Who in the heck decided old people and old dogs would be a perfect fit? What were they thinking? I have right now two extremely senior dogs. One is 21. She’s blind, takes more meds than most octogenarians, and gets lost, stuck in corners, and falls down. It isn’t too bad because she’s tiny. Last December, I buried my 19-year-old cattle dog. When he was young and healthy, he weighed sixty-five pounds. At the end of his life, he weighed about forty pounds. He’d lost the use of his back legs, was incontinent, but still wanted to eat. I had to put him on a blanket and drag him from one room to another. I had to wash his bedding and him every day. I had to clean up a lot of bad messes. But I did it because I loved him. You don’t throw a dog you’ve had for nineteen years away just because he’s inconvenient. How could a senior take care of a dog with these kinds of problems? The answer is, they couldn’t.
When it was finally time to send him over the rainbow bridge, I had to lift him into my car, and drive him to the vet. It cost me $450 to put Bulldog to sleep. Anyone on a fixed income would find the vet bills associated with older dogs hard to budget. I decided to bring him home, so I had to dig a big hole in my garden. When little Trixie’s time comes, I won’t have to dig quite as big a hole, but I will probably still have to pay her vet bills.
I think seniors should have dogs. They are great company, and many seniors are alone. They should think carefully before choosing a dog. I think small or midsize would be best. Adopt one from a local shelter that is already house broken and who is lonely, too. Don’t adopt a puppy, get a dog that is in its midlife, between three and six. You can grow old together and become fast friends. A dog will keep you active and get you out of bed every morning.
The worst decision any dog owner has to make is when to put your faithful companion down. No matter how artfully or carefully you phrase this, it’s still killing your dog. That’s how I view it. I read on several of my dog Facebook pages how people drive their beloved friend to hamburger joints and ice cream venders to get them one last treat on the day they’ve “selected” to kill their pet. Honestly, this horrifies me.
First, are they making this date, choosing the day they kill their dog, you know the animal who trusts you as god, because it’s convenient for you? Let’s kill Fluffy on Tuesday because Monday is bad for me, I have a doctor’s appointment, and Thursday is bad because Aunt Emily is coming to visit. Or is this the day you vet had an opening to kill your pet? Seriously, would you put Grandma down on a day convenient to yourself and her doctor or on the day she told you she’d taken all the pain and suffering she could?
I’ve had to put a beloved dog down twice this year. The first was my 200-pound mastiff. She stopped eating. That’s a huge piece of the puzzle. When an animal hides under the porch and won’t eat anything, they’re finished. If they still happily load into the car, swallow six burgers and an ice cream cone, they’re not. You’ve arbitrarily decided for your own convenience to kill your faithful, trusting friend.
The second dog I put down this year was a pitbull/lab mix I had for 18 years. He had a gross tumor on one of his back feet. His back legs got steadily weaker until his back legs were paralyzed, and he could no longer stand up. He weighed about 80 pounds and still wanted his food. He still wanted hugs and kisses and love. He didn’t care we had to load him onto a dog bed, drag him outside, and roll him into the grass. He pooped and peed when we took him out. When he’d had enough and was too tired to go on, he stopped eating. He looked so apologetic when he refused his food. He’d always been the sweetest dog, the best dog. He came whenever you called him. He could jump a six-foot high fence easily. To see him so debilitated was heart-wrenching, but I waited until he said he couldn’t do it any more. They tell you.
I have a pitbull I rescued. Her name is Happy. Happy has advanced breast cancer. She’s on a lot of meds. She was eating until yesterday. I’m taking her to the vet today, not to put her down ( a euphemism I loathe), but to see if there’s anything else I can do for her. Just because your dog’s infirmity is inconvenient is not a reason to put it down. Give them a chance. Here are seven criteria I follow when judging when they’ve had enough gleaned from the American Humane Society. Not when you’ve had enough of taking care of them. When they’re ready to go.
He is experiencing chronic pain that cannot be controlled with medication (your veterinarian can help you determine if your pet is in pain).
He has frequent vomiting or diarrhea that is causing dehydration and/or significant weight loss.
He has stopped eating or will only eat if you force feed him.
He is incontinent to the degree that he frequently soils himself.
He has lost interest in all or most of his favorite activities, such as going for walks, playing with toys or other pets, eating treats or soliciting attention and petting from family members.
He cannot stand on his own or falls down when trying to walk.
He has chronic labored breathing or coughing.
And I would go even further to say just one of these shouldn’t be enough. In other words, falling down only shouldn’t be enough. Labored breathing, shouldn’t be enough. An incontinent dog might have kidney problems. It alone shouldn’t be enough. My biggest indicator is when a dog who always scarfed their food up, suddenly stops eating. And make sure it’s for more than just one feeding. I’d wait two or three days, then decide. Always know, euthanasia is never chosen by the dog. You’re making that decision for him and in many cases, this decision is made because their pain and suffering is inconvenient. Choose wisely, your dog trusts you.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m going to talk about what I feed my dogs. Well what you feed your dogs is not nearly as important as how and when. Dogs are like humans. They feel comfortable when the routine is the same every day. This is especially important for rescues who have lost their trust in humans and the world in general. For an abused animal to know food will arrive every single day, twice a day, at the same time, is a security blanket they need. Setting a routine is the best thing you can do to heal their insecurities and win their trust. Food is everything to dogs. The promise of two meals a day, every day, means more to them than you can know, especially if they’ve been starved or neglected.
I have nine dogs. Feeding time is a little tricky. Every dog has a bowl and every dog has a place to eat. They eat in that same place every day. There is an order I follow, and they know that order. Without the routine, the order of feeding, there would be fighting and general chaos. Because I follow this order always, I can feed all nine dogs in the same room. None of them have to be separated.
The dog I’m going to talk about today is Chester, a half Jack Russel, half something else. I got Chester from a rescue operation in New Smyrna, Florida. He was pretty skinny and about nine months old. He had hook worms. I treated him for them immediately. Chester was abandoned by his previous owner in an apartment with no food or water for approximately a month. He is a survivor. Rescues like Chester who are starved develop some interesting survival habits. Chester knows cardboard such as toilet paper tubes will make the pain of an empty belly go away and not kill you. He is an inveterate garbage hound. I have to shut all the pantry doors because he will open bags or boxes of noodles and rice and eat them. No bug is safe around Chester. He licks the walls for moisture. He knows if he bites a water bottle, he can get water from the hole. He will lick his empty bowl and all of the empty bowls until they are shiny. I picture him going to his bowl in that abandoned apartment and licking it while hoping something will appear in it.
Chester can be a troublemaker. Jack Russels are killers. Chester is now three-years old and has fifteen rats under his belt, three squirrels, and we no longer have a mole problem. He is also an escape artist. We finally have the front yard of our acre Chester proof, but the back still has a hole he can squeeze out of somewhere in the palmettos. He doesn’t like escaping alone. He’d rather someone went with him. He’s a charming fellow and a nosy scamp who has already survived an encounter with a water moccasin. When there is a fight among the other dogs, Chester will jump in. Jacks are feisty. Peepers, the Boston Terrier, is his particular friend.
When I first got Chester he had bad dreams. He would cry in his sleep. He also has separation anxiety and he worries. Some dogs are worriers some aren’t. His bad dreams are gone, but if I leave for a few hours, he will knock me down with joy when I come home. Never forget dogs have feelings and emotions. Abuse leaves scars that time can heal but not erase.