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Senior dog love

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 08, 2021 3:00 pm

Pablo was my first love, a white teacup Chihuahua given to me by my husband in 2003. Before that, I was quite indifferent to animals, but everything changed when this little “fella” came into my life. He was very attached to me. He would follow me around the house and would even wait outside the bathroom as I showered. I would call him “my stalker.”

I have to confess, though, that I was more attached to him. I would go home for lunch from work almost every day to keep him company. And don’t get me started by telling you about the separation anxiety and emotional upheavals I felt when I went on vacations. I would even video call through Skype back then to see if he was well and not missing me.

  Fifteen-year-old Pablo immortalized in a Betsy Westendorp painting with author

There was a time that Pablo had cancer and had to have radiation treatments. I cried like a crazy woman and personally took him to his weekly therapy, blocking my work calendar every Wednesday for this. Thankfully, he recovered.

As years passed, I slowly noticed changes in his appearance. Pablo was no longer a chubby, fluffy and energetic little dog. I saw the difference in his eyes, teeth, appetite, and movements. He couldn’t jump on the bed on his own anymore. He was still adorable, though.

 Susie's Senior Dogs is a compilation of successful stories of senior dog adoption.

Then, quickly, he deteriorated. He was having problems with his spine followed by other ailments. Pablo was suffering and in constant pain. He could hardly walk despite all the efforts of the vets. I would wake up around six times at night to comfort him because he would cry out loud. I then had to make the terrifying decision to end his misery.

 Erin Stanton of Susie's Senior Dogs is dedicated to the adoption of elderly dogs. (Photo is from her book by Simon and Schuster.)

I spent his last days cuddling with him and had him gently put to sleep peacefully in my arms at home. My beloved Pablo was 15 years old when he crossed the rainbow bridge. A month later, at exactly the same day that Pablo passed away, a portrait by well-loved artist Betsy Westendorp was completed. The lovely painting had me with an aging Pablo in my arms, similar to his last moments with me.

 Puppy love: The author with a young Pablo in 2003

SENIOR DOG INSPIRATIONS

My moving experience with Pablo got me thinking about senior dogs. Then I came across Susie’s Senior Dogs, a Facebook and Instagram sensation in the US that became a full-fledged non-profit organization launched in 2014 that advocates for the adoption of senior dogs. It created awareness in the rescue adoption world, where only cute puppies and young animals were the ones being chosen, while older dogs were mostly ignored. Through its social media platforms, SSD finds loving homes for elderly dogs. Behind it is Erin Stanton, who has compiled successful senior adoption stories in a heartwarming book. By the way, the organization was named after Stanton’s late dog Susie.

 Steve Greig, aka Wolfgang22242 and his menagerie of senior and special-needs animals (Photo by Aaron Colussi from 5280 magazine)

Another senior dog hero for me is Denver-based Steve Greig, who is the human behind the delightful @wolfgang2242 Instagram account with one million followers. Greig, whose precious dog Wolfgang died in 2013, decided to adopt elderly dogs. He goes a step further by also selecting special-needs dogs.

His home is filled with a menagerie of senior dogs, a pig named Bikini, Tofu the turkey, a chicken and a couple of rabbits. I totally enjoy his depiction of their daily lives and different personalities, especially during morning burrito runs, breakfast, and movie nights. Every time one of his animal family passes away, it breaks many hearts. However, no matter how sad it is to take care of a senior dog knowing there are only a few years of life left, he continues to adopt them, providing a better life, no matter how short. It is admirable, selfless, inspiring and bittersweet.

 The cute Christmas greeting from the Wolfgang2242 crew

Greig has also written a children’s book called The One and Only Wolfgang created to spread the word that “senior animals can be terrific pets.”

Jem and the Misfits is another senior dog influencer in California with her blog, Instagram and Facebook pages. With the slogan “Old is the New New,” the joy one derives from the care of geriatric pets, specifically Chihuahuas in Jem’s case, is successfully shared online and is a daily delight.

 The original Jem and the Misfits crew of lovable geriatric Chihuahuas

Locally, there are many animal shelters where one can adopt a dog or cat. There is the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), CARA Welfare Philippines, Philippine Animal Rescue Team (PART), Happy Animals Club (if you live in the south), and many more. Go to their websites and check out their adoption requirements. If you decide to adopt, I recommend choosing a senior dog. Loving an old pet can be life-changing and one of the most fulfilling acts of kindness you can do.

 This children's book by Steve Greig spreads the message that senior animals can be terrific pets.

CROSSING THE RAINBOW BRIDGE

After Pablo, I had a few dogs who crossed the rainbow bridge. There was Gloria, a feisty Jack Russell Terrier who had dementia. She was already deaf, blind and would walk around in circles all day.

 Lucy the survivor, who lived to a ripe old age

Luzviminda followed. She had an enlarged heart and was on medication but gave in after a few years.

The most recent dog to have passed away was Lucy. She was a survivor and her life was extended for almost two years. In 2018, she needed a blood transfusion due to a hemorrhage and was miraculously saved by a blood donor named Baloo, a huge but sweet Boxer (a shout-out to his owner Claudia for being a lifesaver). Lucy’s kidneys and liver finally failed her this year.

 Luzviminda in her old age

Despite all the worry, anxiety, heartbreak, and effort needed to take care of a senior dog, it is all worthwhile. You learn a little bit more about yourself with eureka moments that make you realize “Ah, I am brave,” or “Oh, I never realized I was selfless,” or “This brings me so much joy.”

 My seniors Gloria and Pablo, who crossed the rainbow bridge

However, it is inevitable — the aging, the brief life. My only consolation is that in that short span of time, I hopefully provided comfort and ease during my dogs’ golden years. Our dear pets may have moved on but they never really leave us.