When I bought my first house 25 years ago, it didn’t take long before I started thinking about getting a dog. As this was well before the shelter was a routine part of my life and even though circumstances would overtake any action to buy one, I probably would have had a coworker not been so anxious to rehome the Lab puppy he had bought from a breeder. She was just TOO MUCH puppy for his family.
Funny he was right but I fell in love at first sight and Spinner would become my first dog as an adult.
After 18 months of being too much puppy, that included eating a plate of Christmas fudge that led to my first puppy enema experience, a skunking and the complete destruction of 5 television remotes down to the batteries, we shared 13 wonderful years together. She was a great dog and regardless of how things started, I’m thankful for all I learned from her and our time together!
During those years, I also found two other dogs that joined our family but when I lost Spinner to old age, something drove me to the shelter to adopt a dog for the first time. In particular I went to adopt a 13 year old Setter mix advertised in the Pet of the Week section one Saturday. I can’t remember what I wore yesterday but I remember HER name was Rusty.
Before I could even make it into the shelter, I ran into a friend who was a volunteer, Jan Lincicome and learned Rusty had remarkably already been adopted. Wow, who would’ve thunk it?
Undaunted, I asked who was the least adoptable dog in the shelter and was quickly ushered to the small dog side to a Beagle named Jack. He was an elderly, unaltered, leg lifting grey faced Beagle who had either bitten or threatened to bite every employee in the shelter. Only Jim Gilmore’s undying love and fearless loyalty to him kept him alive long enough for me to find him. And I still thank Jim for loading him into the car that day so I could avoid being bitten before even getting him home.
While our first couple of days together were a bit challenging as I was unaccustomed to a dog that growled at me just for looking at him, Tucker, as I would call him, turned out to be just a bit misunderstood and I grew to adore him immensely. I liken living with Tucker to living with your grandfather who some days is delightful and others a bit grumpy but you love him regardless.
And while I would only share life with him for a few years, the gift he gave me will last a lifetime.
You see I thought I was doing HIM and the shelter a favor when I rescued him that day, when in fact I was doing myself one. Tucker opened my eyes and heart to a sense of gratefulness that emanated from him every single day. Just watching him run down the lane as we walked to get the mail each night with his Beagle ears flapping in the wind made me smile.
I once showed his picture to a pet psychic (yes, I know…a pet psychic.) and revealed nothing about him. Her immediate response to the photo was that he was extremely grateful that I had rescued him and that he liked that I left the TV turned on for him. Which was also true, by the way. Having never done this prior to his arrival nor for any other pet, I had taken to leaving the TV on for him for no other reason than I thought he liked it.
Certainly his gratefulness played a part in my adoration for this dog but I think too that he made me more attuned to the reality that we only had so much time together. My senses were intensified to that fact. Sort of like how the last few days of a rare vacation feel. While the first half of the week seems luxurious, as the week progresses I start to relish each moment more while dreading the end. Knowing the trip is almost over makes those final days even more precious somehow. You linger over the last sunset, the last sunrise, the last walk on the beach and allow yourself to soak up each moment because you know it’s coming to an end all too soon. Maybe that’s what it was with Tucker!
Whatever it was, Tucker taught me about the deep bonds built with those adopted late in life, about appreciation for every day together, and that despite the first few days where I wore oven mitts to ward off potential bites when I wanted to sit on my couch, that a senior dog is MUCH easier to acclimate into one’s busy lifestyle than a puppy. The challenges of those days were miniscule in comparison to the crazy, albeit cute puppy stages with Spinner!
And since Tucker I’ve always felt that I knew a special secret! One shared by so few that when I meet such kindred spirits who too recognize the gift of adopting seniors, I am both surprised and excited!
Along those lines, I couldn’t have been more surprised to meet such in an 18 year old girl named Madison Steed! Partly I suppose because at 18 the only secret I knew was that you could mask the smell of beer with peanut butter or so I believed. And yet here was this young lady coming to our shelter to meet a yellow Lab named Lady, who not only had some years under her collar (she had to be at least 10) but also some health issues as well. I was shocked!!! Grateful, but shocked!
I don’t remember exactly how Lady came to our shelter but I want to believe that someone had loved her for the first 10 years of her life, discovered she had cancer or believed so and brought her to us out of love knowing that we would offer care that they could not. She had a small tumor on her lip and some other bumps and lumps that were suggestive of cancer. When examined by a veterinarian, we were discouraged of removing any of the tumors for fear they would come back with a vengeance and as she didn’t appear to be experiencing any discomfort, had such a great attitude and could have several quality months to a year, we put her up for adoption. While this sort of prognosis does not bode well for high adoptability, we sure were going to give her a chance.
At about the same time Madison’s mom had been on the lookout for a dog that might be right to be Madison’s first dog as an adult. Madison knew she did not want a puppy as she felt she didn’t have time or the patience. She recognized somehow that an older dog would be perfect for her lifestyle of working full time and also knew that most people would overlook such dogs and go straight for the cute puppies. After not seeing any younger dogs that caught her attention, she started actually focusing her search for a senior and when her mother showed her Lady’s picture, she was hooked! When she met her at the shelter, an event I was lucky enough to witness, she felt an instant bond with her. Lady would soon be going home to begin her new life!
Just a few months later Madison brought Lady to our end of summer doggy swim and it was so wonderful to see her right there in the middle of the pool dog paddling about like a pup. It brought tears to my eyes then and again today as I remember not only how active she seemed, but how happy! And how much she was so obviously adored by Madison!
Disappointed that she didn’t come to this year’s pool party, I was reassured by sporadic posts about how well she was doing and while she showed some of her age in slowing down some and stiffness after getting up, she still played and romped and chased birds like a much younger dog. And again just a few weeks ago her mother would update our Facebook page with a report that she was still going strong!
Which of course made it all the more shocking to read just a few days later the following post from Madison.
“Yesterday I had to make the hardest choice I have ever had to make. I had to say good bye to my best friend. Thank you Lady for the best year and half of my life. I love you so very much! But I know you are no longer in pain and someday we will meet again.”
Apparently the day before, Lady suddenly was unable to get up at all. Rushed to the emergency vet, the sad prognosis was that she had paralysis and it was very unlikely Lady would never walk again. Even surgery in Columbus was unlikely to help her. While the vet assured Madison that she was not in pain, something in her eyes told Madison that she was both uncomfortable and scared. Madison spent her last moments cuddling with her and sharing kisses on the floor of the exam room before making the heart wrenching decision to ease her pain and let her go. It was like Lady knew what was happening and was thanking her for all the time and memories they had shared. Madison’s words, not mine. And then she gave her the last gift we can offer our beloved animals — a peaceful dignified good bye surrounded by love.
Everyone struggles with this decision because they don’t want to let their pets go. It’s excruciating. But knowing what it is the best for our pets even when it feels like the worst for us is about maturity and selflessness. And while I shouldn’t be surprised by such from Madison, it’s hard not to be impressed by her ability to see past her own personal heartbreak to do what was best for Lady. She loved her selflessly!
I asked Madison what she thought about people saying they can’t adopt a senior animal because they won’t bond with you and her response was as expected.
“I think it is ridiculous. From my experience, Lady was so sweet and we instantly bonded. You could tell she was grateful for being adopted. I’ve been called an old soul so I guess it was not surprising that we got along. She was kinda like me. We both had baggage and we both didn’t care. It was love at first sight.”
When I asked Madison if she thought she’d do it again — adopt another senior dog — her answer again secured that she had in fact found the secret that took me years to uncover.
“Yes once I feel ready. I’m not ready as the wound is still fresh. But my mom’s already looking.”
Having repeatedly told Madison’s mother how proud she must be of her daughter, it occurs to me now that Lady too must be very proud of her young friend. That in some way the legacy of Lady will live on for years in the others that will follow in her footsteps and who too will benefit from the understanding and unselfish love that Madison shared with Lady and the next old soul that she loves at first sight.
Thank you Madison for letting me share your story and for being such an inspiration to me and I’m sure many others who might never have considered a senior. I’m hoping in the sharing of your beautiful story others will open their hearts to them as you did for Lady.