In the animal world, responsible breeding and hands-on rescue activities are not mutually exclusive. I, like many other purebred enthusiasts, dedicate time, effort, energy and money to helping dogs in need that I didn’t produce. Blood, sweat and tears go into it all with almost equal seriousness.
The exception to the rule is senior dogs. I have a special, soft place in my heart for them. I’ve taken in pregnant females, newborn litters, dogs with physical and mental impairments, and given my heart to all of them. Nursed them back to health, worked them through behavioral problems, made the hardest call of all for those beyond assistance and made sure that they didn’t pass alone. There were times when that was the only thing I could do for some. But nothing strikes me so deeply as the abandonment of a dog who has done nothing worse than become old.
When we bring a dog into our lives, we have voluntarily entered into a social contract with this animal. We provide daily care necessary to a comfortable life, and they provide companionship, guard hearth and home, and a variety of other tasks. They serve a need for us; we are thereby are obligated to furnish food, shelter, veterinary care when they become ill.
When a person breaks that contract, it is the most vile betrayal possible. A dog who has devoted a lifetime to sleeping near doorways to protect the dreaming occupants, who has played endless games of fetch with the family children, who has tirelessly herded livestock and defended flocks against predators, is suddenly, inexplicably, deserted. There can be no higher act of unfaithfulness.
These dogs have earned a warm, cozy place to enjoy their retirement. They have performed their obligations- how can any owner refuse to perform their end of the deal? Sadly, this does occur. And when it does, in my own breed and many others, dedicated volunteers network together to bring these dogs to a place of peace and rest, a small repayment for all that they have done for the people in their lives who could not keep their promises.
My family has taken in these sweet seniors through the Akita SOS program. Some have been with us just a few short weeks. We are happy that we could make their last days as pleasant as possible. Others have stayed months, and our current “permanent foster”, dear Betsy, will be with us two years this March. My current senior is going through harder days now. She hasn’t given me the “thousand yard stare” yet, hasn’t let me know that she needs help to pass peacefully with the assistance of our trusted veterinary partner. I can see that day looming on the horizon, however for now, she is content to curl on a wide pillow in a warm place, and let me come to her to stroke her face. When she decides to travel to the Bridge, it will be in comfort, and in loving arms. She’ll share a place of honor with the other dogs I have loved, laid to rest with them as a cherished member of our clan, and not a useless cast off. Never a cast off. I can’t control what others shamelessly do, but I can take an active part in making it right. And once our hearts have a chance to heal a while, my husband and daughter and I will welcome another into our home for as long as they choose to be with us.
Please- look at the dog beside you. Understand that there will come a day when the ears cannot hear you call, when the eyes cannot see your face so clearly, when age related conditions cause them to rise more slowly when they come to greet you. Though every step may cause them hardship, they still only want to be by your side. Do not deny them their due. They have done their part. Don’t let them down. I will always have place in my heart and home for an old gray muzzle, but I shouldn’t have to. That’s your job. You signed the contract. Honor it. One day you too will be old; who will care for you then?