the time we got him. He had many experiences in his life and he had a wisdom and a certain ‘presence’ that comes with that. But old dogs, even tough old dogs like Merlin, have a vulnerability that is deeply touching. They are tippy, and achy, and hard of hearing…. and they reach out to the people who love them for extra security, some reassurance, and mostly just love. They need a soft touch and loving words, something that we all hope to have at the end of a good and long life. How sad it is when there is no one there for them to reach out to. Old dogs need love. It brightens their expressions and lifts their spirits in noticeable ways every single day. I truly believe that it physically lessens their pain simply to be loved. I know that it calms their minds.
I cannot put into words the blessing it is to be given the opportunity to love an old dog and see the difference that it makes. It makes me a better person. It reminds me daily of how important love is. It reminds me to be gentle. To be patient. To take the extra time. To slow down; to eat and walk without rushing. To be thankful that I can eat and walk and find simple joy in both things. To love an old dog is to reflect on a life well lived and to reflect on the role that love plays in our lives. In the end that is what carries these old guys through and, in the end, it is what matters to them above all else. That is what old dogs have taught me.
That is what Merlin taught me.
With special thanks to Joe Maringo at Southwest PA Retriever Rescue/Shades of Grey who has done more for old dogs than any other person I know. Thank you, Joe, for the countless dogs who have found sanctuary and love with you at the end of their lives.
There are lots and lots and lots of Merlins out there, old dogs who just need a place to be safe and loved.
For more information about old dog adoption: www.greymuzzle.org
To see some wonderful adoptable senior collies: www.almosthomeohio.org