Adopt a senior, you won’t be sorry

Touch of Grey

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  He was wandering around wearing an electric fence collar but his microchip was outdated and his first family never came for him.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.

People in Glass Houses

Our Ally Cat

When I was younger and very active in companion animal rescue, I had a hair-trigger when it came to judging people.  I judged them for not being good enough to adopt a dog or cat, I judged the way they cared for their animals, I especially judged people who relinquished animals to the shelter.  Our companion animals are part of our family, and I would just as soon give up one of my children as one of my cats or dogs.

Or so I thought.

When we started down the rescue path, John had a cat allergy, but it was mild (and truth be told, I was a little selfish and self-righteous) so he tolerated the cats.  Plus, I rationalized, he has tons of other allergies – pollen, mold, dust, you name it – so it’s not like he would be itch- and sneeze-free if we didn’t have the cats.  Recently, his allergies seemed to be getting worse, and he constantly had red, burning eyes.  One morning he woke up and his eyes were oozing and he could barely open them; a trip to the doctor produced a diagnosis of conjunctivitis.  We went on vacation the next day, and his eyes cleared up almost immediately.  We returned home a week later, and the next morning he woke up with painful blisters on his eye.  (And I mean ON HIS EYE.  He actually had a blister on. his. cornea.)  Back to the doctor, home with a new antibiotic since obviously the nasty critters were resistant to the other one.  He went away for work, and again the eyes cleared almost immediately.  Then he came home, and – you guessed it – swollen, painful, blistered eyes again.

So, the new diagnosis is that he has become hyper-sensitive to some sort of allergen.  That allergen seems to be our cats.  Hence we find ourselves in quite a quandary.  He says he would rather go blind than deal with the guilt of re-homing our cats, and he’s only half kidding.  I have gone into overdrive, washing everything in sight constantly, confining the cats to one side of the house and John more or less to another, and reminding him to use his eye drops a dozen or so times a day.  My efforts have helped, but not enough.

On the one hand, the thought of losing my cats breaks my heart.  One of them I saved from gangrene and pneumonia in her kittenhood, and the other I’ve had since he was one day old.  I am definitely beating myself up on many levels – from I should have known better than to have them in the first place to how could I even dream of finding them a new home, and everything in between.  On the other hand, I don’t want John to be miserable and/or blind for the cats’ remaining days.  They aren’t young, 11 and 13, but they aren’t old either in cat terms.  We could have another seven or so years in front of us.

So, as I struggle with my dilemma, I also learn – there but for Grace go I.

Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary

In honor of my humane educator roots in animal rights activism, my first post on Ahimsa Mama is about our recent family trip to Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag (Duchess County), New York.

Dr. William Crain, who founded and continues to operate the sanctuary with his wife, NYC physician Dr. Ellen Crain, was one of the keynote speakers at the Cultivating Children’s Creativity conference I helped to organize at Wellspring Community School last month.  As part of his presentation, he showed video of some young children interacting with the sanctuary residents, and I knew right away that I had to see this place.  There are not tons of farmed animal sanctuaries around, and among those there are just a few that welcome young children (such as my nearly-five and nearly-three-year old) for a visit.  Given that the Drs. Crain are a child development specialist (Bill) and a pediatrician (Ellen), and exceptionally warm people to boot, they not only welcomed our wee ones with open arms but offered to make us lunch (which, for the record, we declined, opting instead to bring our own brown-bagged vegan lunches).

Bill and Ellen enthusiastically led us through their rain-soaked, muddy farm and introduced us to their furred and feathered friends, offering each resident’s story as we met them.  The kids were encouraged to touch and feed the animals (except the turkeys who are apparently going through a crabby phase right now), and it was great to see how they reacted to the trust that the Crains placed in their ability to interact with the animals kindly and gently.  Even my whirling dervish of a son was relatively calm though he did find the temptation to chase a chicken or two too great to resist.  The chickens, I’m glad to report, seemed to take it in stride – I suspect this is not the first time they have been subjected to a little boy of Harry’s ilk.

I encourage you to check out the Safe Haven website, and to schedule a visit if you are in the area.  We can’t wait to go back – on a drier and sunnier day, we hope.