Ready and Waiting …

This piece, authored by Karen Filippi of Somerset Cairns, Tunkhannock, PA, speaks to each of us who have watched the years tick off with a beloved companion (reprinted with permission, as appearing  in the November 2008 AKC Gazette).

The AKC Gazette … the Official Journal of the Sport of Purebred Dogs Since 1889,  is available as a paper subscription or through a free online digital edition.  The Gazette is a treasure trove of information on the individual breeds which make up each “group” of dogs as well as being of interest in general to those sharing their heart and home with the canine species.

Ready and Waiting …

Summer, this year, seemed to come and go with my barely marking the days or weeks.  Instead, it’s the months that have become the season’s mile-marker, and the year the milestone of time’s passage.  This is, I think, also the measure of my progress through the seasons of my own life.  And so, with summer gone and year’s end approaching, I find myself facing the prospect of other passings, other endings.  Somehow, without my really noticing, two of my Cairns have grown quite old.

True to their reputation, Cairn Terriers are hardy, active dogs with relative few genetic health issues.  Should they fall ill or be injured, they will often suffer in silence.  This is another facet of the native courage that sends them headlong and heart-first into dark, narrow holes in the ground, seeking fierce quarry armed with tooth and claw.

The lifespan of a Cairn Terrier can, and more often does, exceed 15, 16, 17 years  and more.  Measured against human years, it is not very long.  Yet it is long enough to encompass a childhood, a marriage, to span one or more of the significant passages that mark our own lives.

Time passes, and, as it is the nature of things, the irresistable puppy become the irrepressible adolescent.  The adolescent becomes the mature, comfortable companion and faithful friend who, suddenly, a senior, slows but remains steadfast.  And then …

How to consider, cope with, the prospect of such a loss?

It is a testament to the lives of these incredible creatures that their passing has such a profound effect that we are compelled to search for ways to express our grief and afford it the dignity it is due.  While convention may still deny dogs a soul, for many the idea of the “Rainbow Bridge” speaks to our need to have them wait for us, somewhere, safe from harm.  In so many canine lives, there are too few such places; it seems fitting there should be such a place afterward.  Who can know?

What we can know, beyond doubt and, even absent faith, it the value of what they give to us.  We are, quite literally, their individual gods and they love us without condition or judgment.  They remind us to accept the world as it comes each day, to meet each moment with anticipation and awe.  To hear the poetry in our shared silences and the harmony in our different songs.  To fling our heart ahead in the sheer joy of living, and to run, full-out and free, to catch it up … again, and again.

When, all too soon, it is time for them to go, our memories of them will hold all this and keep it safe, ready and waiting, against the time when it will be our turn to follow.  … For Tinker and Indi, in their twilight.

Seniors in the twilight …

animated-hourglassThere’s a reason why we don’t normally take senior dogs into rescue.  Actually several reasons.  Most folks looking to adopt a dog are not in the market for an older companion as they’d like to spend more  than just a year or two (or even less) with their new best friend.  Many times, the old dogs arrive with serious behavioral and/or medical problems.  Rescue has a term for these dogs … “forever fosters.”  “Forever” because they usually end up spending the rest of their lives in foster care.  The problem with that scenario is spacing  and funding.  Available space is at a premium — at least for us — and having a forever foster takes up a spot that could be used for a younger, more adoptable dog.  Funding is always an issue so taking care of an elderly dog becomes problematic.

For me, the seniors are particularly difficult.  It usually starts with a phone call and a voice on the other end saying, “I need to get rid of my dog.”  The vocalization “get rid of” is distasteful as it brings to mind a worn out item or a piece of trash that needs to be disposed of.  Often times it is an elderly dog that outlived its usefulness for whatever reason.  No matter how many times I review the applications on my waiting list, I don’t have someone looking for an old, sick dog.  These poor dogs that have given their life to their family only to be turned out when their need was greatest.  It then falls to me to tell them that we have no one interested in an elderly dog.  And that if they take it to the shelter, he or she will spend its last days — frightened and confused — before dying at the hands of strangers.  Far better for them to take it to the vet and make that last journey in the arms of loved ones.  Despite having “the speech” memorized, there are still times when my voice breaks, the emotion spilling over.   One of the first things my rescue mentor taught was that we can’t save them all.  I truly know that with my heart … however, it doesn’t make it any easier some days.  Harder yet is having to put down a rescue for medical or behavioral issues.  Even though it’s not one of my dogs, it still hurts.  Rescue isn’t supposed to end that way.

Having said all that … we find ourselves with a senior in rescue.  A stray, he was pulled from the Larimer Humane Society.  We know little of his story other than the fact he’s been long neglected — whether in his former “home” or because he was on his own for an extended period of time.  We also know he is the product of a puppy mill because his microchip was traced to the Hunte Corporation — a known broker of puppies produced in the mills of misery and sold in pet stores.  His coat was matted to the skin and urine soaked resulting in a complete shave-down at the shelter.  Nothing more pitiful than a buck-naked Apso.

Our rescue exam revealed he has had a long-standing eye infection.  Thankfully, he does not have KCS or “dry eye” as it’s commonly known.  His age is estimated to be 8- to 10-years old … not all that old for an Apso but which still puts him in the “senior” category.  He does have arthritis on the right front/rear; however, he’s responding quite well to the Rimadyl, even trying to play with the resident foster home dogs.  Some high-powered supplements are on the way and we’re hopeful he’ll get good relief from those as well. 

Despite how rough his recent days/years have been, this dog is exceptional.  He greets everyone as a long-lost friend.  If you are familiar with Apsos, you know that’s not always the case.  When I picked him up at the pound, he came out of the kennel — head and tail up — and offered himself in greeting.  Those old soul eyes saying “I’m yours … take me with you.”  And then he buried his head in my hands, taking whatever comfort he could find in the moment, however brief.  As is our tradition, we’ve given him a Tibetan name.  Kalsang (pronounced “Kehl-sang”) and meaning “good fortune.” 

Perhaps it will be Kalsang’s good fortune to find a forever home in the twilight of his years … a home that understands that the love of an old dog is, indeed, a special gift.