Growing up it was normal that when it came time to get a pet in my family, we always got puppies. We bought one when I was quite young and then after that adopted others. But each at their cute baby stage. It would be years later before I’d learn the secret of seniors.
My first dog as an adult was Spinner. A wonderfully loyal girl and in many ways I could not have wished for a better dog to be my first dog as an adult. I had taken her from a friend at work when they quickly realized that their family was not up to the challenge of puppy-hood. And she was challenging. She was a chewer, as is common with Labs and proved it repeatedly in the first 18 months. Remote controls were a favorite and she ate five down to the batteries before I either learned to keep them out of her reach or she simply outgrew this inclination. But once through those first few years, she was almost perfect.
I say almost as her only downfall was her choosiness about her other dogs friends. My sheer ignorance about how to deal with her occasional aggression towards some dogs stymied additions to the pack somewhat. When she passed away at 14 and closed the chapter of my life that she had written with me, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be looking for another dog to help fill the void that her passing had created. As such a few weeks would pass before I’d open the paper one Saturday morning to see the picture of a 12 year old Golden mix named Rusty that was at our local shelter. Something told me that I needed to adopt Rusty.
I can’t say for sure even now what prompted me at that moment to rush to shelter to claim this old guy for my own but I literally ran to the car and to the shelter. I wasn’t involved with the shelter at that time but upon arrival ran immediately into a friend, Jan Lincicome that was working there. When I told her I was there for Rusty, she happily reported that amazingly Rusty had just found his home.
Apparently my disappointment didn’t last for long as I heard myself say that I wanted to adopt the neediest dog in the shelter. Honestly I did not have any clue as to what was driving me in this direction but realize now it was simply fate steering me. The manager of the shelter who walked me through the shelter was somewhat taken aback at my emphatic declaration of this desire but was encouraged by Jan’s reassurance that I would provide an excellent home and that they should allow me adopt anything I wanted. When she began to tell me about a dog that had been with them for some time and had some “issues” I wasn’t deterred in the slightest…although I probably should have been. But I wasn’t smart enough to second guess the urge to save someone who otherwise might never find a home.
As she talked about the 10 year old Beagle named Jack who they referred to as a little grumpy, I found myself getting anxious to meet him. When the manager called one of the other employees, Jim Gilmore to make my introduction to the dog, I recall her saying that he was the only one that Jack liked. He had growled at everyone else that tried to handle him but for some reason liked Jim. And sure enough, Jack was less than enthusiastic about his prospective adopter, me, but happy to see Jim. Jack was smart enough not to growl at me at first sight but still showed no real interest in me either. Playing hard to get I suppose.
Soon enough I’d be heading out the door with Jack in tow. Well, after Jim loaded him in my car since I wasn’t excited about being bitten for picking him up to put him in my car. Didn’t think that would make for the best firsthand experience. As I tell this story I think how often dogs like Jack would be put to sleep because of such behavior and I understand why as the risk and liability are high and the chances of someone crazy like me showing up are extremely low.
And so our relationship started. For three days, Jack growled at me for everything. Asking him to go outside. Asking him to get off the couch. Asking him to not lift his leg on everything in my house, which he did since he was not neutered (prior to the requirement for all pets to be fixed before going home) and it was apparently Jack had been an outside dog his entire life. And while Jack who I would name Tucker quickly claimed a chair in my family room as his own, he apparently had no house manners whatsoever.
Honestly I was a bit put off by his demeanor and a little afraid of him. Not yet the knowledgeable pack leader I am today, I wasn’t sure how to handle his grumpiness. I would call a great friend, Kara Seaman who give me the simplest instructions ever….. that I have used many times since. Ignore his grumpiness and reward every little positive thing he did. And just like a grandpa who has moved in and settled in, within a few days the grumpy Gus was gone and Tucker was the ever grateful little guy he would display for all the remaining years of his life.
I don’t think I ever considering taking him back but if I did, it was short lived. I adored watching Tucker come out of his shell and become the spunky gleeful little Beagle that was hiding beneath his greying muzzle. He would scamper along with me and the other dogs on our daily walks, would soon be totally housebroken after a few weeks of crate training which went amazingly well despite my concern that he was too old to respond positively to this approach. He loved his crate! So much so, that for weeks after he no longer needed the containment to control his bladder, he would return to the crate for naps even though the door was never shut behind him. He would eventually take to sleeping at the foot of my bed, preferably under the covers. So he snored like my grandfather too but otherwise was peppy and exuberant in his attention and affection as any youngster.
I adored the few years I had with Tucker and still think of him often. In large part because the daily message he shared with me was an overwhelming sense of gratitude that exuded from him in a myriad of ways. And it may sound funny to the nonbeliever but I once met a pet psychic that upon seeing Tucker’s picture simply said that he was incredibly grateful of the life he had with me and appreciated that I left the TV on for him each day. A habit that I had begun not long after bringing him home for some unknown reason. I had never done so with any of my pets but something prompted me to do this for Tucker.
Tucker’s story may not be the best to share to inspire others to consider adopting an older animal as he wasn’t the easiest obviously in the first few days. But I appreciate so much whatever drove me to the shelter that day and brought Tucker into my life. The joy he brought to me, however short lived by the normal standards, could never be diminished by its brevity. And the recollection of the satisfaction of having made his final years so wonderful has prompted me to adopt older animals since. All of which, have in fact been much easier to acclimate into my home and life than Tucker. The seniors that would follow him were easy to assimilate into my pack…much like old friends returning from a trip to settle right into the routine and rhythms of life here as if they had always been here.
Assuredly, the time you’ll have with them is destined to be shorter than with a puppy or kitten. But the real secret is that the specialness that you’ll feel from them and in your own being for doing this kindness will far exceed your expectations. And you won’t miss those cute puppy years quite as much as you might think. And if you think an older pet won’t bond with you in the same manner as one you’ve raised from a puppy or kitten, you are vastly underestimating these animals. Some of my tightest more loyal of pets came into my life in their older years and we could not have been closer!
The love, joy and gifts well make up for anything you think you might miss. If you can just open up your mind and heart to the idea of sharing whatever time you have together, it will be well worth it! It may not be for the faint of heart BUT it will expand your heart every day you have with them in ways you cannot imagine!