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Tag: old dogs

A place for old dogs to die loved

A little peace, and quiet, and love, and attention — they’re all any of us really want in life.

And maybe even more so when death is on the way.

For humans, hospice care is now big business, but the opportunity for sick and elderly dogs to die in peace and dignity isn’t always there.

And often, their last days are less than peaceful — especially for those whose owners, hoping to avoid the expense of veterinary care, abandon them to shelters or worse.

Seeing that happening too often — seeing them get abandoned at the time they need someone the most — a northern Michigan woman started the Silver Muzzle Cottage, a rescue and hospice for homeless old dogs.

The Detroit Free Press on Sunday took an in-depth look at the organization and the woman behind it, Kim Skarritt.

Silver Muzzle Cottage takes in dogs left behind either by owner choice, or by circumstances, as when a dog’s owner suddenly dies and no one else can care for it.

In two years, she has cared for more than 70 of them. It remains the only such hospice in the state, and one of the few in the country.

1441360_668204089941476_771065216946594329_n“They don’t ask for much when they’re really old,” said the 56-year-old former auto engineer. “They want to be loved and cared for, they want food and they just need a warm place to lay their head at night.”

Five years ago, Skarritt opened a dog boarding and fitness center called Bowsers by the Bay. Through that work, she noticed the pattern of elderly dogs being abandoned in their final days. After calling animal shelters throughout the state, she estimated there were about 900 senior dogs within 500 miles of Elk Rapids needing a home.

Skarritt researched the issue, finding many area shelters were taking in old dogs whose owners had surrendered them, sometimes just leaving them tied outside the shelters at night.

“I kept seeing these 14-year-old dogs and 13-year-old dogs in shelters and needing homes, and I’m going, ‘What is that? Who does that?'”

So she bought an empty storage building next door to her business and opened Silver Muzzle Cottage as a nonprofit rescue just for elderly dogs, which she defines as age 10 or older, or terminally ill but not suffering so much they need to be euthanized.

The Free Press described the inside of the rescue as a “big living room with couches, throw pillows, a fake fireplace with decorations atop the mantle, end tables with vases and a coffee table with a thick photo book about dogs atop it. It looks like a normal house, except there’s a bunch of dogs lounging on the couches like they own the place.”

The dogs aren’t caged at night, which means someone has to be there at all times. Skarritt moved into a small bare bones room adjacent to the living room and sleeps there at night.

About 100 rotating volunteers visit the dogs, take them for walks and car rides and pet and play with them.

Despite their old age, many get adopted — both by volunteers and by those among whom Skarritt works to spread the word about both the plight old dogs face, and the joys of having them around.

If you ask me, the world could use more places like this — for dogs and humans; places that aren’t about being poked, and prodded and prolonged but about being treated with some love, dignity and compassion when the end is near.

Silver Muzzle Cottage is at 201 Industrial Park, Elk Rapids, Mich., 49629. For information, call 231-264-8408, or visit the Silver Muzzle Cottage Facebook page.

(Photo from Silver Muzzle’s Facebook page)

You want to put what where?

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Seems like Ace and I, as we keep piling on the years, take turns these days experiencing health problems — from the pesky to the potentially fatal.

Saturday was his turn again.

He woke me up about 5:30 a.m. to be let outside, not all that unusual. But then he declined to come back in. He just wandered about the backyard, stopping here and there, straining to pee, but to no avail.

Once he did come back in, he wanted out again two minutes later, where he again attempted, unsuccessfully, to complete the task.

As I do with my own ailments, I got on the Internet to Google the possibilities — urinary tract infection, stones of some sort, or some other kind of obstruction that was blocking him from doing what he needed to do.

Given it was already 10 a.m. when I called his vet, and that they close at noon on Saturday, I wasn’t too surprised when I was told all slots were filled. But I was promised that a vet would call me back.

When he did, about 30 minutes later, I told him Ace was struggling to pee and that, to my knowledge, he hadn’t been able to all morning. Otherwise, he seemed fairly normal, and not in pain, not even when I pushed and prodded around his abdomen.

The vet — not the one I usually see at the practice — told me that, while I might have to wait around for an opening, I could bring Ace in. And he told me I probably should. If I waited until Monday, and Ace went all that time without peeing, he’d likely be dead by then.

After taking some X-rays, the vet showed me what he said were bladder stones — faint little circles, and some not so little, inside his bladder. He said it would take some testing to determine which kind of stones they were (some are more easily treated than others). The first priority though, was to get that obstruction cleared and that bladder drained, so he suggested a catheter.

I winced at the word. It has only been a few months since I was treated to that process while in the hospital for bypass surgery. Of all the highly intrusive things they did to me (okay, for me) the installation of the catheter remains my most traumatic memory. The mere word gives me shivers.

Why, I wondered then, and still do, would they install this device into a person without knocking him out — good and out — first?

I would not wish it on my worst enemy, much less my best friend.

Ace, his tail tucked between his legs rather than in its normal full and upright position, was ushered to a back room, and I stepped outside to pace and worry. I didn’t exactly “feel his pain,” but I did remember mine.

As soon as I stepped back into the office, only about five minutes later, the vet and a technician came into the waiting room with Ace and said things were flowing again. Ace, thanks to the catheter, had peed, and peed some more, and one little stone came out in the process.

The vet tech took Ace outside and he peed some more. His curled-up tail, which had been in the down position all day, was up — generally a sign that all is right with the world, or at least his world.

While the emergency was over, the ailment remains. Tests of his urine this week will determine whether the stones still inside his bladder are of the struvite variety, which can sometimes be treated with a therapeutic diet, or calcium oxalate stones, which require surgical removal to totally get rid of them.

Whatever the case, I’m sure Ace will handle what’s ahead in a far more classy and stoic manner than I would.

These days, we both grunt a bit now when settling down, or getting up. We’re both a little slower. We both have to shift around a bit to get comfortable, then stretch ourselves out when we get back up again.

But somehow he is better at this aging thing than me. It has been almost three years since he, now 10, surpassed me, now 61, according to most formulas for comparing dog years to human years. Now, as a large dog, he’s aging much more quickly than I am — even though you wouldn’t know it to look at us.

This week’s medical agenda includes the testing of his urine, whatever steps are deemed necessary for him after that, an echocardiogram on me to assess how my heart is working after quintuple bypass surgery, and another visit to my physical therapist for a continuing back and shoulder problem, now being treated by something called “dry needling.”

I’ll spare you the details of that. Suffice to say, for me — and even for my dog — getting old is getting old.

(A special thanks to Brian LeFevre at Winston-Salem’s Ard-Vista Animal Hospital for working Ace into his schedule and getting things flowing again.)

Trade that tired old dog in for a new pup

You say your old dog isn’t as fun as he used to be? Maybe he’s developing some behavioral issues, or requiring more maintenance. Or maybe his breed is no longer  “trending.”

Well  now there’s help.

An outfit in Toronto has put together this video, offering what appears to be a trade-in program: You give them your old dog; they give you a brand new pup of the breed of your choice.

“Who says puppy love can’t last forever?” they ask.

Fortunately the outfit behind Puppy Swap is the Toronto Humane Society — and the pitch is a phony one, aimed at bringing light to the fact that each year thousands of dogs are surrendered, abandoned and turned over to shelters by people who weren’t in for the long haul.

Thinly disguised as a real business, the website encourages customers to “make a new best friend again and again with PuppySwap — the world’s first puppy subscription service … The moment your puppy grows up, becomes a bother or gets less likable, simply log back into your account and swap out your old best friend for a brand-new one.”

Subtle irony often goes undetected on the Internet, so some of those who see the video — especially those who don’t watch until the end — might think it’s legit — or even that trading in dogs continuously is a good idea. According to a CNET report, it’s not until a viewer clicks on “sign up” on the website that a screen comes up pointing  out Puppy Swap isn’t real.

As of our visit to the site yesterday, though, it opened with a screen saying, “Puppy Swap is not real. Unfortunately pet abandonment is. Over 180,000 animals enter Canadian shelters each year. 40 percent will never leave … Spread the word, pet ownership is for life.”

The screen comes up again when “sign up” is clicked on. Those who click on “more information” get taken to a page of facts about pet abandonment, where another link directs them to how they can help support the Toronto Humane Society.

Stumped: How I turned my dog into a decorative lawn ornament

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It has been a year now since Ace and I moved into a little house in Bethania, North Carolina, and we’ve made a home improvement or two – even though we just rent.

One issue I hadn’t figured out though was what to do with the big tree stump in the front yard – which many might view as an eyesore.

Two years ago the whole property was an eyesore. The house was heavily damaged by a fire – a fire that, I’m told, killed two or three of the dogs that lived with the person who rented it then.

The little white house on Main Street sat vacant – amid a neighborhood of historic, pre-Revolutionary, mostly meticulously kept homes in Bethania, a community settled by Moravians in 1759.

It was purchased and renovated by the man who’s now my landlord, and since I moved in – and without spending too much of my own money – I’ve tried to make some little improvements here and there to the grounds.

As for the tree stump, I contemplated hollowing out the center and turning it into a decorative planter, but that would be a lot of work.

I thought about putting a plaque across it, the sort that a lot of the truly historic homes in town have. Mine’s just 1940s vintage, though.

I considered carving a Moravian star – sort of the town symbol – on the top of the stump. But that would be a lot of work, too.

For a good long while, I was stumped. Then it came to me. Rather than cover it up, I should use the big ol’ stump as a focal point – as the foundation, or pedestal, if you will,  for some artwork.

And that’s how my dog became a decorative lawn ornament.

You know those big mansions you sometimes see – the ones with big cement lions on either side of the driveway? I’m not sure what message those big cement lions are supposed to send – other than “Yes, I’m rich enough to afford big cement lions.” Or maybe, “Enter at your own risk; this area patrolled by big cement lions.”

Having no big  cement lions myself, and having a pedestal on only one side of my driveway, I decided upon a variation of that theme, and called upon my big ol’ dog.

It took only a day to teach him, with help from treats, to “Get on the stump,” and then sit still, and then stay there when I walk away.

(Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, and even learn some your old self.)

Now, I can sit up on the front porch and command him to get on the stump, and then watch as people in cars whizzing past my otherwise nondescript house do double takes and point.

(Just as a reminder the speed limit is 35 in front of my house.)

Being a living lawn ornament, and given he has come to expect some treatage for getting on the stump, he’s not entirely motionless. If you watch carefully you can see the flow of drool that often cascades from his mouth while he’s up there, knowing that, in exchange for his toil, there’s a treat in his near future.

He’ll sit there for 10 minutes or more, though I usually don’t make him stay that long.

Of all the yard improvements I’ve made – flower boxes and flower beds and distributing pine needles to cover up the weeds on the front bank that’s too steep for me to mow – I think the Ace lawn ornament is by far my biggest achievement.

He is after all, the finest work of art I own, and I like to think – whether he’s up on his tree stump pedestal or just hanging out in the yard – he makes the bucolic little town of Bethania even more beautiful.

(Photo and video by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

 

Three nuns and a pit bull

remy

When three elderly nuns who live together in New York lost their dog, they mourned for a week before heading to an animal shelter, determined to pick a dog that needed them as much as they needed her.

They adopted one that fit the bill —  a 9-year-old pit bull who’d been at the shelter for three months.

“As soon as I saw the sign that said ‘9 years,’ I said, ‘This is the one,'” said Sister Veronica Mendez, 71. “No one is going to want this one.”

Being old, and being a pit bull, Remy hadn’t been getting much attention from potential adopters during her stay at the Hi Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona, N.Y.

That all changed when the sisters — Mendez, Virginia Johnson and Alice Goldsmith, all of whom live together in Nyack, N.Y — walked in.

A grey and docile old girl, Remy made an immediate connection, leaning her head into Sister Virginia’s chest and sighing.

“She just got right up there,” said Sister Virginia, 79. “She said, ‘This must be my new family.'”

As reported by Today.com, the nuns had spent the previous week grieving the loss of their beloved Kate, a 7-year-old mutt who died suddenly from apparent lymphoma.

“I was furious. I was so angry. I cried!” Sister Veronica said. “Oh, how we loved that creature.”

At the end of last month they drove to the shelter and told the director they were seeking a dog that nobody else wanted.

He introduced the sisters — who between them have served 179 years as nuns — to Remy.

“It just worked out so well,” shelter director West Artope said. “We did a follow-up with them and went to the house, and the dog is so comfortable in that environment, you wouldn’t believe it. It was like a match made in heaven.”

“Our feelings were that she was in danger of being euthanized, and we wanted to give her the best three of four years she has left,” Sister Veronica said.

“Here we are, three senior sisters, so we adopted a senior pet!”

(Photo: Remy with Sister Virginia Johnson; by Pauline Jarney / Hi Tor Animal Care Center via Facebook)

Dogs with Old Man Faces

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Tom Cohen has taken some dogs with funny faces and made them funnier.

In “Dogs with Old Man Faces,” released earlier this month, Cohen has gathered photos of elderly dogs and combined them with tag lines reflecting not so much the wisdom that comes with being an old human, but the crankiness, irascibility, aches and fears — our increasing tendency, as we age, to seek out simple pleasures and our decreasing willingness to put up with annoyances.

“Muttley is worried about the future of Medicare,” reads one, next to a photo (at top of this post) of a wrinkled and anxious-looking pug.

“Duster enjoys a good knish,” reads another, accompanied by photo of a pooch whose white eyebrows hang over his eyes.

Roscoe

Each black and white image of an old dog is accompanied by a caption: “Roscoe was one of the original Hells Angels,” reads the one accompanying the shaggy and graying dog shown above.

Dogs With Old Man Faces Book JacketWe learn that “Pedro likes Old Spice and Sinatra,” “Jack enjoys a hot cup of Sanka,” and “Chet is still upset they canceled Matlock.” Geppeto is horrified at how much things cost.  Sumo wants those kids off his lawn. Sherman smoked too much pot in the 60’s. Riley can’t wait for tonight’s early bird special. And Pepper has been advised to cut down on salt.

Dogs with Old Man Faces: Portraits of Crotchety Canines” (published by Running Press, $13.95) isn’t the consumate old dog book — Old Dogs by Gene Weingarten holds that honor, in our view  — but it is a fun and lighthearted spin that incorporates photos of salty old dogs with stereotypical (but often true) phrases  that you might hear uttered by a senior citizen of the human species.

cohenCohen, a former stand-up comedian, is a television writer and producer who has won three Emmy Awards and lives in Maryland with his own old dog. He has worked on shows for MTV, Nickelodeon, NBC, History Channel, ABC Family, and most recently, Discovery Channel, serving as executive producer, director, and head writer of the  series “Cash Cab.”

Based on a photo we found of him, he doesn’t quite have an old man face yet, but appears to be working on it.

(Photos: From “Dogs with Old Man Faces.” Top photo (Muttley) by Richard Dudley; photo of Roscoe by Tom Cohen) 

Old dogs and undying love

Puck’s family thinks their aging dog has lost most of his senses. He’s deaf. He’s blind in the one eye he has left. And if you put a treat on the ground in front of him, he can’t seem to hone in on it by sniffing. It’s more of a random search. He may or may not taste his watered down food.

But at least one sense remains — not one of the big five, but an important one all the same — his sense of dignity.

At 17, Puck doesn’t run anymore. In recent years, his three block walks shrunk to two block walks, then one block walks, then no block walks. He can’t do the stairs anymore. He has epilepsy, an enlarged heart, a hacking cough. He goes through long periods where he seems to zone out – standing motionlessly like a mini-cow in pasture — possibly the result of mini-strokes. He wears a diaper around the clock.

These days, Puck doesn’t jump, doesn’t play – instead he spends his days asleep or in quiet reflection.

And that’s just fine with George Fish and Kathleen Sullivan.

Puck can cuddle as well as he ever did; relishes a scratch behind the ears as much as he ever did – maybe even more.

George was once my college roommate; and my overnight visit with them last week at their home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the third time I’d seen Puck – the first being when he was a youngster, the second about two years ago. When I reconnect with George on the phone, I’m usually afraid to ask about Puck, fearing the worst. But George generally volunteers the information: “Puck’s still alive.” Or “Puck’s still around.”

George and Kathleen’s daughter, Elizabeth, was 7 when they got Puck, and she came up with the name — as in pucker up — based on how much he liked to kiss. She’s 24 now and living in California.

A neighbor across the street called one night 17 years ago and asked if they wanted a puppy – as he described it, a poodle.

The dog – part of a litter that resulted from an unauthorized get-together between a poodle and a terrier — didn’t look anything like a poodle, Kathleen notes. “But it was cute.”

She called her husband to let him know: “We sort of have a dog now.”

“George came home and I think in three seconds he was in love,” she said.

Nearly a generation later, Puck remains – less lively, less mobile and diaper clad. It attaches with Velcro and holds a sanitary napkin, a regular one during the day, a maxi pad at night. It’s removed for his trips outside, where he mostly stands motionlessly, his tail periodically going into bouts of wagging.

Every night, they tote him to his upstairs bed. Every morning, they carry him to his downstairs bed, which they call his “office.” Next to it is a family portrait, a toy fax machine,a stapler and a collection of Puck’s other favorite things.

George says he has learned a lot from Puck – both about patience and grace.

“Puck never complains; it makes me hope I can be that way when I’m old and decrepit,” he said.

Puck has had to put up with eye ulcers, which led to the removal of one of his eyes a year ago, and after that he lost sight in the remaining one. Vet bills amounted to about $4,000 for the eye problems alone. He also has been on medication for epileptic seizures since he was a pup. He’s probably had some small strokes, and his cough has led to more vet bills and interrupted sleep.

How much does all that matter in the big scheme of dog-family love? Not a bit.

Some friends tell George it’s time to put Puck down, but George can’t see doing that – “not as long as his tail keeps wagging.”