This week marks the second anniversary of the day Touch of Grey (Grey for short) came home. We had lost our dog Sarah in December 2009, and we were still mourning and weren’t ready for a new dog. But Chryssi, who came from an abusive home and can be anxious and – ahem – confused under ideal circumstances was not adapting to her life as an only dog. She was depressed and lonely without her fearless leader.
So, when John showed me Grey’s picture in the paper… naturally I immediately jumped in the car drove through a snowstorm to see him. He had been in a shelter for five months and had pneumonia, so we met in the warmth of the lobby. When a chihuahua came through the door, got all up in his face, and started pitching a Napoleon Complex barking fit, you could just about hear Grey (tipping the scales at 100 pounds) laugh. ”Seriously?”
I’ll take him!
The shelter manager said he was five years old. John said eight, at least. My vet thinks maybe ten. When people learn his story, they invariably respond with something along the lines of, “What a charitable and kind of stupid thing you have done for this old, decrepit dog who is going to get cancer and die, probably next week!” (Maybe that’s not exactly what they say, but it’s what they mean.) But I think I’m a lifer with this senior dog thing.
Shelters are not comfortable for any animal. But they are especially uncomfortable and even dangerous for senior animals, with their aching joints and aging immune systems. Many people think that if an animal is in a shelter then something must be wrong with him, but that is simply not true. Companion animals often end up homeless after a death or divorce. Sometimes an animal simply becomes an inconvenience to her person and gets dumped. Animals who get lost and are not wearing identification cannot be reunited with their families.
That’s what happened to Grey. He was wandering around wearing an electric fence collar but his microchip was outdated and his first family never came for him. He had obviously been well-loved; he has had knee replacement surgery, and he knows tricks including speak, sit up, and roll over (not easy to teach a dog of his size!). He came to us a ready-made family member, house-trained, well past the chewing/nipping/scratching stage, a mellow yin to Chryssi’s neurotic yang, and a perfect family dog.
His flaw? Cats. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but it isn’t easy. A younger dog would have eventually learned to peacefully co-exist with the cats (particularly considering that every feline encounter has left him bloody). But Grey has not adjusted and we have had to take steps to keep everyone safe and happy. In my opinion, managing his cat chasing has been much easier than dealing with puppy nonsense, though I’m quite certain the cats would strenuously disagree.
Of course, there’s the obvious drawback: We will have to care for another dying dog within a few years. Old dogs tend to have more problems, and it tends to cost more to keep them healthy. But there are no guarantees with young animals either, and if you are lucky old age will still come. Yes, Grey is stiff in the winter, and yes he gets ear infections easily and gets rid of them only with great effort. But when you compare a few courses of antibiotics with the cost of obedience school, chewed furniture, ruined carpet, lost sleep, and all the rest…I would (and most likely will) do it again in a heartbeat.