Adopting a Senior Dog: Zoe's Story

written by Connie Versagi, February 2006

A senior?  To tell you the truth I never even considered it.  The young ones are so fun, with so much time ahead of them to be your companion.  I’ve heard people say an old dog is never going to bond with you at this stage; it’s going to have so many weird habits from whatever happened to it before.  And what has become my personal favorite – you are just going to get attached and it is going to die. 

When I hear these reasons for not taking in a senior I now realize it has more to do with the person than the dog.  It is about what if you can’t handle this dog with baggage.  Do you know how to teach bonding and trust.  Can you earn this dog’s love.  And what happens when your heart gets broken way too soon. 

I will tell you exactly what will happen.  Pay close attention.

You will learn to be a better person, a much more complete lover of dogs. You will feel a satisfaction down deep in your soul you didn’t know before.  Writing on a blank slate is one form of love.  Finishing a story already written, over which you have no power except to bring it to a full and happy ending, is simply beyond love.  You will suddenly know to the depths of your being that writing that ending is very much your responsibility, your pleasure, and will eventually become your pain.  You will do it again when asked because you will have no questions left inside yourself why you are here.

You are going to learn how to reach out slowly with a reassuring hand, sit quietly and just let your hand rest on a dog that just needs to feel that touch.  You will be amazed how long one old dog can stand there letting you scratch, seemingly never soaking in enough love and attention to make up for time missed.  One day, after a few weeks perhaps, you will look down and realize that dogs can in fact communicate very clearly and you have learned to listen.  You will never hear a message so loud and clear as the message that emanates from the less than clear senior eyes saying thanks for this place to belong. 

When I got my senior one thought bothered me the most.  That she was going to pass from this world one day and no one would cry.  No one was going to miss her. She had quite simply been discarded.  Little by little, day by day, her and I have rewritten that ending on the slate.  She is a wonderful, gentle companion, full of funny Airedale quirks that make me laugh. Renewed verve.  My cuddle bug.  I will cry for her when she leaves me.  Her passing will not go unnoticed.

So when I hear that reason for not taking a senior - because your heart will get broken, I always smile.  You’re right, it will get broken. There is no free lunch they say.  My broken heart will be the price I will gladly pay for time spent with one of the best dogs I’ve ever known.  How much less of a person I would be if I don’t let this wonderful senior break my heart.   For you see, this is not about my future broken heart, it is about her having someone’s heart.  She has mine.

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