A year and a half ago, my phone rang. It was Naomi, my veterinarian’s technician. She told me the sad tale of a 10-year-old mini-Dachshund named Charley who lost his long-time owner when she died a week ago.
Charley had no home; no one to care for him. He was, Naomi said, in excellent health, of lively and affectionate temperament and had no behavioral problems like biting or excessive barking. I could hear the distress in Naomi’s voice when she said, “Could you and Tristan find room in your home and hearts for him?” Jeeze. We already had a ten-pack of Dachsies at that time. My husband, a physician, worked ten hour days. I worked just as hard at home as a professional freelance writer of non-fiction. The very last thing we needed was another Dachshund. But when I consulted Tristan, we both agreed that we could provide a “forever home” for lost little Charley. The next day, he was ours.
We have another rescued dog: three-year-old Oskar came to us at four months old when his owners realized that a Dachshund wasn’t the right dog for them. He settled into our pack as a puppy. Charley’s story was different: he had been owned and loved very much by one person all his life. He didn’t understand where she was and why she didn’t come for him. As intelligent animals do, he was grieving for her. When I picked him up at the vet’s office, I took Oskar with me and we slowly introduced ourselves and let him get to know our smells and appearances. Naomi said he was always friendly in nature, was up to date on his shots, and ate a normal senior diet dog food. Oskar showed Charley how to jump up into my Jeep and settle into the back seat. When we got home, I took Charley into the house and let him run all over the place with his nose to the ground to get all of our scents – including our two African Grey parrots. One by one, I brought the other Dachsies into the house and in no time they had gotten to know each other by sight and smell. The bedlam of greeting my husband home ensued as usual with howls and “paws up.” Charley was right there in the mix, no doubt remembering Tristan’s smell. As the days and nights passed, Charley became a full member of the pack with his own spot on the bed and couch; he came to us with his own food bowl, collar, leash, comfy mats, and toys. At first he was shy about eating with the other dogs; he was used to doing everything solo. But after eating in my office for a couple of days, he joined the feeding-time anarchy that only Dachsie Moxie can create. I discovered that Charley was always up for a car ride, but never to trust him alone in the car with a bag of groceries!
I learned several things about adopting a senior dog by caring for Charley, and from my doctor who adopted a severely abused dog. I learned to go slowly; your senior dog isn’t used to you, your home, and your other animals. She may be grieving for another person and another, more familiar place. Let her immerse herself into your family on her own time without forcing strangeness on her. Your adopted senior dog may be a bit standoffish at first; give her a chance to settle into your home’s routine.
If you adopt a senior dog, he may have some medical issues; find out everything you can about his condition, his medications, his limitations and his special diet if these things are part of his “package.” Charley had some teeth missing but was in splendid health. However, he did have a behavior issue that’s common among senior adoptees: he was used to being an “only dog,” having all the time and attention from his owner. Right away he had dominance issues with Jack, our pack’s Alpha male. A decade older than Jack, Charley still remains very willing to scrap with him over food, our laps, or possession of toys. So be vigilant about this issue if you adopt a senior dog into your own pack.
Charley’s almost twelve now; it seems like he’s always been with us. He’s happy, healthy and fully integrated into our family. For his age, he’s a very spry little fella. He sits now at my feet, waiting patiently for me to notice him and lift him into his spot on the couch.
I see you, Charley. I’ll be right with you.