This article was originally published at
http://www.kateconnick.com and is posted here with permission of the
Tribute to an Old Dog
Author: Kate Connick
In an attempt to help a client find a new dog to add to her home, I was scoping out the
area pounds and shelters. My meanderings led me to the North Shore Animal League, a bright,
well-funded, user-friendly, private animal shelter on Long Island, New York. It's a warm,
comfortable shelter that always seems to be full of young, handsome, utterly adoptable dogs.
I drifted from pen to pen, making mental notes that one dog would be too active, another
too bold, another very appropriate for the family I had in mind. So many young, outgoing
dogs... and the I saw her. Amid all these youthful bundles of fluff and mischief was
an elderly Boxer.
"Candy" stood at the front of her pen, greeting passers-by with goodwill but minimal
expectation of adoption.
Her muzzle grizzled, boney skeleton visible, coat sparse and well
scarred, she presented a stark contrast to the dogs that surrounded her. Needless to say,
I was intrigued. I poked my fingers through the chain link and said hello, and an amiable
volunteer then led us both to a visiting area to get acquainted.
This was a confident, sweet, sociable dog.
I doubt that anyone had ever mistreated her.
She had been found tied to the fence one morning. Several tumors were growing on her, and
my guess is that her family could not afford to provide veterinary treatment or face the
prospect of euthanasia. Sadly, the private shelter cannot accept dogs this way,
took the sorry old Boxer to the municipal pound down the street. They didn't forget about her,
however. When her time was up, they broke down and retrieved her.
By the time I met her, Candy had lived at the shelter for about six months, endured three
surgeries, and had been adopted and returned (because the person who had taken her home
found it too sad to keep her).
Her many health issues, aside from old age in general,
included cardiomyopathy (for which she took medication), hypothyroidism (the source of her
baldness and "grave" facial
expression, for which she also took medication), untreatable
mast cell cancer, and some arthritis. The shelter volunteers were quite forthcoming about
her medical status. They didn't expect her to live more than a few months.
One of the staff veterinarians, Dr. Mimi Fitchett, had a serious soft spot for this dog. She
took her home for a few overnight visits, but she was unable to permanently add another dog
to her household.
Nonetheless, she was able to report that Candy was fine with other dogs and easy to have
in the house. Given her age, she needed to go out more frequently than a younger dog, but
she didn't have any apparent behavioral concerns. I was given the following write-up:
"Candy is a delightful, approximately 8 year-old (KC's note: My guess is that she was
significantly older) spayed female Boxer. Like many other older dogs, and Boxers in particular,
Candy has a few medical problems.
The most serious problem is a skin cancer with multiple
masses called mast cell tumors (MCT). Candy was abandoned at our shelter with a large MCT
on her side. The tumor, as well as several others, were removed. Because she had multiple
tumors, she was not a candidate for radiation therapy. She experienced side effects from the
chemotherapy which made her very uncomfortable, and so the chemotherapy was discontinued. Candy's
lifespan is expected to be short
(possibly 6-8 months). We hope that she will find a loving and
compassionate owner who will enjoy spending quality time with this wonderful creature.
Candy also has a heart condition, not uncommonly encountered in Boxers, called cardiomyopathy.
This makes her heart beat erratically at times...
Candy has a hormonal condition in which her
thyroid glad does not produce enough hormone... She is a bit arthritic in her hips and is
occasionally lame in her left foreleg...
She loves car rides and sleeping on the couch (she sleeps very deeply
and it takes her a few
minutes to get up once she has woken up), watching T.V., ("Oprah" and "X-Files" are particular
favorites) and any type of treat (flavored rawhides make her happy). She gets along well with other dogs and cats.
Candy likes frequent (every 3-4 hour) walks to urinate and defecate. She
will make a loving and devoted companion for someone willing to open his or her heart and home
Although North Shore Animal League is a nice shelter, and although the volunteers all expressed
a genuine concern and affection for Candy,
I hate to see an old dog spend the last leg of its
life in an institution. This old Boxer had probably been somebody's much-loved family pet, and
she deserved to spend her last weeks or months in a family setting. I desperately wanted to
take her home, but I feared that my three young, rambunctious dogs (2 Boxers and 1 Scottie)
would overwhelm her. Somehow being knocked over and tormented by overly playful young thugs
didn't seem preferable to being in a shelter where at least she had some peace to relax.
With a heavy heart, I left her behind... but I returned the next day to adopt her. I wasn't sure
if I was being kind or being reckless, but I had to try to give this old dog a comfortable
hospice in her remaining time. My friends thought I had taken an utter leave of my
sensibilities, and I can only imagine the facial expressions on my veterinarian's staff when Candy's
encyclopedia-volume of a medical record came through on their fax machine.
When I returned with my sister to North Shore to adopt Candy, the volunteers were both
delighted and dismayed. They kept asking me if I was sure I had read and understood her
medical record. After clearing their reference check, I was the new adoptive owner of a
terminally ill Boxer. I can still remember driving home with Candy in the back of my station
wagon, licking our cheeks with vomit-scented breath, happy to be part of whatever adventure we
had in store for her.
I decided that "Candy" was too young and Britney Spears'esque a name for this old dog. If she
were a human, I imagined she'd be a bit like Julia Child
- somewhat doddering yet confident
and competent, brilliant in her eccentricity and alive with humor and uniqueness. Who is the
epitome of a tough but sweet old lady? Her new name became Grandma.
Grandma moved right in and made herself at home. She quickly established that she wasn't
going to tolerate any disrespect from my dogs, much to my tremendous amusement. My big brindle
is a tough, physical, dominant dog, and he politely deferred to the old lady much like a
pro-footballer might turn into
a soft-spoken boy around his grandmother. There were no issues
with dominance or competitiveness. My dogs simply knew that she was on a pedestal, and they
all adjusted easily.
She let me bathe her and trim her nails, and she fell into a sound sleep in a comfortably padded
crate that first afternoon. And then old Grandma picked out a favorite chair
systematically testing out the relative comfort of all the furniture, of course), and that was
the last time she saw the inside of a crate.
There's something wonderfully liberating about adopting an elderly dog,
especially one that
you know is on borrowed time. As a dog trainer, my mindset is always focused on setting limits
for young dogs, teaching them acceptable
behavior, wearing them out physically and mentally.
With this old Boxer, all I had to do was spoil her rotten and make her happy in
her remaining time.
That's it. It feels great to be able to do nothing but give to a
dog and never ask for anything.
Grandma adapted easily. She accompanied me for car rides,
came with my dogs on pet-therapy visits, watched me teach obedience classes,
gnawed on rawhide, took a daily run on a Flexi-leash at a local park, and slept soundly and
happily when nothing else was going on. The beauty of an older dog is that they don't chew
things up or soil floors. Grandma knew how to live as a housepet,
and she slid right into my home like she'd been there all
her life. While she lived with me, I slept on the sofa so that she
wouldn't have to negotiate stairs. She was very much the center of my attention, and yet
she was undemanding in her needs.
Through it all, she was a cheerful trooper. The only curveball she threw me was the
Chocolate Cake Affair. I blush just thinking about it. You see, Granny was such an easy dog
to live with that she had total freedom in my home. If I'd go out, she'd remain loose, and I'd
crate my other dogs to ensure her peace and quiet. One day I left to visit my mother,
and old lump o'Boxer was contentedly
snoring on her favorite chair as I exited the house. I found
her in the exact same position when I returned. The only thing is that I found an empty bakery
box on the diningroom table.
I must have been a sight. I saw the empty box (which had contained a painfully rich, decadent,
completely untouched fudge bakery cake). Then I looked at the snoring dog. I looked back at
the box again, not fully grasping the situation. I looked at the other dogs, comfortably sequestered in
their crates. Back at Grandma. There was no icing anywhere. No crumbs. The dog was too
arthritic to have stood on her hind legs and sucked
a cake out of its box, not to mention
leaving no crumbs or icing anywhere to be seen. But she did. I shook my head and burst out
laughing. The old dog still had some mischief left! (Note: I'm aware that chocolate can be
quite toxic to dogs, but Grandma didn't even burp after eating that cake. If the cardiomyopathy,
hypothyroidism, and cancer couldn't stop her, no cake was going to do it either).
That was Grandma. Old and sick and full of life all the same. Damn, I miss her.
Although she initially gained weight, grew hair, and developed more energy and spark, she
began to fail almost two months after I'd adopted her. I took her to the park one last time,
but she was too weak to take a run. She took a walk on unsteady legs, snarfed down meatballs,
and I said my teary goodbyes. I took her to the vet for the last time on the day before my
I don't think I've ever been so emotional about a dog's death. Often one can find
comfort in the long and good
life that's been shared between a dog and oneself.
Even though it was inevitable that Grandma wouldn't live for long, her
death came too soon. She
was a wonderful dog, and I wanted more.
That being said, I'd do it all over again.
I didn't keep this dog simply out of pity. Grandma Boxer enriched my life at least
as much as I did hers. I look now into the wide eyes and grey face of my oldest Boxer. I don't
love him in spite of his age and infirmaties. Rather, he's dear to me because of them. We share
a history that makes him very much a part of me in a way that Grandma was, no doubt, a part of
her original family. Even though they weren't able to see her through to the end of her days,
I'm glad that I was.
I hope that anyone who has ever had to give up an older dog will take comfort
in this tale. And I hope that somehow I've inspired someone somewhere to at least consider
adding an old, ill, or otherwise less adoptable dog to their home.
Many thanks to North Shore Animal League, their warm volunteers, and Dr. Mimi Fitchett for saving this dog. Even greater thanks to my own veterinarian, Dr. Mark Meadow, for helping to keep Grandma as healthy and happy as possible while we could, and for allowing her to die with grace and dignity. Thank you, too, to everyone who has emailed words of sympathy and support and to tell me about the old, unwanted dogs who have entered your lives. It means so much to me that others are moved by Grandma's story.
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