This is a Love Story For a Senior Dog

I’ve got a point– I’d like you to consider adopting a senior the next time you look for a dog. There are plenty of lists about why senior dogs are great, but most of them leave off the best reason.

A Senior Dog Will Change Your Life.

I picked up Ripple from a shelter in Denver.

She was emaciated, she had frostbitten notches on her ears, and she ran (okay, staggered) from everyone except one shelter tech.

Eventually, I caught her and held her collar.

She wouldn’t settle, so I sang to her. By the time I’d run through every song I knew, she was leaning her whole weight against me while I ran my hands over her bones.

At the front desk, I told them, “I’m going to think about it.” But I was a goner, and we all knew it.

The next day, she hopped into my front seat and grinned like a maniac.

Looking over at her, I wondered just how crazy she was. One of my cousins saw the photo later and said, “You know when you’ve been sprung from death row.”

Ripple Was a Terrible Name.

I’d been thinking about the easy lilt of the Grateful Dead song. What showed up in my house was feral, feisty, and she didn’t give a hoot what I thought about it.

I hoped that good nutrition would correct her shambling gait. She’d obviously had a recent litter, and the teats were still hanging. My friends took one look and named her Ripple-Cripple-Nipple. Terrible nicknames have a way of sticking.

But that’s where it gets interesting, because Ripple had character.

The Shelter Is a Tough Place for Senior Dogs.

In a high-volume shelter, she’d have been in real trouble.

Senior dogs are often the last to be adopted. Shelter staff fall in love with them, but prospective adopters don’t always see the spark.

That puts senior dogs at risk for euthanasia, either from potential health issues or their length-of-stay in a crowded shelter. Long stays are stressful, which can lead to withdrawal or behavioral problems that make it even harder to get adopted.

So, I’d like to tell you about what happens when you take a senior dog out of the shelter and into your home.

Senior Dogs Know What they Like.

Ripple had opinions. Rotisserie chicken? Good. Green beans? Trash. These toys are MINE. You will rub me here. When you scrubbed the inside of her fuzzy ears, her eyes would roll back in her head with delight.

There’s simplicity in living with a creature who makes it clear what they want.

Senior Dogs Have Quirks.

I like to eat on the patio if the restaurant has one. So did Ripple.

She’d pick up her dog dish and carry it down the steps, out the dog-door, and settle in a sunny spot. I’d have to go out in the yard and search for her bowl twice a day, but I loved this about her.

The first time a fire engine went by, it was 3 a.m.

The grumble from Ripple started low and soft, so at first I thought of the earthquakes that had woken me in other places. Her grumble swelled into a rasping, gravelly howl. She sounded like a dive bar singer who’d smoked two packs a day for twenty years.

I sat up and aaaarrrrooooohed along with her. Ripple stopped howling. She stared me down with disgust. Obviously, my singing didn’t meet her standards.

Senior Dogs Know a Good Thing When They See It.

Living with Ripple was comedy every day. She had a raw appreciation for life, and a no-holds-barred grasp on what she wanted.

I hung toys from a tree, and she’d tug until the cords popped. Then she’d parade her trophy around the yard. She rolled in my garden beds. She would do anything to get a cappuccino, and caffeine was the last thing that nutjob needed.

Ripple would build nests of toys and pillows on her corner of the couch. When we went hiking, she’d slide on ice and crash into snowbanks, to flop out and do it again. Back at home, she’d stretch out in my lap, happy as long as I read to her.

Ripple had a grasp on life so ardent that you had to see it differently. Life is ugly. Life is beautiful. Life is raw. And it’s possible to love it with a ferocity that eclipses everything else around you.

Senior Dogs Are Tough.

There were hiccups. Ripple was between 6 and 9 years old when I got her, and it was clear that there was a lot of mileage on those bones. Potential diagnoses ranged from degenerative myelopathy, permanent peripheral neuropathy due to malnutrition, pancreatic insufficiency, frostbite, and a dozen other ailments.

It didn’t matter to Ripple. If she stumbled, she jumped up and kept running. If she needed a lift assist, she waited for you to show up. No matter what, she was going to do what she wanted to do.

She blew out a ligament in her knee, and the TPLO surgery didn’t go smoothly. She got septic. She spent four days in doggie-ICU, and I sat in the cage at the clinic to keep her stress levels down.

The vet staff were incredibly gracious. One morning I came in to see that they’d changed her wraps and blankets to Broncos colors.

Despite the odds, she pulled through. That leg healed well enough for us to keep traveling, hiking, and having adventures.

She wanted to live. So she did.

Senior Dogs Are Loyal.

I was working at my dining room table, deep in thought. The crackle of the police radio outside the open window is what pulled me out of the groove.

The officer was staring through my window, and I realized that Ripple was barking in the backyard.

I ran outside to see her leaping and barking at the back fence.

There were police cars and officers in the alley, with someone handcuffed on the ground. Apparently, he’d robbed my neighbor, then tried to hide in my backyard.

That half-crippled, semi-deranged mongrel chased him back over the fence, where the police were waiting. My other dog? She watched the whole thing from the shade of the flowerbed.

Senior Dogs Are Loving.

Ripple mothered my friend’s puppy, and she protected it when their other dog tried to correct the puppy’s antics.

She hung close on hikes and checked on my slower dog. She leaned in for touch, and when she was worried, she’d relax into my arms while I sang.

Her favorite spot was cradled on my legs on the couch. Her head would roll back and her tongue would droop out while I scrubbed under her collar and inside her bristly ears.

When I stopped, she’d open her eyes to gaze into mine… eyes round and glowing. That look is still the purest expression of love that I’ve ever seen.

When the cancer came, the vet estimated that she had three months.

Five months later, we went on our first backpacking trip. She led me two miles into the woods, giving me courage to do my first solo overnight.

It was miserable.

By 5 a.m., she had claimed both sleeping pads, my puffy jacket, the down sleeping bag, and all my extra layers. I shivered against a wet tent wall and wondered why the one rock under the tent had to be under my ribs.

And it was worth it.

The next morning, we sat by the lake. The stillness was so dense that not even the birds were moving. She lay against my leg and the silence softened what was coming.

We had another month of hikes, toys, and evenings on the couch. But time runs out, no matter who you are. Eventually, the cancer carved her down to collapse, and that was that.

But Here’s What’s Important:

Ripple was a senior when I got her. You’d have expected her to be calmer, easier going, or many other things. But she had her own agenda.

And she showed me some of the best things in life. In honor of Ripple and all the senior dogs waiting for homes:

Live a glorious and unapologetic life. Taste and smell everything. Savor it until your bones quake. Above everything else, love fiercely and deeply. Anything less is a waste of time.

And adopt a senior dog. They’re the best ones you can find.

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