Each Day is a Little Life

1 28 20 2Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.” Arthur Schopenhauer

I have long loved this quote, especially the first part. Believing that each day is its own little life followed by a little youth is an uplifting concept. Yesterday is done. Today you are reborn. Yet today I can’t help but focus on that last part as well…every going to rest and sleep a little death.

I’m going to be upfront with you about this essay. The dog does die in the end. I have many friends who want nothing to do with a story in which the dog ultimately dies. I’m giving you all an out right here and now by not making this a mystery. This tale is about a dog named Eloise and she is gone now.

But I hope you’ll stick with me anyway. Sometimes the end is a beautiful thing and I think, I hope, in this case it was. And I really want you to know Eloise. She deserves to be known.

I first saw the scruffy little cattle dog looking undeniably miserable in a photo posted by Tulsa Animal Welfare. Eloise, the name they gave her upon intake, was lying on the floor staring ahead in tired resignation. Her coat was rough and matted, full of big burs. I’m sure it had to be uncomfortable, but by all appearances she was beyond noticing or caring.

She was shared briefly on social media, but because of her emaciated condition and advanced age, the guess was 13 or 14 years, the shelter staff decided to just make her as comfortable as possible while she stayed for her mandatory stray hold. At the end of the three day period, they would likely euthanize her–a kind and humane option for an obviously elderly, gravely ill dog.

But something about that dog reached straight through my phone’s screen and grabbed my heart saying, “This one. Take this one.”

Jim and I are not strangers to taking in elderly dogs to allow them to live their lives out in comfort and love. It’s something we are grateful we are able to do and it’s always so rewarding. Don’t be fooled for a moment, while taking in hospice-status foster dogs might be considered a selfless act, it is, in my opinion, a very selfish one. These dear animals give us so much in return for the use of a soft bed and regular meals. Our hearts expand with every dog and we learn so much about life.

It’s a wonderful thing to have this experience. We get to see a tired old dog sink down into a worry-free, relaxed sleep. We get to know these dogs, whether for a matter days, a few months, or a couple of years. We get to see the shine return to their coats and eyes. We get to connect with them and be a part of their story.

It’s the best high I know.

And so when my heart said I should take Eloise, my body hopped right in my Jeep and headed to the shelter.  It may sound odd, but I was excited at the prospect of sharing this dog’s journey.

The veterinarian, veterinary technician, and shelter manager talked with me about Eloise and their concerns surrounding her health. They had carefully picked the majority of the sharp burs from her fur. They had made her as comfortable as possible in the relative calm of the clinic instead of putting her in the main kennel of the busy shelter. We could all clearly see that Eloise probably didn’t have much time left and that euthanasia in the coming days might be the kindest option for her. We all agreed that she should not and would not suffer.

1 27 20But prognosis aside, all I could think was that today she could be clean. She could spend a little time in the unseasonably warm sunlight out at my home in the country. She could rest on a cushy pillow tonight. She could have whatever appealed to her for dinner. And she could enjoy some good belly rubs.

With one little glance up into my eyes, I was sure the old dog was willing to give me a try as well. So with a quick signature on a form, Eloise became mine. We headed out into the beautiful day and made a quick stop in the grass where Eloise gratefully showed me she knew where to do her business. Then I settled her on the dog bed that lives in the back of my Jeep and I was off on little life number one with my new/old cow dog.

1 27 20 4 revIt’s generally this point in my shelter adventures when I stop and think, “Oh crap. I should probably tell Jim what I’ve done.” In reality, I should probably tell Jim what I am thinking of doing BEFORE I actually sign the paperwork and leave the shelter with a dog in my arms. But he’s a great guy with a huge heart. His response to our new guest was to immediately curl up with her on her dog bed to give her some much-needed attention.

Yeah, he’s one of the very good guys.

We did take her to our veterinarian to see what support we could offer her from a medical standpoint. Her blood work was the stuff vet school case studies are made of…I can only describe it as “hot mess.” My vet, who is also my dear friend, sighed when I asked what it all meant.

“It could be cancer, it could be infection, it could be a number of things.” Without x rays, ultrasounds, and further testing, we would not have a diagnosis. But all of that would be stressful and a diagnosis wouldn’t change the prognosis. For Eloise, the best course of treatment was already underway.

1 28 20And so we started enjoying little lives with Eloise. I gave her a thorough bath that took three shampooings to get the rinse water to run clear.  I gently combed out all of the old undercoat until her fur was smooth. We made sure to get her outside for small strolls and potty breaks on a regular basis. We massaged her thin frame and give her belly rubs. We offered her a smorgasbord of food choices and catered to her fickle appetite.

If you have ever cared for a critically ill dog, you know that finding something they want to eat can be tricky and you have to be creative. At this stage of the game, healthy diet be damned. Your mission is simply to find food that makes them perk up and eat a bit.

For Eloise, she initially loved scrambled eggs and chicken. Then it was corn dogs and bites of bagels. Then it was a little cheeseburger that put a sparkle in her eyes.

Eloise did not require a lot to be happy during her last days. We got to share six little lives with our dear girl and then she passed quietly and gently in her sleep. It took me a moment of watching for a breath to realize she was gone. And that was the best end to her last little life that I could imagine.

So this is not a tale of sorrow for a dog that could not be saved. That was never our expectation. This a tale of gratitude for a dog that got to pass in peace. I believe Eloise was loved in her past life. She was a good girl and I suspect in her younger days, a feisty, fun cow dog. I don’t know how she ended up stray in such desperate condition…there are too many storylines to imagine…but I do know that her last six  lives achieved exactly what I hoped for her the moment my eyes first connected with hers.

She was safe, she was comfortable, she had cheeseburger breath, she was loved, and she got a last name. Eloise Gallimore-Thomason, romp in peace my friend. Thank you for sharing your last precious little lives with us.

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I Have Your Dog

FaceI have your dog.

I remember very clearly the first time I saw her. A photo was posted on Facebook with a plea for a senior dog that had been surrendered to City of Tulsa Animal Welfare (TAW). The photo featured a very dignified, rosy-tan female pit bull dog. Her ears were cropped to tiny triangles with sharp little points, her big eyes were calm and looking straight ahead. Her name was Stormy.

Nothing tugs at the heartstrings quite like a senior dog surrendered to fate at an over-crowded city shelter. It is all too often a very sad ending to a long, loyal life. “Someone save her…She looks scared…she looks so sad!” The comments came flooding in.

As I revisited the photo, what I saw was a dog who appeared to be surprisingly calm in the chaos of the shelter environment. She was resting on a cot and the expression on her face was…what? Fear? No. Sorrow? Nope, not that either. The expression I read could only be described as one of patient expectation. This dog was waiting, apparently confident that this turn of events did not represent her final chapter.

I had to respect this dog’s bravado. And what the heck? I had a dog bed to spare and an extra bowl or two. I could easily let this dog come live out her remaining days on the farm with me, my partner Jim, and the furry canine herd that is our family.

I clicked on the comment bar and typed three simple words, “I’ll take her.”

I have your dog.

When I arrived at the shelter the following day to claim my new little “grandma dog,” I first stopped in to finalize the adoption with Jean Jenkins, TAW manager.

As always with these cases, my mind was struggling to understand how someone could turn their supposedly beloved dog over to a public shelter. It’s easy to immediately vilify the person; painting a picture of someone callous and uncaring in your mind.

I asked Jean if she knew Stormy’s story. She confirmed she had been present when the woman came in to relinquish ownership of the elderly pit bull. While she didn’t know specific details, she said it was clear that Stormy’s former owner was very upset. Jean understood she had fallen on hard times and could no longer afford to take care of her dog. Apparently, the dog, having been with this woman since she was a tiny puppy, was well-loved.

“She left the shelter in tears,” Jean said with a sympathetic shrug. I tried to imagine a scenario that would force me to surrender my beloved dogs to an uncertain future. Thankfully, I can’t begin to envision anything that would push me to that point. But emotionally, I allowed myself to walk in that woman’s shoes and my heart felt the weight and despair of her situation. I believe this was not a deliberate act of abandonment, but rather a last-resort act of desperation.

I have your dog.

Jean and I walked through the heavy, metal door into the main kennel of the shelter. About halfway through the building, Jean turned down a row to the left and stopped at the third pen. There, facing away from us and still lying in a seemingly relaxed fashion on her cot, was my new dog, Stormy. As Jean opened the gate, Stormy turned and as her soft, expressive eyes met mine, her air of expectation so clear to me in her initial photo, was immediately replaced with what I can only describe as recognition.

“Ahhhh, good, you’re here. I’ve been waiting for you,” I could almost hear her say in a voice similar to my memory of my own grandmother’s soothing tone. “Let’s go home now.” And so, I slipped my soft lead over her silver-highlighted head and led her down the main isle of the kennel, a cacophony of barking voices echoing around us as if to cheer her on.

Once in the car, we took a quick, first selfie portrait together to share on the post that had only 24 hours before brought Stormy to my attention. I think I just typed a simple message with it: She’s safe now.

I have your dog.

50883613_10218751900452280_4761211271863336960_oStormy’s transition into our home was quite honestly very anticlimactic. For an old dog, reported to be into her 16th year, who was so suddenly uprooted and thrust into a totally new and unfamiliar world, Stormy took everything very much in stride. She met each of her new four-legged housemates with a wagging tail and calm demeanor. She wandered around the house and explored the yard, stopping with her nose held high to gather the scent of the horses in the adjoining pasture. She relieved herself appropriately and learned there was a dog door that allowed her to come and go from the house as she pleased. She discovered the water bowl and spent a moment lapping a cool drink before settling into what would become her favorite bed.

Everything about the wise old gal was serene and matter-of-fact, almost as if she already knew this was to be her next and final home. There was no learning curve, no jitters, no confusion. There was only quiet confidence; an immediate acceptance of these new people, these new dogs, and this new place as her family, her home.

That very first night, her sweet silver face popped up over the side of our bed with a questioning, hopeful look in her eyes. “Well, come on up, girl,” I encouraged, patting the open spot beside me. Stormy climbed the little stairs that led onto the bed and settled in by my right side, soon snoring none-too-softly in my ear. This has been her space every night for the 18 months since she arrived and it’s hers for as long as she chooses to stay in this life. Frankly, she is perfectly healthy, has a hearty appetite, and is still full of spunk. I expect to sleep happily crowded for some time to come.

I have your dog.

I have often thought of Stormy’s former owner. She has no idea what become of her dog. I wonder if that haunts her. Maybe she’ll stumble onto this story and recognize the big eyes framed by silver fur in the photo. I want her to know that Stormy is doing great. She is happy, she is very loved, and she will be safe for the rest of her life. I hope the woman who left the shelter in tears reads my words and they give her peace. I want her to know that I am continuing the good care she obviously gave Stormy. I want her to know that Stormy is not in our home out of pity, she is a treasure and we are grateful to have her.

I have your dog.

She is very much my dog now, as I believe she was meant to be. Thank you.

We’ve Got Wag!

ImageWe have a new/old spotted soul wandering through our home. I wrote about Gus a few posts ago. Didn’t read it? Hmmm…then this may not make much sense. You can catch up here if you’d like.

The Reader’s Digest version is that on May 15, we received word via Facebook of a senior Dalmatian in a small shelter not far from our farm. We have rescued Dalmatians for a very long time (I was a founding member of the Tulsa Dalmatian Assistance League, Inc. in 1989—the height of all the Disney 101 hoopla), and in addition to loving spots, we have a particular soft spot for senior dogs.  When we learned of this old boy, Jim didn’t think twice. He just went to get our new/old foster dog.

When I described Gus in my initial post, I spoke of a dog that was thin, seemed tired, and seemed a bit numb. He didn’t show emotion—fear, happiness, stress, contentment…nothing. Most notably, his tail just hung straight down behind him.

Dalmatians are a bit famous for their tails. They are to extend like a saber, an extension of the dog’s spine. They are to have a subtle upward curve, but not curl over the dog’s back. Most notably, Dalmatians almost always wag their tails, whether it be delight, excitement, playfulness, or any number of upbeat emotions. Dalmatians are generally happy dogs and those tails can actually become quite the weapon. A good thwack from a boisterous Dalmatian tail can seriously smart.

But Gus’ tail just remained still. There was no joy. There was no happy-to-see you. Not just yet.

The comment made most often after my first Gus tale (play on words…right…right?), was something related to hoping Gus would give us a wag soon.

Drumroll, please!

I am so pleased to announce that one day shy of Gus’ two week anniversary as a member of our family, TODAY I came home to find Gus looking straight at me with his tail arched upward, fanning the air in a beautiful, rhythmic wag. TODAY Gus found his wag.

Take whatever joy he was feeling in that moment and multiply it by about a zillion. That’s the feeling that immediately soared into my heart.

Image

Gus and I are all sketchy! This is how you make a blurry, not-great photo kind of groovy. Effects are fun!

We’ve been welcoming Gus home every day for 13 days. Today, he finally returned the favor with the most beautiful welcome home anyone could hope to see. Good boy, Gus.

Facebook. It Wasn’t A Huge Waste of Time This Time, Betty.

ImageLet me start by saying that I love Betty White. Truly. I adore her.

First, she is ageless. She is living proof that if you love what you do and keep working, you can live a long, healthy, fun-filled life. She is also a huge animal lover and advocate, serving as a trustee for the Morris Animal Foundation since 1971.

I’ve grown up watching her on sitcoms, in movies, and even as a host of Saturday Night Live. It’s this latter appearance where she made a statement that I think she might rethink if she knew Gus. Who is Gus, you ask? Hang on. I’ll explain.

After landing the SNL hosting gig following a successful Facebook campaign entitled “Betty White to Host SNL (please?),” White, in her opening monologue, said:

I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.

Ok, the monologue was hysterical and Betty was a complete and total homerun for SNL. But Facebook…a huge waste of time? Betty, meet Gus. He thinks Facebook is awesome.

In addition to being a place where friends, new and old, connect; a place where people share photos, funny thoughts, emotions, and, sometimes, just too darn much information, Facebook has also become a valuable networking tool for helping connect homeless pets with potential adopters or rescue groups.

ImageAh, the power of the share. I was glancing through my FB newsfeed the other day when I noticed that a friend (thanks Venus!) had tagged me in a post about a dog in a nearby animal shelter. I get tagged on a lot of these posts as people network for different animals and shelters. This one, however, immediately piqued my interest.

The photo showed a Dalmatian. Yes, my beloved breed of choice. And it was not only a Dalmatian, but it was a senior. Oh, there’s another one of my weaknesses.  Sweet old guys.

In a flash, I re-shared the post with a one word question/tag…Jim?

I know I mention in a lot of posts what a great guy Jim is. I think we’re up to reason number 576,432 why I love Jim. This will make reason number 576,433. Jim didn’t question a thing…he just sent a message asking me if I was calling the shelter or if he should. And in mere moments, there was another message that simply said: I’m picking him up at noon.

No debate. There was no we-already-have-enough-foster-dogs comment. There was just a quick decision that this old guy would not spend his last days in a shelter. Go Jim!

Upon arriving at the shelter, the animal control officer told Jim that he knew very little about the old dog. In fact, the only thing that was actually known about him was that he was shoved from a moving pickup truck into the road in front of the local fire station. Well, of course. What a responsible, compassionate move. Because, as we all know, part of the firefighters’ code of ethics requires that they must immediately take responsibility for all unwanted Dalmatians. Sure.

So the old throw-away dog who would become “Gus” went for a ride with Jim away from the tiny, but determined animal shelter in Mannford, Oklahoma, back to meet our veterinarian and good friend, Dr. Lauren. Lauren allows all of our dogs to be on a first name basis with her. She’s cool like that.

During his exam it was found that Gus was underweight by 15 pounds or more—approximately 30% shy of his ideal body weight. While he was thankfully free of heartworms, Dr. Lauren did find an advanced heart murmur and arthritis. He was treated for intestinal parasites. Both ears were crinkled from past hematomas, likely caused by ear infections. His teeth were pronounced, and I believe this is a technical medical term, extremely nasty. They guessed Gus’ age at somewhere around 12 years. I think they were being a bit generous. My guess is that his age has the word teen in it.

ImageWith further necessary testing and medical treatments on the horizon, Gus was first desperately in need of some good food and a comfortable place to rest.  Our home had plenty of both. And so Jim brought our new/old boy home.

Our current herd of on-purpose and foster dogs are no strangers to meeting newcomers. We have a bit of a revolving door around here. We always introduce a new dog carefully and gradually to be sure everyone is going to get along. Just because WE like a new dog, does not mean our existing canine residents will agree. We do not need a doggy smack-down in our living room.

In Gus’ case, his introduction to our furry family was blissfully anticlimactic. It was as if our other dogs—including a gang of rambunctious youngsters—appeared to immediately recognize that this sweet old guy was certainly no threat to any perceived doggy hierarchy. After many sniffs were exchanged, Gus set off in his stuttering gait to investigate his new situation, a parade of curious new friends tagging along.

I always wonder what must be passing through the minds of these old guys who have, for whatever reason, been abandoned in one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. Some seem elated to come into our home. Some come in showing fear and mistrust. Gus just seemed a bit numb.

His eyes were blank and empty. His tail hung limply. He accepted attention, but seemed to hardly notice scratches in all the right places, often moving along after a moment or two when any other dog would have stayed put, stretching and groaning in pleasure.

ImageFor the first several hours in our home, Gus just paced. He walked every inch of our house. He found the dog door, headed outside and paced the perimeter of our yard. Then he came back inside and paced the entire route again. Over and over and over.

Was there more wrong with Gus that initial exams did not reveal? Did Gus have potential to relax and enjoy whatever time he might have left? Or was he plagued by the dog version of Alzheimer’s disease?

The only thing that finally stopped Gus’ trek that first night was a bowl of food topped off with some enticing chunks of chicken. Ahhhhh! The old guy had a good appetite. He plopped flat to the floor with the bowl between his front legs and ate every last bite.

After a bit more pacing and frequent bouts of heart-murmur related, body wracking coughing, Gus finally found one of our 40,000 (perhaps I exaggerate) big soft dog beds and collapsed in exhaustion. That first night he slept for at least nine hours straight through. It was the kind of deep sleep that made me stop to watch for breathing every time I passed by him.

ImageThe next day was filled with more pacing, but also with increased interest every time I headed toward the dog food bin. Now, instead of random pacing, more often than not, Jim and I found Gus following close behind as we moved around there house. His eyes still seemed vacant, his tail was still motionless, but there was something more purposeful in his step.

Finally we would find him looking up to meet our eyes. Was there hope in those eyes? Some sort of expectation? Was there relief? Actually, what I believe I saw was the glimmer of growing trust.

Later, in Gus’ second evening with us, on one of his rounds through the house, he walked straight up to where Jim and I sat on the couch. As I leaned forward to pet him and scratch his bony back, Gus raised his head and very deliberately licked my nose.

Jim and I smiled at our new/old boy. Deep inside the old dog’s stoic facade, there really was a grateful, tail-thumping soul.

Now, following another visit to the vet less than a week after Jim picked him up at the shelter, I am happy to report that Gus has Imagegained nearly five pounds. He is now on four different medications—three to help stabilize his heart condition and one to bring comfort to arthritic joints. Gus paces less frequently, naps more frequently, and is prone to emitting a loud, melancholy howl if he can’t figure out where Jim and I are in the house. Any day now I expect to be blessed by the wag of his tail.

Our dear Gus now has a secure place to call home. He has also secured a place in our hearts. Our job from this point forward is to keep him comfortable, to meet his care requirements, to give him loving attention, and to make sure he enjoys good quality of life.  Whether he wants to stick around for a few weeks, a few months, or even more, we’re committed to giving Gus a good life. And someday, when he’s ready to go, we’ll be there to see him through. His story will not end alone in a cramped little shelter.

So, Betty.  Is Facebook really a huge waste of time?  This time, not so much. I know I speak for Gus when I say he agrees. I’m pretty sure you, dear Betty, would agree as well.   One simple share resulted in one sweet old life allowed a bit more time with a promise of dignity to the end.

Jim and I have taken in numerous senior dogs through the years. I can honestly tell you that some of our most cherished foster dogs have been our old guys. There is something so sweet and special about getting to know and love a dog that has several years under his belt. So many people say they could never give their hearts to a dog that may only be around for a short amount of time, and I can understand that thought. I would suggest, however, that the concept of quality vs quantity truly has meaning when learning to embrace the idea of fostering or adopting a senior. Whatever time we have with our old friends is so special. I would encourage anyone with a little extra space in their home… with a dog bed to spare…to consider adopting an older dog. In our world, they give back twice as much as they take.