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Fostering An Elderly Pet Boosts Love, Joy, And Karma

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Buddy adored me. I was awed by his love. At the beginning, when I would sit on his dog bed with him, he would joyfully rub his face on me. Later, as he gained strength in his legs, he would stand beside me as I washed dishes, brushing his nose across my legs. I'm not sure if he did that to make sure I hadn't moved; or if it was to alert me of his presence; or if it was another way for him to express joy. Maybe it was kind of "all of the above."

Buddy was my foster dog. The Calgary chapter of Beagle Paws rescue posted about him in December 2015:

"This blind and deaf 14 year old came into our care an hour ago and is now at the vet for a thorough exam as he is in quite bad shape. His owner called requesting money to put him down. ... He weighs 14.2 kilos, his teeth are abscessed ... his nails are long and curling into his pads and he has difficulty holding his bladder so dribbles and pees randomly."

It hurts my heart when people surrender their dogs -- or worse, euthanize them -- simply because they are old. This time, instead of just being angry and sad, I decided to step up.

I met Buddy in a Tim Horton's parking lot on New Year's Day. I was taken aback by how thin and frail he was. I had pictured him as study, substantial, and confident -- largely, I think, because that's what my own beagles are. But Buddy was none of these.

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At the beginning, Buddy spent a lot of time just sleeping. I had to wake him for meals, and to take him outside. Because he couldn't see stairs, I carried him in and out of the house. When I put him down, he did his business and then would stand there, his hind quarters sagging, due to muscle wasting. Inside, his back legs did splits on my lino and laminate flooring. I kept trimming his nails and the fur between his pads, hoping that would help. I bought him grippy booties to wear inside. Eventually, we "upgraded" to toe caps, which didn't work as well as the booties, but were safe to wear 24/7.

Mixed in with his many successes was some of my own heartache.

Bud's old bones chilled easily. He always wore sweaters, and I put a coat on over top when he went outside. He also wore a belly band to catch his pee dribbles, which were likely caused by a recurrent or persistent urinary tract infection, part and parcel of renal failure.

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But, as Corey Hart says, with a little perseverance, you can get things done. Buddy gradually began spending more time awake, much of that under my feet as I puttered around. His muscles strengthened considerably. In late February, I took him on his first walk. It took us almost a full hour to walk around the block, but Bud did it, and even managed to pee on a fire hydrant. (Yes, I cheered.)

By June, he was entering and exiting the house on his own four paws, using a temporary wheelchair ramp. That month also marked the first time I took all three dogs to our local dog park. Buddy alternated between cruising in the stroller I bought him, and ambling around on his own.

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Mixed in with his many successes was some of my own heartache. I knew that he was old and unwell and that his time was limited. I thought that I was able to seal off a part of my heart, so that it wouldn't hurt too badly when he passed away. I was wrong, of course.

I won't lie about something else, either. Lots of it was just plain hard. Being woken up multiple times a night due to doggie health issues or fear of thunderstorms was hard. Being solely responsible for three beagles -- one with high needs -- was hard, especially given everything else on my plate. Letting him go was hard. Grieving him was -- and continues to be -- hard.

But mixed in with the heartache and the hard stuff was great joy. And, I think you cherish each moment more when you know the number of them is finite. It made my heart happy to make Buddy's heart happy. It made my heart confident, knowing that I could not just look after a high needs dog, but actually help him flourish. It made my heart burst with love, when he would cuddle up close, sometimes in ridiculously contorted positions, and sometimes persistently seeking me out over and over, wanting to be with me. He loved me. It was so easy to love him back. He was a sweet, good boy.

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I said goodbye to Buddy on August 23, 2016. It's more time than I expected to have with him, but it's hard not to wish for more. I filled our last hours together with McDonald's cheeseburgers, pancakes, bacon, cuddles, dancing, and pawprint art. Initially intent on removing all traces of paint from his paws, I remembered what I told him about the Rainbow Bridge a few weeks back: that I wouldn't recognize him as a young and spirited dog. And so I decided to not be so fastidious about removing all traces of paint. That way, when I make my way to the Bridge myself, and see a handsome young beagle with paint on his paws, I will know it's my Bud Bud.

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It's a struggle for shelters and rescues to adopt out senior pets. I understand the worry about not having enough time with that pet. But nothing in this life is certain. You could lose a puppy to Parvo or an accident. Any dog you choose could outlive you. Instead, just choose to live in the moment, and soak up all the love a senior pet has to give. When you visit your local shelter or rescue, please give seniors a second look. Trust me. Trust Buddy. It's worth it.

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