By Denise Fleck
Growing old is a process most of us hope we are lucky enough to experience, as wisdom comes from a life well-lived — and the same is true for our canine companions. Helping your best furry friend navigate his golden years may be one of your most rewarding adventures, and you might be surprised what you learn along the way.
The Gentle Giant
My earliest days were spent in the company of Ulysses, a brindle Great Dane standing 36 inches tall at the shoulders, and weighing a lean 180 pounds. Although his size was intimidating, my dad often joked that if we were ever burglarized, “Uly” would show the culprit around with a flashlight clenched in his mouth.
When I was born, Uly was already embarking on senior-hood. With age can come irritability brought on by pain, but my gentle giant never showed it. With tiny hands, I grabbed tightly to his skin and pulled myself onto toddler feet. Once steady, my Uly would remain motionless as I scooted along, learning to walk! My experience growing up with this kind soul instilled in me a love for dogs that has endured throughout my life.
Because of Uly, I felt compelled to grow up and become a protector of all animals. And it’s thanks to this commitment that, years later, I found Sushi.
The Grizzly-Turned-Teddy Bear
A bear of a dog was barking furiously at a meter reader as I pulled up to the house. The first thing that caught my eye was the sun reflecting off the dog’s tag, which was attached to a choke collar with only twisted wire. Earlier that day, I had been asked to help a senior dog whose human was moving in 24 hours, but had not made a plan for her loyal canine companion of eight years. This woman led the Akita to my car, patted the dog’s head, and said she’d miss her “almost as much as [her] rose bushes.” Her cold words broke my heart, but I found victory in the fact that I prevented this older dog from going to a shelter.
Sushi became my Velcro dog, never leaving my side. She received an abundance of ear scratches and belly rubs, dined at outdoor cafés, frequented a doggie bakery, and entertained herself with what was probably her first-ever toy. At night, she would drift off to sleep with an unmistakable look of contentment.
During our four years together, “Soosh” became the queen of her home and developed a zealous personality that must have been aching to surface her entire life. Her trademark “woo-woo” made everybody smile, and her grizzly bear appearance transformed into that of a teddy bear. The graying of her face softened her look, but an inner beauty and confidence blossomed. Soosh may not have been my first canine companion, but my love for her grabbed hold of a special spot in my heart. Inspired by her transformation, I now volunteer my time to The Grey Muzzle Organization to help other at-risk senior dogs enjoy their golden years.
Today, as an animal care writer and instructor, I am blessed to work with my best buddy by my side. Haiku is a furry-faced Chikita (part Chow, part Akita) and my inspiration. He’s 14 (that’s 94 in dog years!), but he appears and acts much younger, though he takes things more slowly now.
Haiku, who was found wandering the desert when he was just six weeks old, has lived an adventurous life. For years, we’d wake up at 5:30 a.m. and sneak outside to exercise while his dad and canine siblings slept in. He loved sailing in his rubber boat in the family pool, and he has dipped paws in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Along with big sister Bonsai, Haiku explored the cave seen in the 1960s Batman TV show, and had his picture taken in front of Lassie’s star on the Walk of Fame and in front of the famed Hollywood sign. Once, after a warm walk, he was offered a bowl of cold water by a kind barkeep in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Now in the twilight of his life, Haiku still enjoys morning walks around his Georgia home, and he assists me as a “bone-a-fide” product tester for the latest dog paraphernalia. The prominent mask around his eyes has faded, and his zest for chasing cats amounts to little more than a lunge — but as a nonagenarian, Haiku remains joy-filled. He shows me the importance of being present in the moment and finding happiness in just being, letting go of baggage.
Haiku didn’t allow a torn ACL or other health scares slow him down. He kept on enjoying fresh scents brought on by a gentle breeze and the sound of clinking kibble in his bowl. Through loving Haiku, I have discovered my own sense of peace. I’ve learned to slow down, enjoy the wind brushing my face, and realize that at this moment in time, all is right with my world — especially with Haiku by my side.
Loving a Senior Dog Is a Gift
Senior dogs need homes just as much as other animals, and I can attest that (in my experience, at least), they require less work than their younger, puppy counterparts. Older dogs have grown into their paws and personalities, and are usually glad just to be with you. Some know what it’s like to have a family, while others have waited a lifetime to be found. Most importantly, they have a lot of love to give.
If you’re thinking of adopting a senior dog, or if you’re watching your own pal enter his golden years, try not to focus on having limited time together. The present moment is all we have, and the magic comes in just being together — now. What a gift!
About the Author: Denise Fleck and her best buddy, Haiku, test products, write reviews and crank out content for Crazy Rich Pets at a feverish pace. When not doing that, Denise teaches Pet First Aid, Disaster Preparedness and Senior Pet Care classes and writes books on the topics in her role as the Pet Safety Crusader™. She has personally taught more than 20,000 humans to rescue Rover or help Fluffy feel better and also serves as board president of The Grey Muzzle Organization.