Essays, Loss

Saturday Essay: A Shout Out to the Senior Dogs I Can’t Get out of My Head or My Heart

The following blog post was submitted by an expert dog mom, volunteer, foster and adoption counselor, Tess Crossen. Tess wanted to share with us the love she has found in adopting senior dogs. She hopes that her stories will help potential adopters consider adult and senior dogs since those little love bugs have a lot of love to give! Tess shared that she can’t get these pups out of her head or her heart and they have inspired her to take on different jobs and roles.

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Marley

Try and be patient with me while you read to the end. The Pets I’ve Met blog and I have a gift to give to you.

Marley is the start of my journey to loving senior dogs. I must confess, she was not a rescue. I had recently lost my Yorkie mix, Richard, in a terrible accident. He was not even two-years-old, and I was just so filled with grief. I searched desperately on the internet to find his living face and bring him home. My daughters talked me into going to the pet store and two of Richard’s sisters, a litter removed, were for sale; $300.00 each. To be honest, I felt that divorce was looming and that I couldn’t spare the money. Luckily my loving neighbors, John & Kathryn, bought Marley for me. She fit in my hand and I could carry her in my pocket. She scared a full-grown Great Dane at the whopping weight of 1 ½ pounds and never quite knew her size after that day.

She was with me through raising my girls, welcoming my first three grandsons, ultimately through a terrible divorce, and many moves. She slept above my head on the pillow every night. She scared a bear with her shrill bark when I lived on Mount Nittany here in Central PA. She was a wonder dog.

I had Spankey when I left my marriage too. He is a story all his own, but he had been with Marley since puppyhood. After Spankey passed away, I found that Marley was crying and grieving all day long while I was at work. This broke my heart. By this time, she was 11-years-old, still the boss, but not as agile. So, I went to Centre County PAWS searching for a companion for her. Little did I know; this trip would lead me on my journey to loving senior dogs.

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Maggie’s initial photo from Centre County PAWS

First, there was Maggie. She had spent her life alone in a basement. Maggie had a horrible skin infection that had taken most of her fur. She was truly aged in that she shuffled along barely at the speed of a snail. I was simply taken with her, so I took her. I needed to give her special baths and it was summer, so I would hose her down outside while she would calmly try to shuffle herself away from me.

One day, as we walked outside, a chipmunk was on the porch and Maggie shuffle-scared and “chased” it back into its hole. I could tell she was thrilled with herself. I was just grateful. Marley was so delighted to have a new companion.

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Maggie after some TLC

Maggie had to have surgery. I took her in and she underwent one procedure. But in the course of opening her up, the vet found an enormous tumor that had burst. They offered to try intensive care, which the selfish part of me embraced. But Maggie was terrified at the vet’s and it was not likely that she would survive. She was still anesthetized, and I knew that she did not deserve to spend her final days in a kennel at the vet’s. My good friend, Liz Strickler came, and we sat on the floor with Maggie’s head in my lap and paw in my hand and she passed, hopefully chasing a chipmunk over that great bridge.

I was heartbroken, but Maggie melted something I had long needed to shed in terms of being a braver, stronger, more present person in the world. She erased some strange distractions in my spirit that probably crippled me to some extent as a parent and as a person, in some cold basement from my own long ago. So, I tried again within 2 weeks.

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The day Pam was first surrendered.

This time, I met Pam, a shivering, again hairless, and completely withdrawn dog in the PAWS lobby as she was being surrendered. I think I saw Maggie coming back to us in Pam. I was once again called into action. Pam was a younger dog but seemed old in years because she was so lost in spirit. Marley loved her instantly! We went home, the three of us, to more medicated baths, walks, wholesome food. Marley was able to coax some play out of Pam in about a month. Her fur started to grow back, and she was walking with more confidence and really playing. All was well…until Pam decided that it might be fun to chase and bite the kitties. I had to return her to PAWS with the label “No Cats.” Pam was later adopted by a great couple with two children and is living the high life now.

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The day Pam found her final furever home.

Hold onto your hats, because you will now meet Miss Bluma! Bluma was a big fluffer-nutter. My grandsons, Makena and Judah were living with me through all of these dogs and I was worried about how they felt with so many comings and goings. But they were worried about Marley too and when I wind my memory back, they are there holding the hose on Maggie, holding the leash with Pam. So, we returned to PAWS and they picked Bluma. No worries there about baldness. Marley and Bluma played. Kitties were ignored. From the start, when I would read to the boys at night and tell stories, Bluma would jump up with Makena while Marley and I laid with Judah. We were all really pleased. All was well.

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Bluma

The only thing that crept up on us was hurricane weather. It came blasting into State College that year with high winds and pelting rain. That evening, we learned that Bluma could open doors! She smacked the handle and took off out into the storm. I threw on a coat, told the boys to stay calm, and promised I would find her and bring her home safely. The wind was so loud and strong I couldn’t even hear myself screaming for her. I ran up and down the street. I scrambled all around our yard and the yards of the neighbors. So scared and dejected, I headed back home after 45 minutes composing in my mind what I could tell the boys. But who should appear on the porch as I stepped towards the door, but a very soggy, exuberant Bluma. She had those ant-sized black burrs all through her coat. She flopped on the floor, rolling back and forth while I brushed and brushed and picked and pulled out hundreds of those burrs. Marley barked and jumped on Bluma making it very hard to groom. But the boys were happy and actually thought that I found her.

One day, about two months into our bliss, Bluma reacted to Marley devouring a treat slower than her by grabbing Marley and treat. Marley got hurt in the scuffle pretty badly and with Bluma having 30 pounds up on Marley, we couldn’t risk another incident or have Bluma further frustrated by being with another dog; it was too dangerous for them and both deserved the best home. Bluma went back to PAWS and was immediately scarfed up by a very loving family where she could be an only dog, reading bedtime stories to three new kids. The boys and I were crushed. They wanted to wait a bit before trying again.

So, we waited. Marley cried during the day. I kept following the PAWS website, looking, and looking. And along came Snoopy! Snoopy was 12-years-old and had been with a loving young woman who passed away prematurely. Her parents felt too much grief holding onto Snoopy and having three dogs was too much stress for them. I saw stars and hearts fluttering about him! We did a Meet & Greet at PAWS and Marley just loved him. He wagged his tail in approval, so off we went. He was a whopping 15 pounds to her 5. His daily activity included: 6:00 am alarming the house for breakfast; rigorous napping exercise from 7:00 am until 3:00 pm when I came home and took him out to do dog business with Marley. She pounced on him and rolled around him, and he just wagged his tail and watched. We went back inside the house where he took another vigorous nap from 3:00 until 5:00 due to exhaustion from the dog business exhilaration. Promptly at 5:00 pm, he sounded the daily dinner alarm. Marley joined in! When the boys and I hopped onto the bed to watch Harry Potter, he constantly interrupted us by barking for treats and stints outside. I never saw the 6th installation. This was Snoop’s life with us. He also enjoyed the bedtime reading and story ritual. The boys and I started dragging it out by doing a build-a story train where one of us would start a theme and then pass it on to another until we had made a big mess of a tale. This was also exhausting for Snoopy. So, he and Marley would sound the “Tess go to bed” alarm. Marley, Snoopy, and I would watch TV and fall asleep.

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Snoopy getting ready for a nap.

Marley had stopped crying all day. Lord knows that what I describe above was all Snoopy did day in and day out. He found a large stuffed penguin with whom he engaged romantically now and then. And he would never do steps. I had to carry him up and down his whole life with us, while Marley happily barked her way up and down on her own. It was like carting around the Pharaoh… He even won a PAWS costume contest one year by dressing himself up as a T-Rex. The boys were very excited! Snoopy wanted to go home and rest.

To get to the end of this post, we have to go back to the beginning… When we brought Marley home, she was, of course, nameless. There was a bit of bickering and a bunch of names being thrown around and at each other. I found myself struggling in the car to arrive at some terrific compromise. It was that time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so major preparation was afoot. My oldest daughter, Liz, was kind of in a Hippie phase. She was liking Phish and 60’s music. She and her boyfriend had dreadlocks that weren’t looking so festive. Liz’ dreads kind of looked like a dead rat hanging from the back of her hair. My younger daughter taught herself how to play the guitar and was hammering out some fine 60’s and 70’s riffs. My now ex-husband was not much into Christmas or the holidays but loved A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Not the book, but all the films, especially the Muppet version). I was driving around one day when the magic of cognitive delivery landed. I went home, was greeted at the door by the canines including my little girl. I picked her up, entered the kitchen where everyone was sitting together for a change and said, “Marley” (Bob Marley for the girls and Jacob Marley for my husband). And so, she was dubbed.

I took her everywhere with me. She loved sitting on my lap in the car, riding in my pocket, and going to work. She was so small and well-behaved, that I could sneak her into Penn State. For Halloween, I would dress her up and take her to work. She wore a different costume every year. As I look at this picture, I am thinking she was not bursting with pride.

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Marley dressed up on Halloween

She hosted PAWS fosters, many of them terminally ill. She was gracious, always shared, but remained the “big” boss dog. She adored my grandchildren and was cuddled by my daughters and their friends. The pure joy and comfort of her spanned 16 short years. She gradually lost her eyesight and her hearing deteriorated, but she always loved her grub. In May of last year, she was down to only 3 ½ pounds and pained by the sun on her eyes when I took her outside. She had grown tired and weary of the world and ready for her next adventure. I selfishly put it off because I loved her so. She had been with me through a lifetime of living, loving, joy, pain, and healing. She drove with me to the vet, sleeping on my lap. While a trip to the vet would have caused her stress in the past, she was quietly resigned. I kissed her and held her and let her go. For someone so small, I knew she would take a huge chunk of me with her. And she did. And I am grateful for the scar.

I did not think Snoopy noticed at first. He stuck to his schedule and we hosted more PAWS fosters. But their fears were not his to assuage. Truly, I believe, he had assumed the solemn duty of being Marley’s angel. By October Snoopy had lost 10 pounds but was still eating. One morning in late October when I woke up, Snoopy was not on the bed. I could not find him anywhere. I was so frightened. I searched the whole house, calling for him. I didn’t get a reply. Finally, I went back into the bedroom and found him curled up on a blanket by his penguin sleeping soundly. I picked him up and hugged him. He licked my face as I put him back on his blanket on the bed. At about 1 o’clock in the afternoon he barked to go outside. I carried him out and put him on the grass unleashed. He walked a few paces, stumbled, and collapsed. He looked up at me calmly telling me with his eyes that it was time. It was like he knew or believed his job was done here with me. He was Marley’s boy and not mine to keep. He, too, did not fuss at the vet as he usually would. He just laid sweetly in my arms and went to sleep.

Sometimes I hear people sadly tell me that they will never get another dog because of the pain and grief of letting one go. I understand. I must believe in that Rainbow Bridge and that these partners all joyfully see and hear and play with each other once again. Who knows, maybe they love us so much that they choose to return. By sharing this story, I hope that I can comfort the grieving and assure you that that piece they take with them heals. The crazy, wonderful thing about animals that is so unlike other humans is that they leave these marks on our daily lives with the silly, and sometimes annoying, things they do. And just when the tears cease, I trip on the penguin or think I hear yipping when I am trying to be on a business call and a wave of joy and laughter and gratitude for their ever even being sweeps over me with memory. Right next to that badge of a scar on my soul that they gratefully left, opens a new place to fill with another set of four paws and I am found once again by someone new to my home with honor for Marley, Snoopy, Spankey, Richard, Maxie, Pepper, and Suzie.

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