She’ll Take the Old One

She’ll Take the Old One

 

Allie & Pops

Allie & Pop

Long before there was the wildly popular Susie’s Seniors Facebook page, in Baton Rouge Louisiana there was elderly dog advocate, Allie Kummerfeldt.

Five years ago, I met Allie on Facebook when she was a music student at Louisiana State University and we had both begun pulling dogs from the euthanasia list at Companion Animal Alliance. Despite our quarter century age difference, Allie and I became fast friends and dog rescue buddies. It touched me when Allie pulled Sugar, an ancient, white-faced chocolate Lab with a nasty skin condition. How on earth was Allie going to find a home for this dog? In short order, she did it and then quickly became obsessed with fostering labs, huge dogs and old dogs. Her favorite of all: huge old dogs.

Today, Allie is an elementary school music teacher, a teaching artist and a professional oboist. She is married to Ken, a computer programmer, teaching artist and professional trumpet player who shares her obsession with fostering huge old dogs. Together, they have fostered more than 100 dogs, many of them geriatric.

Recently, I spoke with Allie about the old dog thing:

Why old dogs, Allie? 

Hippo

Hippo

There is something extra special about an old dog. Maybe it is in the cloudy eyes or the grey muzzle. I see these dogs as I see senior citizen humans. They have so much to teach us but just a short amount of time left to do it. The senior humans I know are often smart, opinionated, caring, loving, stubborn, and respectful. Interestingly, the senior dogs we have fostered also shared these qualities. The other good thing about seniors is that almost every senior dog we bring home is already housebroken, crate trained, and used to being in a home environment. I choose to foster old dogs because I can’t stand the thought that a dog that has learned so much about the world and has lived a long previous life may end up spending its last days at a shelter.

Tell me about Sugar, the old lab you pulled from the e-list at CAA.

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Sugar, 7ish

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Sugar

When I saw Sugar’s intake picture it was just heart breaking. You could tell she had been a gorgeous dog but it had obviously been a while since she’d had some TLC. Sweet Sugar had no hair on her chocolate booty due to an untreated flea her coat was dingy and greasy and her grey muzzle gave away her age. My family always had labs, so seeing her so sad just broke my heart. It was also my second foster dog ever, and I was super surprised that there was a purebred chocolate lab at the shelter. I would later learn that this is very common. I decided to pick her up the same day, just hoping that the age issue wouldn’t be a big deal. I reached out to a local lab rescue (Labs4Rescue) and they offered to let me foster her through them so that they could spread her through their network and give her the best chance of finding a home.

Turns out it was not a big deal at all that she was already 7ish. I was convinced it would take a long time to find this aged pup a home, but after about 3 weeks of being in Labs4Rescue’s system, a wonderful lady in New York saw her picture and description and decided she had to have her.

The rescue transported her up north and she has been living happily in NY ever since. The most recent update I got was about two years ago, when the woman she told me Sugar had helped her through the death of her husband, and that she sleeps with her every single night.

Why would anyone want to adopt a dog they might only get to have for a few months or years?

Annie didn't make it, but she spent her last days cherished.

Annie came to Allie and Ken emaciated and full of heart worms. Despite their best efforts, Annie didn’t make it, but she spent her last days comfortable, comforted and cherished.

I ask myself this often. The best answer I can think of is that I believe everything has a purpose in life. Every person has a job to do, or something to achieve while they are on this earth. I believe dogs are the same way. A few of the old dogs we fostered passed away while they were with us and I think each of them taught us something in that time. It might have been a lesson on compassion, humility, love, or even just an understanding of our world through the eyes of another. A person may need a dog for even just a short time in order to teach them something.

Tell me about the people who are willing to adopt an old dog.

Old Girl

Old Girl

These people are amazing. They are all kind. It’s like they have some secret kindness oath that must be taken prior to adopting a senior dog. These folks know full well that the dog they are adopting has already lived the majority of its life with someone else, yet they have a heart so big that they welcome this animal and give them the best forever ending possible. It is magical.

What’s your secret to getting an old dog adopted? Is it different from getting any foster dog adopted or the same? Do you say a special prayer or something?

 

Cindy Loo Who

Cindy Loo Who, 15

Cindy Loo Who, 15

Wait, you don’t know about the old dog rain dance? It starts with two twirls, then “Oy, my back!” and finishes with a glass of wine. Just kidding. There is no magic wand for get the seniors adopted. The best secret we have found has been getting killer pictures. Old dogs tell you their lives in their eyes and face, and capturing that on camera goes a long way to helping them get a home.

Do you ever worry you’re going to “get stuck” with the dog because no one will want it? 

seniordogs5_bettywhite

If we take a senior dog, no one will ever be “stuck” with it, including us. Having a senior dog is an honor. For a couple of our dogs, we have been the last stop on their journey. I am not a crier, but I will always lose it when one of our seniors doesn’t make it. We assume when taking a senior, that they are with us until they find a new home, or until the end.

Tell me about your Pack. 

Mazal and Maggie Doo

Mazal (back) and Maggie Doo, Allie and Ken’s dogs.

Our pack includes Basset mix Mazal, 6, Great Dane Maggie Doo, 7, and Moo (aka: Cat), 8. Cat is

the world’s sweetest, dumbest cat, and he loves our new foster dogs. He greets them when they come home with us and likes to rub himself all over them. Mazal is the resident greeter, and the best dog for helping them adjust to our home. She shows everyone around and helps them gain confidence. Maggie Doo shows our fosters the best places to sleep and the best toys. As a whole, our pack really likes the old dog fosters because our pack is older. They all do a lot of sleeping and the roughhousing is kept at a low level. Overall our house stays pretty quiet and content with senior fosters in it.

Moo, aka "Cat"

Moo, aka “Cat”

moo3

How many dogs over the age of 8 have you pulled and placed? 

Bentley

Bentley

I totally lost count. I would say though that I consider a senior dog any dog over age 6, as lots of breeds, like Great Danes have an average lifespan of 8. We have definitely had over 30 elderly dogs in the last five years and they have been all kinds of breeds though my husband and I have a soft spot for large breeds like labs and danes. In addition to placing many of them locally in Louisiana, we have also found them homes in other states including Mississippi, Alabama Georgia, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington D.C.

Tell my readers about Sierra, the elderly Great Dane you kept for a family who became homeless after the Louisiana floods last summer. 

seniordogs14_sierra-flood-dog

Sierra

We took Sierra after seeing her picture on your Facebook Page. She was being held at Lamar Dixon after the flood, and was in a ridiculously hot horse stall with three other danes. She was 11 and struggling in the heat. After you sent me the little paper with the contact info, I called the owners and asked if we could help. Turns out Sierra belonged to a woman with four danes and her house flooded, and her mom’s house flooded, and they were all staying with her brother at his house. Between all of the family dogs, they had nowhere for Sierra to go. We had another senior great dane foster at the time, but after seeing how this dog was struggling in 100 degree heat, we had to help. The owners agreed to let us take Sierra until they could get settled. They were such nice people, and they just needed a hand. We kept Sierra for about 6 weeks, and then were able to reunite her with her family. Through the community and help from my mom in Georgia and her clients, we were also able to send the family home with several big bags of dog food, and gift cards to pet stores and home improvement stores.

Ken, Maggie, Sierra and Bentley.

Ken, Maggie, Sierra and Bentley.

Who was your most challenging old dog? 

Cindy Loo Who (OBSESSED) in her new home.

Cindy Loo Who in her new home.

We haven’t had a lot of issues with any of our senior dogs. They are so easygoing! Our most recent foster, Cindy Loo Who, 15, was probably the most challenging because she had bladder control problems, which we thought was going to make her unadoptable. Let’s face it, nobody wants a Pee Pee McGhee in their house. Fortunately, we found out this can be fixed most of the time with medicine the dog will take for the rest of its life and it worked right away on Cindy. She now lives in New Orleans, right next to Audubon Park with her new owners. The absolutely adore her. Bentley, one of our senior great danes was also a bit of a challenge with his intense fear of walking on hard flooring. We had to put rugs all over our house because he was terrified to take a step inside. A very lovely family with a home filled with large area rugs in Lafayette, La adopted him.

Bentley says, "Be very afraid of wood floors."

Bentley says, “Be very afraid of wood floors and always keep your hind legs on the dog bed.”

If you were allowed to say you had a favorite old dog, which one would it be? 

Cindy Loo Who, the former Pee Pee McGhee.  Cindy had been found wandering her neighborhood multiple times. At the shelter, they tracked down her owner and the owner said he didn’t want her back. I couldn’t believe how anyone could do that to an old dog! Still don’t get it. We took her home and she owned the place right away; found her bed, and snuggled hardcore with everyone and everything. She has so much spirit left in her for being her age, and we were so happy to have her.

Why do you do this? 

seniordogs6_cain

Because dogs do not have opposable thumbs – haha — and we want to help those who cannot help themselves. There’s a Jewish concept called Tikkun Olam; acts of loving kindness to help repair the world. Everyone should perform Tikkun Olam in their own way. We do it by helping homeless dogs and bringing them together with the people who need them.

Any advice for people out there thinking of adopting an old dog? 

seniordogs2

Do it, do it do it! The love from an old dog is so special. They need the love just as much as you do. Don’t pity an old dog, just adopt one.

Any advice for people out there thinking of fostering an old dog?

Big Red.

Big Red.

In my opinion, fostering old dogs is way more fun than fostering young dogs. It basically takes the stress out of fostering. Almost always, these dogs are housebroken, crate trained, and well mannered. That is fostering gold. You never have to worry about things getting torn up, or your dogs getting too excited. Plus the level of love these dogs give is so much deeper than that of a young dog. I highly recommend it!

Anything else you would like me to know?

Ken, Maggie and Parker

Ken, Maggie and Parker

Yes, I cannot do this without my husband, Ken. I used to do it by myself, and that was dandy. But having Ken’s help and support makes this doable today. He is just as involved in the whole foster process as I am, and is so supportive. I have been known to text him a picture of a dog, say, “I am on my way home!” and he always just rolls with it. He feeds and cares for our fosters as if they were our own dogs, and he shows so much care and compassion for the animals I bring home.

seniordogs12_lori

Companion Animal Alliance is building a new, state-of-the-art animal shelter in Baton Rouge on the campus of Louisiana State University near the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.  If you would like to make a contribution to help homeless animals in Baton Rouge enjoy a better life while waiting for their forever homes, please visit my fundraising page : Help CAA Build a State of the Art Animal Shelter. Even the smallest donation helps. Many thanks.

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Rocco: And the best news of all…

 

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Rocco was adopted today!

It wasn’t by the man who was interested in him all along. It was by a woman named Maxi, who had fallen in love with Rocco on his foster mom, June’s, Facebook page originally, but had decided that her two dogs and three cats were enough, so she would refrain. Even though her third dog had recently passed away, and Rocco reminded her an awful lot of this dog. Two dogs was enough.

And then Rocco ran away in a thunder storm. Maxi was devastated reading about it on June’s Facebook page, as were all of June’s friends.  She hoped, and prayed that Rocco would return, and told herself that if he did, she would offer to make him hers (as Maxi had extensive experiences with escape artist dogs afraid of thunder.)

And he did.

And she did.

I contacted the man who was planning to adopt Rocco and explained the situation. I mentioned that the doggy door he was planning would probably not be a great idea, in case Rocco could bust out of the yard in another thunder storm. I explained that Rocco had an offer from a woman who was retired and would be home with him most of the time. And when she wasn’t, she would secure him in her laundry room with her other two dogs, where he would be safe and sound. And the man agreed that Maxi would be the better home for Rocco. (A win/win because I’m sure he will adopt another of our shelter dogs).

So at 2:30 today, June brought Rocco to the Friends of the Animals adoption event at Orvis and I met her there with Rocco’s health record (which I had kept in my car from running him to vet appointments). Maxi got there first. She couldn’t wait. You could tell.

Now Rocco is settled in at his new home with his two dog sisters who welcomed him with open paws, thank goodness. One of the cats even gave him an approving sniff on the nose. And he’s cuddled up on his new orthopedic bed beside Maxi’s bed, getting ready to live out the best years of the rest of his life.

Rocco? We love you so.

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June had a harder time saying goodbye to Rocco than she thought she would. But Maxi said she could visit any time.

Rocco on his new bed in his forever home.

Rocco on his new bed in his forever home.

Syrus: Day 3

Another great day with Syrus. Still a total sweetheart. Still quiet in my kennel. Still delighted to see me and mellow when I go. If I could make a template of every future dog I want to foster, I’d make it out of Syrus.

Don't look so pathetic, Syrus.

Don’t look so pathetic, Syrus.

Don't look so pathetic, Syrus.

That’s a little better, Sweetheart.

So I said I was going to include a recipe today for fattening up an emaciated dog, and I really was going to do that, until I read the ingredients. The problem with the ingredients, as I see it, is that the main ingredient is “raw, cheap hamburger meat (for the high fat content).” Many of my friends in the rescue community swear by this recipe to pack on the pounds and nobody has reported a problem with it. But when I asked a vet friend about feeding dogs a raw food diet once (as some friends of mine do), she simply responded: Ca-Ching.
Translation: Raw meat can lead to expensive problems for your dog’s digestive health. Hopefully, we’ll get a lively debate here in the comments section on that, but to play it safe, I decided not to make the famous recipe, nor to print it here. However, if you google “Satin Balls” and it pops up, what can I do?

Slightly bummed about deciding not to pack the pork onto Syrus’s ribs and watch him expand exponentially (ha,ha), I thought I’d run by a large pet chain where I have been known to score high quality, high protein dog food at 75% off a couple of months before it’s “Best Before” date. The last time I was there, I’d found several giant bags of $60 dog food that had already passed that date and asked if I could simply have it for my rescue dog efforts, but the manager said no, she wasn’t allowed to do that. Something to do with SKU #s. It had to be slashed and put in the dumpster.

Aw, I know.

Aw, I know.

Slashed? Seriously? Can’t they just leave it beside the dumpster? Apparently not. Not unless they “forget” to slash it. I asked if they could “forget.” She said she couldn’t, but she couldn’t speak for the other managers. Long story long, I asked her if I could buy the food for $1 a bag. She checked and said she could only sell it to me for 75% off. You know what? There was A LOT of really good dog food whose primary ingredients were salmon and herring, so I bought it. Several trusted sources of mine say that dry dog food is good for a year past the “Best Buy” date, or unless it smells funny. And as my 85 lb Mastiff mix, Crespo, has skin allergies, this is his stash. There’s no way I can afford to drop $60 a bag on my sweetheart, so I’m grateful when I’m able to find this and I kind of hoard it for him. And I have been known to share it with fosters that have Demodex mange, a bad skin condition that requires a really good diet to heal quickly.

Everything's gonna be alright. (Bob Marley said so.)

Everything’s gonna be alright (says Bob Marley).

Anyway, got to the store and it wasn’t open yet, so I decided to check the dumpster. Let me just say that this is so not my style. I can’t even believe I’m telling you I did this, but yes, I went dumpster diving for dog food. I’m sorry, dear upper middle class friends and relatives who just threw up in their mouths and then worried I got swarmed by roaches and rats. I’m sorry, but I have no regrets and I’ll do it again. The worst that happened was I experienced the heartbreak of seeing an unconscionable amount of high quality Nutro Max dog food in slashed bags. This is the kind of dog food that would really have helped the thinnest and sickliest of our shelter dogs. It just killed me. I picked up the end of one bag and watched all the food slide out. Sigh. I’d been hoping the expired dog food bag slasher was sleeping on the job, but no such luck. All I came up with was a moldy rawhide, which I passed up, and a sealed bag of rabbit litter. (Hey Julie Sheffield: That rabbit litter on your porch? Your welcome.)

So I came home empty handed for Syrus. While the shelter does give its foster homes dog food for foster dogs, its first ingredient is corn. Not ideal. In my mind, a high protein, high quality dog food past its Best Buy date is better than a “younger” food that’s made of mostly corn. I decided to dig into Crespo’s stash and mix it with Syrus’s shelter food. (Did I mention that Crespo LOVES this food, it makes his coat gleam and he never scratches?)  I also gave Syrus leftovers like the chicken and scraps of brisket I keep stashed in the freezer for training treats. Syrus polished off the remainder of the brisket training treats before noon. He sits like nobody’s business now.

Yo, Syrus. Yes, I do want a kiss, but not this very second, okay?

Yo, Syrus. Yes, I do want a kiss, but not this very second, okay?

Wow, I’m really rambling here and I’m sorry but I haven’t even gotten to the absolute best part of Syrus’s day. Here it is: I got an application in this morning from the woman who expressed an interest in adopting him and she and her family are 99.9% perfect. (If you didn’t see my previous blog about Syrus, I was acquainted with this woman and her husband when I lived on Long Island, and she saw my blog in her friend’s Facebook newsfeed and just fell flat out in love with Syrus’s pictures).

So here’s the .9% possible problem. They have cats. Syrus seems interested in cats, but I’m not sure if he’s interested in them as friends or as snacks. So the task at hand is to test him out with my friend, Allie’s cat, Moo and see how strong his prey drive is. Moo lives with two dogs who are her best friends, so we’re hoping he’ll forget the prey drive and pick up the cats-and-dogs-can-be-friends vibe.

I leave you with that hope for Syrus. Can you please just put it out there? Just hope that Syrus wants to be friends and only friends with Moo. Because if so, he’s going to live the most beautiful life in a seaside town in New York with a teenager, two cats, two elderly Ridgebacks, a fenced yard and a really awesome antique store to boot. And getting him there will be another fun blog. And then I can help another Syrus.

How could you not want to help another Syrus?

How could you not want to help another Syrus?

Syrus: Day 2

In today’s Syrus News:

Syrus is still a very good boy. He kept his kennel clean and dry and was very happy to greet me this morning with tail wags and wiggles. It’s kind of funny to see a dog with a head like an anvil and a gigantic skeletal body greet you with wiggles as if he’s a fat little puppy, but he does. He’s happy. Syrus is a lesson to us all in how to be happy.

The good news today about Syrus is that (a) he doesn’t climb chain link fences, as some of my foster’s have and (b) he doesn’t bark when left alone and (c) his bronchitis appears to be getting much better, so his antibiotic is working.

The other good news about Syrus is that someone I know from New York read this blog yesterday and has had the good taste to fall in love with him. Well, maybe that describes more than one of you. But this person wants to adopt him!  I’ve sent her my adoption application, which includes practical questions to help a person decide if she is REALLY ready for the 10+ years of responsibility that come with having a new dog, and I’m hoping she is reading this right now and getting it back to me.  Because Syrus has some other (somewhat vague) interest in him too, but I think this person would be ideal. And I’ve already checked up on her behind her back. So cross your fingers for Syrus, because this would just be great if it all works out. I can just see him now, all filled out, coat glistening and secretly cheering for the Saints on tv in his new home.

I know you want a picture of him today and I promise I’ll go get that later after I get some of my paid work done. And I’ll also be posting a recipe I’ll be making later today that one of my rescue buddies shared for fattening up an emaciated dog. I know most of your dogs are probably as fat as pigs (like mine), but if you ever pick up a stray that needs fattening, it will come in handy. And meanwhile, you can just show it to your own dogs and tell them it’s the dog version of that “food porn” web site. I’m sure you’ve seen the people version, right? If not, here it is: http://foodporndaily.com (Don’t look at this if you’re on a diet or you’ll have to kill yourself.)

Okay, gotta run, but before I do, please brighten our day by sharing your dog’s best quality in the comments below.

About Dog by Dog

Dog by Dog chronicles the lives of shelter animals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana as they make their way from the shelter into foster homes, and then loving, forever homes. In 2007, this open-intake animal shelter had to euthanize nearly 11,000 of the dogs and cats that came through its doors. Today, through a variety of initiatives that include a foster care program, off site adoption events and low cost spay/neuter programs, that number has been nearly halved. Still, thousands of friendly, healthy, housetrained, and highly adoptable animals are put down annually simply for lack of space. We are hoping to change that. The name of this blog is a reference to Bird by Bird, an Anne Lamott book on writing. In it, Lamott advises beginning writers to start small, as her father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: “Just take it bird by bird.” Working in animal rescue can feel so overwhelming at times that I decided the only way I could reasonably help without burning out was to apply Lamott’s advice and take it dog by dog. This blog shares the heartwarming stories of a few good dogs overcoming the worst. With your help, the blog will network these dogs across America and into loving homes.