Tell me your old dog stories.
December 22, 2016 11:59 AM   Subscribe

We adopted a senior dog 2 months ago. This week we found out that he has cancer. Talk me through all of this.

We got the little guy from a rescue group who had saved him from euthanasia at a shelter the year prior. The rescue group had surgery done to remove two toes and a tumor on his neck. When we met him and got his folder, we were told they had removed a fatty tumor and that he was now good to go. The whole adoption process was pretty quick - we met him, we loved him, we took him home. Not a huge interview or anything & we didn't inspect him thoroughly. (Should we have? I don't think it would have made a difference to us.)

After a few days of him getting to know us & trusting us, we realized he had a lump on his neck. Our vet asked for more information from prior surgeries and she did say there was a chance the lumps were cancer that was now back. For some reason, I convinced myself that the lump was nothing and he would be fine. The rescue group had said if he was diagnosed with something big at the first vet visit, we could return him to them and our adoption fee would go towards another dog. But those words went in and out because once we decided to adopt him, he was immediately ours no matter what. Was this the first flag of total foolishness?

Fast forward two months, he is fully part of our family. A super chill little guy at 9 lbs (he has actually gained a lb in the past month), he eats a good amount 2x day, goes out regularly and cuddles a lot. He doesn't seem sick. He runs up and down the stairs. He is happy to see us. I've told everyone who would listen how wonderful adopting a senior dog has been. So much intense love. Fully house trained. Doesn't bark. Did i mention the love?

He's been lethargic every now and then so we took him back to the vet and got the neck lump tested and... cancer. He's on steroids and we're going to meet with a surgeon soon. Right now it is all very vague as to how bad it is, how much time he has left, and what they can possible do considering his age.

We love him. He's brought so much joy into our lives. But... was this all really foolish? Our vet talked about how the rescue group should have disclosed the cancer and not have made him adoptable - which just makes me feel weird. The rescue group is obviously a bunch of angels, and this little love deserves a home even if its just for a few weeks/months, right?

And if he does only have a few weeks or months, I'm struggling with how to make them fulfilling. We've only known him as an old, apparently sick, old guy so I'm not sure if we are even qualified to know if he is acting funny. And can you even spoil him with steak or is that bad for his health? (He doesn't have all of his teeth so really whatever the equivalent would be for steak but mushy.)

So I'm pretty much just questioning myself and the situation. I feel like I can't tell family & friends about this because their response would just be - what did you expect? And really what did we expect? Why did we choose to get emotionally attached to such a short-term relationship?

Have you been in this situation? If yes, tell me your story. Or tell me how to cope with losing this guy we've just fell in love with.
posted by kmr to Pets & Animals (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My childhood dog lived to 21 (Beagle mix). In the end she was so arthritic that I had to carry her outside a few times a day to pee. I had her from a very young age and lived through so many adventures with her (she was a wild one). Those last few weeks I felt like I was losing a sibling and was overwhelmed with love for her. I spent every minute I could with her, comforting her and waiting for when it seemed like the pain exceeded her will to live.

It never came. On the very day I graduated from college (where I took her after returning from a few years of being dropped out) she died in her sleep, like she was the one waiting for me to finish something important.

Cherish every moment. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by spitbull at 12:10 PM on December 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

And any dog lover would understand if you told them.
posted by spitbull at 12:12 PM on December 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: But... was this all really foolish? ... this little love deserves a home even if its just for a few weeks/months, right?

He absolutely does. Of course it's foolish. Loving any living creature is foolish. All of our pets will die one day. You are confronted with that reality much more quickly than those of us who have younger animals but it's all the same in the end, just on a different timeline.

You love him. He loves you.The difficulties you face, the challenges of having a senior dog, are those that anyone with a senior dog will face. Helping an older pet through their last days - and making the hard decisions that they cannot make for themselves - is not a "final chore" that you take on because of the easier younger days, but an act of love in itself.

I can't be the one to help you with actionable specific advice here. But I can tell you that this heartbreak you face, this loss you feel coming - that is love. Your willingness to bring him into your home, and give him the best, despite the challenges - that is love.

Please do not think that you have made a mistake. Of course it's foolish. Love always is.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:14 PM on December 22, 2016 [47 favorites]

First of all, don't go borrowing trouble. Wait to hear what the vet has to say. The recurrence may be treatable.

Second, this is the melancholy risk of adopting a senior dog. You just don't know how long you're going to get with them. Could be seven years, could be seven weeks. But that doesn't mean your time with him can't be very sweet. And it doesn't mean you haven't done something wonderful by adopting him. Having someone to care for and love you in your last days and ease your final passage out of life--many humans aren't that lucky.

Remember that dogs don't really need or value the fancier things of life. The food he likes, the touch that comforts him, the security of being able to snuggle up with you--all these things will make him perfectly happy until he can no longer enjoy life at all. You don't have to do anything elaborate to spoil him. Just love him a lot, and spend as much time with him as you can.

If any of your family/friends react to the news by chastising you or dismissing your feelings as need to upgrade them, fast.

We love him. He's brought so much joy into our lives. But... was this all really foolish?

How could you possibly answer "yes" to that question, given what you said just before you asked it?
posted by praemunire at 12:16 PM on December 22, 2016 [14 favorites]

Oh, that's so sad. I'm so sorry.

I do think you should inform the rescue group, though. For one thing, they should have had the tumor tested when it was removed -- if they failed to do so, that's an error in their process. If they knew and didn't tell you, that's a real ethical failure on their part, and you should let them know.

It's one thing to adopt a dog "for life"; another entirely to adopt a dog to basically provide a hospice for the animal. People will do both, but they should be warned in advance, you know?
posted by suelac at 12:16 PM on December 22, 2016 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Life with pets is full of joy and extreme, cutting pain. I've known people who adopted puppies who turned out to have serious illnesses and died shortly after. People who adopted dogs from well-established breeders who did all of the health checks of the parents and the puppies and still their dog died of disease before two years. There's no guarantee with pets. It's very possible the rescue organization didn't know your dog had cancer. I would contact them to talk this out with them. And the clause about the vet check is standard for many rescues.

I've lost two dogs, and recently was with a friend who had to put her fourteen year old lab mix down. I petsit for him near the end, and saw him two days before he was put down. The thing about elderly dogs is unless they're in pain, and your vet can help you determine this, they are wonderful teachers of what it's like to become elderly. They still enjoy life, even if it's not the same as it used to be, and they seem to take even more joy in the little things. You've done him a wonderful thing by adopting him, even if he doesn't have much time left. You've given him a home and love and joy, and he's given you love and joy, as well, it sounds like. And even if it's fleeting, maybe that's all any of us can ask for in any loving relationship.
posted by umwhat at 12:18 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in a similar situation... and while I can't tell you what to do, perhaps this story will help? My old girl, adopted at 8ish, is now around 11. Jokes on us because the rescue told us she was 6 - foolishness according to my vet.

She was diagnosed with cancer this November after a few dodgy lumps and bumps appeared very fast. Some were fatty lipomas, but one near her chest was a horribly twisted sarcoma. She's just had two surgeries in a month, and I've taken time off work, including today, to look after her. People understand. They really do. My sister in law sent a jar of peanut butter in the mail!

Duchess is currently lying at my feet snoring and aside from the scars and pain of now (and my £6k vet bill mother-of-god, Christmas is cancelled, thanks Duchess), she is probably going to rock and roll around for few more years yet. But oh how it is worth it to have someone lick my teeth in the middle of the night, or cosy up just to burp in my face. This is what makes life worth living, connections with other beings.

I would suggest you don't freak out until you have all the facts - this might be treatable, and do feel good that despite everything you are giving this little guy a warm, comfortable retirement. Maybe not the steak... He will probably demand steak for every meal soon.

Super good thoughts going your way, email if you want to chat.
posted by teststrip at 12:20 PM on December 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

And no you didn't mess up, no one inspects elderly shelter dogs, and many shelters would lack the funds to do tumor testing, especially on an elderly dog already rescued from the gas chamber/needle once.

Think of yourself as giving the dog all the love it never had in a short period of time. Given the choice no social animal wants to die alone. You still saved this one from a much sadder end. Think of it that way.
posted by spitbull at 12:21 PM on December 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

Check out Wolfgang2242 on Instagram. He serially adopts old, overlooked dogs, and has around 9! It's a wonder to look at this photos and read the stories people share about their beloved animals in the comments.
posted by teststrip at 12:24 PM on December 22, 2016 [13 favorites]

For advice on quality of life, you may find Good Old Dog useful.
posted by zamboni at 12:30 PM on December 22, 2016

Best answer: It doesn't really take much to make a dog's final weeks or months pretty great. Love, treats (and it's a dog - mashed weenies, or chicken baby food and mashed potatoes, or wet cat food - are as ecstasy-producing as steak), fun that isn't too taxing.

Talk to your vet about a plan. Speak frankly, because most vets take an extremely cautious tack with people, because people are death-terrified denialists who will literally threaten to call a lawyer if euthanasia is brought up too soon. Tell the vet, "we want to keep him comfortable for as long as that is reasonable, we want to draw some lines in advance about what we will and won't do w/r/t treatment/interventions, and we want to decide in advance how much is enough before we let him go." Your vet can also answer questions about how to spoil him without causing any issues.

I don't even know what it is you're referring to as "foolish" though. I don't know why anyone would be shitty to you and say "what did you expect?" over this. All dogs who live long enough get old and die, probably getting sick as part of the process; it's not like you screwed up and forgot to get an immortal one. (Otherwise, your problem is needing new friends and family who aren't awful.)

All you have to do is love him and make him comfortable until it's time to call it quits, which you will determine to the best of your ability. Even a dog you've known for over a decade can be stoic and cagey enough at the end that it's hard to tell how sick they really are, and we're all just doing the best we can.

I don't really know what the alternate would be. I think the rescue group is garbage and they lie and I would never put a dog back with them because you can't assume he'd be properly taken care of. (Trufact: most rescue groups are thinly-legitimized animal-hoarding situations barely - if that - keeping their heads above animal abuse and/or financial ruin. I say that as a former participant, transporter, foster, and adopter. They may have good intentions, but I've never seen a group where it hadn't gotten out of hand long ago.) The clock starts ticking on this ending the second you take them in, and it sucks that you got the short stick, but you intended to see this through however long or short it was, so...keep on doing that. It will be hard and you will be traumatized, but that's not the same as it being wrong or foolish.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:32 PM on December 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

What an absolutely wonderful thing you've done for this dog! And, the love and bondedness you already feel is REAL. Adopting elderly dogs or special needs dogs is heroic in my book. These lovely creatures deserve happiness and being part of a loving family. To say that these animals shouldn't be eligible to have some last good months or years because they're old or sick isn't very compassionate, IMO.

As for the cancer, I'm so sorry. But, please see what the vet says. There are cancers that are highly treatable and the dog can continue to have a great quality of life. Some cancers aren't easily treated and then you just give the animal as much time as you can before the suffering can't be well-managed with medications, etc.

Giving your sweet dog a good last bit of life with a loving family is an amazing and wonderful thing you're doing. People like me will automatically put you in the *best person* pile for doing so. Please don't doubt yourself. You're the kinds of people who make the world a bit better by being loving to creatures that have had a bad run of it. Heroic.

Also, if it's not too much to ask, would you post a pic? It's one of the MeFi traditions I love the most.
posted by quince at 12:34 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I adopted an older dog with chronic health issues (and eventually cancer) and he was one of the best companions I ever had. We didn't get a lot of time together... I actually let a friend take him near the end. That friend had the kind of life where they could spend all day and night hanging out with my big old goof getting to ride in the car and run in the woods every day. That was so much better than him staying at home waiting for me, and we still got to see each other. I guess you go with your heart. Not everyone will understand but that's how love is in any case.
posted by mrcrow at 12:54 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

What a gift your dog received when he landed in your family. He will be loved, fed, warm, snuggled, petted, played with and spoiled to the end. People who adopt from rescues are wonderful, but those who adopt senior dogs are the very best of the best.

Do let the rescue know because it sounds like a ball was dropped and they need to ensure against that in the future, but it's not foolish to have adopted him or to keep him. It was a fantastic thing to do. Also, it's okay to not agree to extravagant treatments. Just because it can be done, doesn't mean it's the kind and loving thing to do.

Pictures of your little old man please!
posted by cecic at 12:54 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

I can't address everything else, but if you're looking for a treat that is going to be soft enough for him and still a treat (and yea, dogs don't know the difference, but we do): liver pudding. He should eat it right up.

<3 to you and your pup.
posted by joycehealy at 12:59 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: We've adopted several, OK many, old dogs that had health problems, usually cancer. Some have lived a few weeks, some a couple of years. We go get them on purpose. It's one of the most satisfying things I've done with my life.

The dog is still going to be old and still have cancer whether you adopted him or not. The difference is whether he spends his final days in a shelter or in a home where he's loved.

Draw you clear lines as best you can for how far you want to go with treatment. We don't go very far these days, it's money that can go to support other animals and rarely helps that much.
posted by bongo_x at 1:05 PM on December 22, 2016 [18 favorites]

Best answer: we have adopted several senior dogs. one of them the foster lady mentioned a heart murmur but I didn't hear that much either. within a month he was passing out frequently. we spent way too much money on ekgs stress tests etc to no avail. he was old with health problems and in his case no meds or surgery could really help him. I woke one morning to find him dead and while I was so sad I was also really happy we were able to give him 4 months of joy before he died. he had been living in a kennel for a while before we got him AND had been returned by 2 different families. he was a great dog and you mentioned the love-those rescues give it so freely! if you can give your new dog a loving home and some happiness I say go for it! the sadness is def balanced by the knowledge that you did so much for him.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:37 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: We are carrying our 17 year old beagle / dachshund mix down the deck stairs every time she goes out. She has a fatty lump that may or may not be cancer. I declined the biopsy as it's not like we'd do surgery at her age anyway. As long as she seems happy and content to be around we'll keep carrying her down the stairs. (She does ok coming up the stairs on her own. Gravity seems to get the best of her trying to go down stairs though). And we adopted a 4 year old dog last year to replace her beagle companion that we put down at 15 due to nose cancer a couple of years ago.

If the little guy gets a few more weeks to months of happiness in your home its a win-win-win for every body involved.
posted by COD at 1:42 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think what you did was stupid, I think it was incredibly loving and generous. We have adopted several senior dogs. One was with us for only 9 months, and he was so so so loved and left us too soon. It's hard, but you won't regret loving this dog, no matter the outcome of this situation. Thank you for adopting and loving him.
posted by freezer cake at 1:49 PM on December 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Somebody dumped one of those six lb. black fluffy mutts on my land. Behavioral clues led me to believe she was an old lady's dog that some dude had abused. Before we had her socialized to country life she started having seizures. After getting that stabilized, she had a hell of a good time bluff charging the goats, chasing chickens off the porch and trying to boss my 3 medium sized dogs around. It was only a few months before seizures and meds ruined her life and I had to put her down. I still miss the silly little shit and am glad I didn't get rid of her the first week.
posted by ridgerunner at 2:02 PM on December 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

Skipped to the bottom to tell you at this latterly point in my life, I have had many dogs. They have come into my life as puppies or, when I was old enough to adopt on my own, as adult rescues aged around 1-3 years old. But dogs just don't live all that long, and so all my dog stories have ended with illness and death. That's what happens, even with smaller dogs, eventually. Some have had cancer, some have had kidney disease. These are the diseases that await all of us with age.

You can give this darling dog a very good ending. I don't see how the rescue group is at fault -- they thought this dog just had fatty tumors, which many dogs accumulate with age. Don't waste time feeling upset with them. And no, this was not a waste, it is a gift to your dog to live good days right now. Nor is this something you need to hide -- animals get sick and die. Some earlier than others.

As for now, unless your vet says no, I'd let your dog eat all it likes, in lots of variety. Sure steak! Most dogs adore meat. I'd play and pet and keep everything happy. Sooner or later your dog will not be so interested in being active -- the lethargy is a hint that is starting -- and you'll want to focus on comfort and cuddling. The end is when your dog loses its appetite for any food, and that is the time to give the gift of a loving and peaceful and easy death via euthanasia by your vet.

Bless you for making this sweet dog's final time a good one.

This is very emotionally draining, so I wouldn't adopt another elderly dog next. It is surprisingly healing to make room in your life for another dog soon after a loved one dies, but I'd suggest a younger love next time around, to avoid replicating this difficult experience too soon.

Hugs to you.
posted by bearwife at 2:21 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

It wasn't foolish. You've done a good thing. Look how happy he is. Please post pictures.

Take your old dog for a walk, every night, at the same time. Dogs love walks, often above food. Both of you benefit from the exercise, and dogs will literally live for it. Keep an eye on the dog, so you don't overtire them, but their stamina will rapidly improve unless they are in their final decline.

I've got a neighbor that gets dogs from his social network when they get "too old" or "too sick". Sadie was a lumpy old white lab with a cancer diagnosis/sentence who lasted for another 5 years on the neighbor's all-meat spoil-them-to-death diet, along with the social support and extra exercise she got from the freak pack: Buddy the head-heavy dachshund-hound cross, Ginger the amazing hipless German Shepherd, Little Man who was a dog trapped inside a pygmy goat, and the House Sheep (a pair of Barbados .. sheep).

There's a balance between quality of life versus expense versus discomfort (both yours and your dog's) for your old dog. You'll find it.
posted by the Real Dan at 2:22 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

P.S. Dogs are so great, not only because they bring unconditional love and fun into our lives, but because they know how to live in the now. By which I mean, how to fully exist in the present moment, savor it, and be grateful for it. Seeing them do that is a great lesson for us humans who live with them. The end of their lives --whether measured in days, weeks, months or years -- is fully lived, each moment. So you are making that time, whatever its length, fully wonderful. And I hope your dog is teaching you that even a short period of love and joy is completely worth the price.
posted by bearwife at 2:31 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had to put down my sweet old boy in april, when I finally accepted that his canine dementia and mobility issues were affecting his quality of life too much. those final months of his life were impossibly precious, and while taking care of him was difficult, it also brought me such joy. I look back at that period as love -- the most love I've ever given, and have ever received. thank you for taking in a sweet old boy like mine. I'm sorry your time with him won't be as long as you'd hoped, but I promise you, it's worth it. especially to him.
posted by changeling at 2:32 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the responses. Most of you have made me cry & I'm okay with that. You've also made me feel that I'm in good company! Here's a picture of the little man.
posted by kmr at 2:35 PM on December 22, 2016 [29 favorites]

Your little man is so cute. And he's so lucky to have found someone to love on him while he's old and sick. You're his super hero!
posted by ilovewinter at 2:49 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

What an adorable dog! I'm so glad he has good people like you to make his last days--however many of them there will be--wonderful days full of love!
I agree with everyone upthread--try not to get ahead of yourself, and instead find out what your vet says. There's no sense in playing the "what if" game-- he's part of your family now, no matter how or why it happened. Try not to add worries about what others will think--any true pet lover will understand and applaud you for giving this little guy a great forever home--it just might not be the forever you were envisioning.
Off to give my rescue kitty an extra squeeze now. Treats for everyone!
posted by bookmammal at 3:18 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hey listen, you are doing a good thing here.

We are volunteer fosterers. We have one dog with us as a forever foster placement because she's on palliative care. We have another one here we adopted who now has terminal cancer. We lost our last senior adoptee to cancer too; in fact, we put her down on Christmas Eve three years ago. On the one hand, it is awful. On the other hand, they all go in the end and I wouldn't have traded any of these derps for the world. We do this because we have this love and we can do this work. It is a kind thing to do sure but we genuinely get so much more back than we have ever given.

And I have to tell you, it is so much better that they go first. I have a third, emergency foster sitting next to me right now; her owner is in hospital and not expected to come out. That's a tough, tough transition for a dog.

Anyway, on a practical basis, I would just gently remind you that dogs have no sense of time or future. They are all about the now. For us it boils down to quality of life. We don't do chemo because we do not believe the dog values what we're buying with it. In this last case, we opted to do an MRI to see if the tumours were on her spleen or other places, in which case we'd have treated palliatively; they were not and so we removed the mast cell tumours and will hope for a good 6 - 18 months.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:35 PM on December 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Thank you for taking the little dude in. I took in a stray cat who turned out to have Lymphoma, and lived only 3 or 4 months. Though it was 20+ years ago, I still have very fond memories of her and her quirky personality. I loved her to the end, and she died with a full belly in a warm house with someone who loved her. She enriched my life, and I hers. Love your little guy for as long as he is around. I can't imagine you would regret having the mutual love for however long or short it may be.
posted by k8oglyph at 4:16 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

What a good boy! Also of course you could have gotten a much younger dog and had any number of ailments befall it. Which is morbid I guess, but also realistic. I say this as someone who had to make that final decision for our best boy a couple months ago.

Actually, I can't believe it's already 3 months. We thought we would wait a while, but then I accidentally stumbled upon Toki Wartooth (aka Toki Monster) online at a rescue site. (His name was Buttons, which only added to the urgency of his case.)

I hope you'll have many more good months with the little man! They will all be worth it, however many you have. I think it's fair to say that even if the rescue site did a bad thing here, it was an amazingly lucky thing for this particular dog, who could not possibly have had a better rest of his life without you.
posted by Glinn at 5:12 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think people might say it is foolish because in some sense a pet is a financial expense- you paid for a dog, but it's defective- if you bought a toaster and it didn't work, you'd return it, get another.

But this little dog has a personality, and you've got this little dog. Returning him wouldn't mean getting another identical to him- there is only one of him. You said it yourself: "But those words went in and out because once we decided to adopt him, he was immediately ours no matter what."
posted by freethefeet at 5:25 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: this little love deserves a home even if its just for a few weeks/months, right?

About seven years ago, I adopted a senior girl who was mostly blind, all deaf, had no teeth, and slept 20 hours a day. Her family had tried to euthanize her because she was too old and they wanted to preempt dealing with the illnesses that would inevitably come.

I didn't think she would live very long. My whole mission with her was just to Make An Old Girl Happy.

She lived for three more years, though, and she taught me all of her small joys: Naps by the radiator! Walks in the grass! Nomming on cheeseburgers as big as your head! Sniffing the air! I think about her and how tough she was even to the end. How much she loved being here and made the most of it she possibly could. How happiness really does just boil down to a soft and warm place to sleep, good food, sitting outside and enjoying the breezes.

She's been gone for four years now and I miss her, but I am happy I gave her a good life at the end. And I think learning from her has helped me take better care of the sweet pup I have now, too.

As hard as it is, you're doing the right thing by giving him a home. Some days it feels like there's not so much decency left in the world, but what you are doing by helping that sweet little guy is decent, and good, and kind.
posted by mochapickle at 5:46 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

As is being said, cherish this time, it doesn't come around often. For more, watch Heart of the Dog by Laurie Anderson.

posted by allelopath at 6:47 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Food spoiling advice for the dog of few teeth: we used to feed our greyhound a combo of cooked hamburger and rice. This is the go-to for dogs with tummy trouble as well. Our current old dog gets some scrambled egg in her daily breakfast kibble.
posted by coevals at 7:42 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Heart of the Dog is available in the iTunes store for $12.99. I don't see it on Google Play.
posted by allelopath at 8:10 PM on December 22, 2016

Best answer: mostly blind, all deaf, had no teeth, and slept 20 hours a day

Many moons ago, fairly early in my years doing mastiff rescue fostering plus occasional greyhound transport, we got a call from our vet. One of his patients' owners had found a mostly-blind, mostly-deaf toothless elderly 200+lb English (example) that had probably - improbably, given his size - been loose for some time, based on his condition.

The day we brought him home, he staggered back and forth around the living room for a while, running into the furniture, until he hit the couch half a dozen times, enough to get a feel for the size and shape. After a long sniff, he put one foot up, heaved his bad ass up on it, and passed out for 12 hours.

This was in Dallas; the vet named him Big D. He was with us for about 3 months, mostly on the couch, fecally incontinent so when he passed out one of us would slightly lift his butt and another would slide some newspaper under. When he wanted food he would sort of fall off the couch, sit wherever he landed, and "Boof!" every 30 seconds until someone brought him food (or took him out to pee). Wherever he'd been before he came to us, he'd developed huge hygromas (giant black blisters made out of something like paw-pad tissue) on his elbows from laying on hard ground, and we struggled with little cuts and tears around them trying to get infected, and he likely had some kind of prostate issue because he didn't have any real urinary volume.

His entire personality was Boof! and poop, pretty much, but if you sat down next to him and pet him he would sink his head down onto your leg and then snore and drool with the breath of a thousand dead dragons. If he was Boof!ing because he was lonely, he visibly relaxed when someone came close enough for him to sense. He liked hugs. The three of us independently came to the conclusion he'd lived with children at some point, he was so gentle and careful.

We didn't know him at all, and he didn't know us, but taking care of him in his final months was an absolute honor. It's a little different because we knew the score when we picked him up (the vet just wanted someone qualified to hold on to him for a week or so while they put flyers out, and basically told us that after that, whenever it was not reasonably possible to take care of him, they'd take care of it for free), and he was so obviously ancient that we knew there was no long game. With a dog that size, once they can't get up anymore you have to stop, and I was at work the day my roommates had to get him to the car in a blanket sling the two of them had to carry him on. I will never forget him, and I have no regrets about taking him on.

We have three dogs we stupidly got about the same time, and they're all 12-13 now, and this year or maybe next year is going to suck *so much*, but I think once they're all gone we might do nothing but foster seniors for a while. It's hard, and Big D went easier than any of the other dogs I've lost in all this time, and at least once I waited way too long, but it is meaningful to be able to mostly help an old dog through that last stage with a decent amount of dignity and comfort and love.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:32 PM on December 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The dog is still going to be old and still have cancer whether you adopted him or not. The difference is whether he spends his final days in a shelter or in a home where he's loved.
posted by Bongo X


I'm currently laying on the edge of the bed. The reason I'm laying on the edge is because this little sassy girl is, as usual, taking up my space on the bed. She's 9, formerly a puppy mill girl and now gladly retired. We've had her 10 months. Last month we had a lump removed from her lip that turned out to be malignant melanoma. The vet says they got the whole thing out, so it's up to us if we want to go to the oncologist for some very expensive treatment that may or may not work. She could be around three more months, or three more years. We don't know. (Bulldogs typically live to 8-10 years old.) Whether or not to do the treatment suggested, which may or may not help and costs several thousand dollars, is a decision colored by recent losses of other bulldog girls.

The one before her was nine, and was with us for seven months before passing away after a short battle with sudden respiratory distress. This one was also a puppy mill refugee. Her joints were shot and her feet were scarred from living in a cage. She had 19 teeth pulled due to never having any dental care. She had entropion surgery on both eyes. She came into rescue severely overweight. Going from 62 pounds to 45 made her life so much better and the care the rescue got her made a huge improvement for her. And we only got seven months with her. But you know what? That was seven months where she was sleeping on a warm bed, eating good food, being taken for rides, getting to be a little diva and just overall owning the place. Before her, we had a six year old girl who came in with behavioral problems. We put her through training and we were also finally able to get a persistent ear problem solved. And then, eight months after she got to us, we had to say goodbye due to myelopathy that robbed her of the ability to stand even with assistance. But that was eight months with people working with her, spoiling her, giving her cozy beds to sleep on. We've had others and we currently have three 10-11 year old bulldog boys in her snoring away, with their own issues. One of them is helping push me to the edge of the bed right now... lovable little twerp.

I'm really sorry you're facing these issues. But you're also in a position to help this little porch live our life in style. There comes a time where you have to learn to make their days count instead of counting their days. We miss all five of the bulldog girls we've lost over the last five year. Horribly. When I look back, though, we gave these girls a place to party and live out their retirements. It looks like you're in a similar situation with this one. Live, love, enjoy today with the pup. Worry about tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.
posted by azpenguin at 10:32 PM on December 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

(He doesn't have all of his teeth so really whatever the equivalent would be for steak but mushy.)

I'd call that stew (along with the suggestion above of hamburger and rice). Just make sure there are no dog-unfriendly ingredients and spoil him rotten.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thank you so much for taking this dog home and loving him.

I work in veterinary medicine, and before that I worked in animals shelters, and there is a special place reserved in the cosmos for people who bring home elderly creatures and care for them in their final days. Caring for an elderly dog, cat, dog, rabbit (etc..) in their final years and days can be an immense challenge, but it is so important.

I brought a 12 year old Chihuahua home from a city shelter after animal care took him from the rubble of a burned down apartment building. He had a chronic cough, completely rotten teeth (he had to have full mouth extractions within the first month of bringing him home), and a kind of shitty disposition. He vacillated between extreme love (give me all the cuddles) and hate (fuck you, give me that treat, then fuck off or I'll gum the shit out you), but I loved him and he taught me a lot about what it means so be responsible for a life. I had him or a year before I noticed his snout looked slightly asymmetrical and he was quickly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. The only treatment available was radiation therapy and I made the decision not to do treatment and to do everything to keep him comfortable and happy until it was his time. He had a really good two months following his diagnosis where I spoiled him endlessly and he gave me more love than he usually did. Then the tumor got bigger and made him uncomfortable, and even though he still had his appetite it was hard for him to breath easily and sleep soundly and I decided it was time. I found a vet who did at-home-euthanasia and that was the best thing I could have done, because I've been at more euthanasias than I can count but this was the most peaceful one ever, and I'll never forget that and it was sad, but it was healing and there was so much closure.

You did an amazing thing bringing this dog into your family.

Why did we choose to get emotionally attached to such a short-term relationship?
Because you value life. And you understand that all creatures deserve to have a good life, and a good end to their lives. And you know that this dog deserves to leave this world with love in his heart and good food in his belly.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
posted by OsoMeaty at 9:07 AM on December 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am a Buddhist so I will give you a Buddhist perspective..we believe in destiny and rebirth. By some strange shared destiny he is in your life. We believe you create your own destiny by every little thought, word and action. This "dog" might be a way the future, your future, is beckoning you to shape it positively.
You did the right thing. Nobody is perfect and neither was this dog but you adopted him. That is beyond amazing, good for you. In fact, if you ever get a chance again, do this, all over again. It is worth it.
posted by metajim at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I was a kid we gave my Grandma our black labrador named Bess, who was about 3. She was her constant companion but when Grandma had to move to supervised care Bess came back to us again, about 10 years later. She was a beautiful old dog who frolicked and slept. She was with us until the end but I can't remember how she died. I remember Dad telling Grandma though. So sad. She was such a loved dog, and the very best of Good Dogs.
posted by h00py at 9:28 AM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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