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The Wise Ones

“Old dogs are the wise ones. There’s a depth, a feeling, like aged wine. You don’t get the same depth and experience with younger dogs. It might take a couple of weeks before they get used to the house, but you can see when they realize they are home – the tension melts away.” – Anne Solli

Owning a senior dog isn’t something I ever thought I’d do. I’ve had dogs my whole life, but they always started out as puppies. I never chose to start with an elderly dog. When I first started working at Journey Home, I had to talk myself out of taking every pup home, daily. It wasn’t easy those first few months. I’m no stranger to animals. My house is made up of 5 dogs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, goats, a mini horse, cats, Sulcata tortoises, a Slider turtle, a bearded dragon, and a snake and that’s if I’m not forgetting anyone…

When Hercules came to us from Mesa county, I felt immediately drawn to him. I actually stopped going downstairs to watch him because I knew I’d get attached. I asked the vet staff about him all the time. Admittedly Hercules reminded me of my Boxer, Rosco, who I had, at that time, recently lost. They shared similar mannerisms and the reminders made me smile. I liked to think of Hercules as being my Bailey in the movie A Dog’s Purpose because then maybe in some realm Rosco was still with me. 

I was taking photos of Hercules, something I’d done many times before, when I finally gave in and said I’d take him home. For all the reasons I found to not adopt him, I had a matching one for why I should. 

My advice is to give the oldies a chance. Losing a dog is a heartbreak unlike any other. Elderly dogs have even less time in an already short dog life. I know it’s going to rip my heart to shreds when Hercules passes. But I also know that he will end his life extremely loved. I know the bond my daughter has with him will always live in both of their hearts. Hercules deserved a family in this final phase of his life. 

I’ve recently been thinking about this more and more. Hercules has been with my family for almost a year. I’ve started noticing subtle behavior changes in him and though I hope he has a few more years in him, I am struggling to come to terms with losing him. I took Hercules in because he reminded me of Rosco. I adopted Hercules because I wanted him to finish out his life in a home. I never expected to love him so deeply, to bond with him in the way I have. We all love our dogs, but there are dogs like Rosco, like Hercules, who somehow wedge themselves a little deeper.  

Anytime you adopt a shelter animal, you’re giving them a second chance. When you adopt a senior dog though that second chance oftentimes is synonymous with last chance. I would give anything to know Hercules’ history. I’d love to have an explanation for why he sneaks down to our pond to swim laps in the literal dead of winter. I’d want to know why he acts so jumpy around Nerf guns and where his protective instincts originated. What moment in his life led him to being the dog who stands in between my daughter and any perceived possible threat? With an old dog, you get what you see. 

They’re set in their ways. They’re done being trained. They’re slowing down. 

Slow doesn’t mean stop. 

Hercules still attempts to keep up with our puppy. He occasionally tries to chase a chicken. There is an added layer of worry with a senior dog because they could hurt themselves doing a simple task that in their younger days would’ve been no problem. Hercules sometimes gets confused, he gets lost, he’ll randomly decide to take off in the dark when we both know he’s blind as a bat at night. There’s a patience that accompanies the worry because he’s not always in his right frame of mind. 

A not-so-fun part of a senior dog is the likelihood of medical bills. Hercules came with a slew of health issues. He takes steroids every other day. He lives with a slight heart murmur. He has a lot of issues with his teeth. He walks with a prance-like gait because he has a neurological disorder that makes using his hind legs near impossible. This also means he can’t scratch his own ears, leaving us to do that for him – a lot! He’s clumsy and can’t see too well at night. Thankfully, he has great hearing. He’s still house trained – better than my four younger dogs if I’m being honest.

My point is not to steer you away from a senior dog. It’s to prepare you. An elderly animal is probably going to need one or more types of medication. They may need more frequent trips to the vet. You may have to work around things like hearing and vision loss. You probably will spend a little more on their care than a healthy, young pup. But, you will very likely spend considerably less time on training. Hercules listens and he listens well. He’s extremely smart and it’s apparent that at some point in his life, someone, somewhere, took the time with him. 

We see this a lot in the senior dogs at the shelter. More often than not, they come to us knowing commands. They don’t usually get too worked up, and are content to spend their days a little lazier. Older dogs get adopted at a much lower rate than puppies and unfortunately spend up to four times as long in a shelter than a young dog. 

I urge you not to write off an elderly dog as a possibility for you if you’re looking to adopt. There is something beautiful in being the person that an old dog bonds with in the final phase of their life. There’s a lifetime of history behind an old dog’s eyes, stories we will never know but a love that is unwavering. A dog’s loyalty never falters and that will always amaze me. These incredible creatures who have been through pain and rejection, but love their people anyway. I will always wish for more time with Hercules, but I’ll never regret bringing him into my home.      

Adopt the old dogs. 

Open your heart and love them fiercely. Get attached. Find the humor in their quirks and shower them in affection and treats. Sneak them the “people” food. Take them on car rides. Cuddle with them on the couch and treasure every moment they place their head in your lap. Elderly dogs deserve people and loving homes to enjoy their golden years with. 

Man’s best friend.   

That doesn’t change with age. It doesn’t diminish because of medical issues. It doesn’t stop because hair has turned gray, or vision and hearing isn’t quite what it used to be. Dogs are the definition of unconditional love and I’d go as far as to say we owe it to them to love them with everything we’ve got in their final chapter. 

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