Bright-eyed Tosh

Bright-eyed Tosh

Tosh came to us because her human had to go into a care facility due to dementia. She started her life out with her brother Mack. Collectively they were known as ‘MackandTosh.’ By all accounts he took those dogs everywhere; they were here his constant companions. Mack died a couple of years ago but Tosh soldiered on. It was not hard to tell that Tosh had been well loved and socialized. She lived in her father’s first retirement facility with some other small dogs and everyone loved her. Tosh ended up at one the daughter’s homes and she couldn’t[1] keep her. She never really gave me good reasons she couldn’t keep Tosh in spite of having other rescued dogs. As seniors go, Tosh was easy: she was continent, relatively healthy and content.

We have been adopting senior dogs for several years now. We have set up our house to deal with the issues of seniors so incontinence is not really a big deal. We make changes for our old ones whether it involves carrying them up and down the stairs so they can sleep with us or helping them outside to pee. We make sure they get all the really good food they want and that if they have pain issues or need other vet care they get it. We also fall in love with them – hard and quickly.

Here is the thing about the seniors: they are the hardest to rescue. You are talking about taking in other people’s dogs who are losing their home simply because they have become old and frail. Instead of keeping their senior companions, the animals who have been with them for, in most cases, years they choose to find a new home for them. If the animals are lucky they end up at SAINTS or at our house where they will be adored and looked after for the time they have left. Where having an accident doesn’t matter and there is always a warm, dry bed to lie in.

Seniors are the most rewarding to rescue. Invariably they are grateful and they give you everything they have to give. Even though Tosh didn’t know us, she looked up at us with her adoring, bright, wide eyes. She followed us around regardless of where we went. If she got stuck on the wrong side of a gate we certainly knew it. She would go outside to pee but we had better be right there to let her in or she would start her bark screaming.

I don’t understand how people can rehome their seniors. How can you just get rid of a dog you have loved for years? I couldn’t do it. I guess I have to be ok with the fact that I will never get it. Yet, I know, that we will continue to take on the seniors even though a little piece of our hearts go with them when they die.

We love you Tosh. You were a very, very good dog.

[1] Wouldn’t.

Published in: on January 15, 2013 at 4:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Dispatches from The Swamp – ‘the senior dog’ edition

Things at The Swamp have been quite good lately. I had the week before Easter off and I spent it doing self-care. I listened to music and played computer games for a couple of hours a day. This always makes me very happy. I find when I am listening to music and singing my mind completely empties. I am one of those people whose mind never, ever stops. I am always thinking about something or trying to solve a problem. Even at night, if I wake up I have a hard time turning my mind off again.

All of the dogs are doing well. Tru is an amazing dog. We thought she wouldn’t last the week when she first got here. We are not complacent though. She clearly has something wrong with her – likely some kind of cancer. She doesn’t eat much and she is quite thin. Tru has an odd diet. She loves carbs like chocolate and cake. The only meat she will eat right now is ham. We expect that will end eventually. I think Tru is enjoying her life right now and doesn’t want to go anywhere quite yet.

Ruby[1] is doing fabulously. She is slowly coming out of her shell. She is spending much less time in her crate. She really turned a corner last week when she suddenly became more confident. She is still on the periphery of the dogs as she appears to be scared of the pack. Although, Ruby was able to muscle her way in to the group to get some roast beef. She is sleeping on the bed with us at night. She is certainly becoming much more interactive.

Tuber is such a sweetie!

I really wish more people would consider adopting senior dogs. It is such a rewarding experience to take in a dog who has had a less than stellar life and introduce them to all the pleasures of life. Watching a dog have roast beef for the first time is so rewarding. When you have a dog who has been forced to live outside her/his entire life begin to enjoy the comforts of living indoors is amazing. It takes very little to provide for a senior dog. Yes there may be some ongoing medications and things like that but most vets will not be too intrusive with seniors. When you aim for quality of life, feed good quality food, and provide symptom relief, seniors are an amazing addition to any home. Please consider giving a good home to a senior dog. It will change your life. Check out SAINTS for adoptable seniors. You can also check out Boo who is up for adoption through Bully Buddies.

[1] AKA: Tuber, Tater Tot

Buddy & Sissy

Buddy and Sissy are 2 of the original SAINTS. The two, very bonded to each other, arrived at SAINTS with very bad skin conditions, stinking to high heaven. The duo, quickly dubbed the ‘icky chis’, became a fixture in front of the fireplace at SAINTS. The laid in separate beds but always side by side. Buddy passed away this week and now Sissy is alone. You can read more of their story here.

This brings up something we deal with often here at Chez Shihtzustaff. Some of our dogs are incredibly bonded to each other and have relationships that are very strong. Madison bonds, eventually, to most of the little dogs.

Mollie and Clio

The little girls also tend to cuddle a lot together. Madison and Kirby have an amazing relationship. They have been together for 10 years. They sleep side by side at night. Piper was quite bonded to Tucker and she visibly grieved for him for a couple of weeks. Quite often we don’t recognize that our dogs form relationships with other dogs.

Gemma, Mollie and Clio

Mollie and Clio are also bonded to each other. They are often seen laying together. Mollie seems to understand that Clio is blind and she does not bark at Clio when she comes into her space. She chases everyone else off unless they are cuddle buddies. Of course that all changes when Mollie has food and the land shark comes out!

Maddie, Clio and Mollie

I sure hope that things get a little better for Sissy quickly. That little dog has had a rough life and now to lose her brother and her best friend she must be devastated. I hope that she is able to bond with another dog at SAINTS who will be her companion.

Piper, Mollie and Clio

Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Shelter Challenge

The Animal Rescue Site is holding its Shelter Challenge. Basically this is a long contest, where supporters vote for their favourite shelter every day and hope to make it #1 so that they receive a prize. It promotes good-natured competition between shelters and their various supporters. They keep a list of the top shelters so you can see where your shelter is ranked across Canada and North America.

What do you do if you like more than one shelter? How do you decide who to vote for? Do you base your vote on how needy a shelter is? Or do you decide to vote based on shelter mandate? Regardless of who you decide to vote for or how you arrive at that decision, voting is the important thing. Rescue can be lonely work, just ask Yvette at Turtle Gardens. If you talked to Carol from SAINTS you would hear about the mountains of laundry and the ‘joys’ of cleaning up after old, leaky and incontinent animals. I think for those in the trenches of running a rescue knowing that there are people out there, voting for your shelter everyday is comforting. Even when they are so alone, or very isolated, they know that somewhere, somehow other people support you.

Vote. Vote for the shelter of your choice. Vote for a different shelter everyday but just vote. The end result is the animals will benefit. Which is why we are all involved in rescue. Our rescued dogs say thank-you!!!

Some of our rescued dogs:


Tucker - spent 15 years in a pen before going to SAINTS


Mabel - had cancer. She came from SAINTS


Zoe was a puppy mill dog before she was rescued by Turtle Gardens


Molly is our ancient Pom - she came from SAINTS


Gemma came from a puppy mill before she was rescued by Turtle Gardens. She has mammary cancer but no one has told her.


Kiefer came from the Richmond SPCA after he grew too big for a young woman's purse.


Kirby was rescued by the Animal Rescue Foundation in Calgary after he was abandoned.

Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 3:47 pm  Comments (1)  

Resilience in Rescued Dogs

As many of you know we are quite involved in dog rescue. Currently of our 9 dogs, 8 are rescued or former shelter dogs. One of the things I enjoy most about having rescued dogs is watching them as they grow and change and discover that they are safe. Most dogs when they come to us are coming via a rescue. Most of our dogs have come from SAINTS and Turtle Gardens but we also have dogs from shelters too. One of the things most of our rescued dogs have in common is that they have been neglected (some were abused), many have been starved and several of them lived outside. All of these issues impacts the dog as he or she tries to integrate into our family.

A dog who has spent its entire life living outside never learns to hold their bladder. When these dogs first come in it can be very difficult to toilet train them. In some cases, it is more difficult than puppies. These dogs require a great deal of structure and patience to learn to hold their bladders. We find frequent trips outside and the liberal (or would that be ‘liveral’) application of dried liver treats to be very helpful. We also find that crating them at night helps them to learn to hold their bladders which then translates into them being able to hold it for longer and longer periods in the day. We also lean towards supervising them outside and teaching them to pee on command. Of course there will continue to be accidents and these are handled with patience. If we find the dog in ‘the act’ we will generally take them outside to finish the job. Some dogs will never be toilet trained and may require some other kind of incontinence products.

Dogs who have been starved can be especially difficult particularly when it comes to resource guarding. Quite often these dogs never know where there next meal is going to come from and so they can act aggressively with food and treats. It takes a long time to teach them to take the treats nicely. One must also safeguard the other dogs against the aggressiveness of the resource guarding. We try to minimize this kind of aggression by ensuring that there is no food or treats readily available. We feed raw so everyone gets their portions and the resource guarders are separated from the others. Generally this works well but it does require vigilance.

Dogs who have been neglected often do not associate humans with anything good. It takes them a while to begin to trust us and rely on us to provide a comfortable life for them. Once these dogs do begin to attach you can expect that they will have a touch deficit and need a lot of attention. In fact, the revel in the love! As they get more and more attention their confidence soars and they begin to experience positive feelings.

This post has been prompted by something Zoe did yesterday which indicates some of these qualities/behaviours. Deb dropped a package of melba toast in the living room and all of a sudden it was gone. I was down the hall and I saw Zoe strutting down the hall with something in her mouth. Her tail was up and she looked very pleased with herself. Zoe was a starved dog at some point in her life. Right now she is in the touch deficit phase of her recovery. Zoe is also a very resilient dog. She has overcome so much in a very quick time period. She is able to trust us and she is no longer starved. However, she still behaves like a starved dog. Likely she always will. Tucker was also a starved dog and he will literally dive for any food anywhere, any time. It does not matter what it is he will eat it with gusto. Giving him treats is quite difficult because he snaps at your hand. Tucker can be quite dangerous to humans and other dogs when it comes to food.

Adopting a rescued dog can be quite difficult. It does require commitment, a whole lot patience and hopefully wood floors! However the rewards are many and varied. Watching them grow and change is a fulfilling experience. Not all rescued dogs are capable of this resilience. If you are going to welcome a rescued dog into your life it is important not to have any great expectations. The ability of the dog to adapt depends on many things. Length of time the dog has lived in less than ideal circumstances, age, breed, and health status are all factors that can have an impact. Having no pre-set expectations of the dog’s ability to meet your needs will give the dog the space he or she needs to reach their potential.


Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 3:16 pm  Comments (1)  

The Inmates have Taken Over the Asylum – Part 2

It has been a long time since I have updated everyone about the dogs. Lots has happened at Chez Thomas so here we go.

We welcome Gemma Joy who came to us from SAINTS via Turtle Gardens. Gemma was rescued by Turtle Gardens up north where she was a puppy mill dog.

Gemma Joy after her shave

Gemma Joy after her shave

Gemmy is a shihtzu and is now starting to show all the characteristics associated with shihtzus. She is playful and tenacious and she is learning to play. She loves to cuddle and she just soaks up all the attention she wants. There are some concerns about her health as she had some mammary tumours removed (please get your female dogs spayed early, it reduces their chances of getting this awful disease by over 90%). Three tumours were removed and one was an aggressive cancer. The surgeons said they got good margins and we are hoping it did not metastacize before they removed it. She seems like a dog in good health:
Gemma Joy running on the dikes.

Gemma Joy running on the dikes.

Gemma had many litters of puppies and now she is treating all of the toys in the house like her ‘babies.’ She carefully gathers them up and sleeps with them. It is both cute and sad at the same time. We are pretty sure that she does not think they are her ‘babies’ because she chews on their heads.
Gemma and her 'babies'

Gemma and her 'babies'

Everybody please think good thoughts for Gemma. She will have an x-ray in about a month to see if the cancer spread. We are so hoping it has not and that she will be with us for a very, very long time!
One other thing – Gemma is continent! She is the first dog from SAINTS we have had who is continent!!! It is the little things that are important!
Now on to Molly. She is the oldest of our dogs at 20. She is a former SAINT and she is still going strong. She does her ‘pilates’ everyday. Since Gemma Joy came she has been doing a lot more stretching so that she makes sure she is noticed. We had to shave her a while back because her mats got really bad. She hates to be combed and we do not want to unduly stress her out. We had her in a little sweater for some time because it was still cold.
Molly yawning - notice the lack of teeth!

Molly yawning - notice the lack of teeth!

Speaking of haircuts, the day Molly was shaved Deb and Angelina also shaved Clio and gave her a mohawk. I thought it was very mean and they thought it was cute:
Clio with a mohawk

Clio with a mohawk

Madison is now 16 and is deaf as a post. It seem to come on all of a sudden. We have been working with our vet to manage her pain. Unfortunately, the one medication that would really help her also causes gastric upset so we have to further reduce how often she gets that med.
Madison laying down

Madison laying down

She is still mommy to all the little girls. We often see her curled up with them in the big beds.
Kirby is doing great! He has become quite self-actualized and is not afraid as much anymore. He loves going in the truck with Deb and she has a really hard time getting out of here without him. Kirbs is 10 this year! He loves getting jiggy in the morning and lives for his tummy rubs!


Sienna, who is Angelina’s dog, lives  with us as well. Lately, our living room has been turned into a toy paradise and all she wants to do is destroy them. Poor Sienna! Sienna loves to play fetch and go to the park. She is a such a sucky pitbull (the way they are supposed to be) and she makes some incredible noises when her ears are being rubbed. She is also doing quite well in Rally-O.


Tucker is our other foster dog from SAINTS. He has overcome his vestibular disease. Then he got giardia. He seems to be doing much better now that he has taken his course of flagyl. Unfortunately for Tucker he got stuck eating canned gastro food for the time he was on meds. It will be back to raw for him today.
Tucker at the dikes

Tucker at the dikes

Piper the punk is doing really well. We were worried that she would be upset and jealous of Gemma Joy. Nope all she wants is for Gemma to play with her. It is really quite amazing to see the efforst she puts into trying to make friends. I am sure, that over time, she and Piper will become a duo. They are already barking together as they guard the house.
Piper at the park

Piper at the park

We are a little concerned about Mackenzie as her aggression seems to be escalating. She took Piper’s spot in Rally-O (because Piper has no obedience skills, sigh) and she is doing very well. Mackenzie loves to go to the park and chase and kill balls. We go through a lot of tennis balls!
Mackenzie at the dikes

Mackenzie at the dikes

And last, but certainly not least, is Kiefer. He is not the shy wallflower type. He talks a lot and soemtimes it is very, very loud. He is especially joyful in the morning. Kief lives to eat and does so with gusto. He is also very handy when I take too much food – usually the leftovers will all fit into his waiting mouth.
Kiefer at the water even though he does not swim.

Kiefer at the water even though he does not swim.



I have saved the best for last. Bella, our Maine Coon cat, is in love. She adores Lynn. Her new favourite game is to crawl up on to Lynn and put her but in Lynn’s face while she kneads her. She will then turn around and knead other sensitive bits. This cat is no light weight either. She weighs 25 pounds and has talons for nails. Since Bella peed in Deb’s shoes everyone is afraid to do something to piss off the cat. Getting the cat off of Lynn can be a 2 person job now as we try to convince her that it was her idea to get down.
Life is never boring here!
Here is one last pic:
The notorious Bacon Sisters

The notorious Bacon Sisters

I have bacon on the weekend the little girls all gather around and they share. Needless to say I do not get to eat much bacon!

SAINTS Documentary

Here is the link to the SAINTS Documentary. It is about 22 minutes or so in.

If you are able, all donations appreciated and you will get a tax receipt!

Published in: on April 10, 2009 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

SAINTS Documentary Tonight

The SAINTS documentary will air tonight on CBC on the National. Please tune in if you can and if you love animals please consider making a donation.

SAINTS is an end of life sanctuary for senior and special needs animals. SAINTS provides a real home environment for the dogs and cats. There are also farm and barnyard animals.

This time of year is very hard for SAINTS as it is before the major fundraisers.

We have had severals SAINTS grace our home: Mabel-Mae, Molly, Tucker and now little Gemma Joy (post to come soon).

Published in: on April 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Old Dogs

Never, ever underestimate an old dog. Tucker has found the all you can eat buffet of our house known as the freezer. He has learned to open it and can be found munching on all sorts of  things – lately it was a frozen Angus burger from Costco.

Tucker spent 15 years in a pen – by himself. He is desperate for attention and interaction. He never wants to be away from humans. Tucker is also losing his back end. He is having trouble getting up and occasionally drops poop as he walks. Not good signs. However, we have decided to let Tucker be the boss and do as much living as he can in what time he has left. He can go to the park and run like a puppy and we will manage his pain with appropriate medications. He is having a really good time!

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 11:56 pm  Comments (2)  

The Inmates Have Taken Over the Asylum: The Geriatric Club

A senior dog is loosely defined as being over the age of 7. If we were to apply that definition we would have 6 dogs who fit in that category. Although to see some of them in action you would have no idea!

The oldest dog in the house is Molly, who is 19, had an entire blog post dedicated to her and her antics. She has had several strokes and kind of does everything to the right. She is a force to be reckoned with and most of the other dogs are afraid of her.

My favourite pic of Mabel. It captures her confidence!

My favourite pic of Mabel. It captures her confidence!

The next oldest dog is Mabel at 17. She has also been the subject of several blog posts: here, here, and here. Mabel continues to do quite well. She is our little despot. She still sleeps most of the time in the laundry room – entirely her choice. She has many beds to choose from and she does rotate through them all. Lately we have had to evict her from the laundry room for short periods of time so that Tucker can eat there and she gets seriously pissed off. She will immediately voice her displeasure and go and pee on the floor even if she has just been outside. She continues to bark to go out, come in and eat. Her daily ‘constitutionals’ around the yard are back and she can successfully find her way back to the door. What is really funny is that Mabel doesn’t know when the door is open. Sometimes we don’t close it and sure enough, when she is ready to come in she will bark in front of the open door. Mabel is a little deaf, a little blind and a whole lot stubborn!

Madison with Molly and Clio

Madison with Molly and Clio

Madison is our next oldest dog and she is 15. We adopted her from the Animal Rescue Foundation about 10 years ago. Madison often takes the role of mother to the little dogs no matter how old. She can often be seen cleaning them especially the pug. Madison has much in common with Eeyore. She is sure that no one loves her and everyone hates her. She greets new visitors with the hope that maybe, just maybe, they will really love her! Madison is a loved and cherished member of our family. Unfortunately some dogs are never able to overcome their pasts. Madison went through several homes in her first five years of life. She became somewhat aggressive after being tormented by a 12 year old boy. We were the perfect family for Madison because there were no men in our household. Over the years, Madison has mostly been desensitized to men and can enjoy their company. Young boys are still problematic – she is unpredictable and can be aggressive. Luckily she has never bitten a child and we are highly vigilant. Many people (see here and here) feel it is just fine to re-home a dog and that it really does not affect them. For many dogs, instability in their ‘pack’ cause irreparable damage that the dog may never overcome.

Laughing Tucker

Laughing Tucker

Tucker is a foster dog from SAINTS. He is 15 years old and spent almost all of his life in a pen. He is a very good dog. There are serious consequences for a dog who spends his entire life, by himself, in a pen. He was never socialized with other dogs. For him this means that he has never learned how to be with other dogs or what it means to be a dog. He is now slowly learning, at 15, how to interact with other members of canine society. He is realizing that humping everyone is not the best strategy. He never learned to hold his bladder. If you live in a pen rather than a house toilet training is not a priority. It means that Tucker is incontinent. He may have been incontinent at 15 anyway but we will never know. Tucker has an incredible need to be touched and loved. After 15 years there are not enough people or enough hours in enough days to make up for what he has lost. It is very sad. This insatiable need for affection contributes to Tucker’s anxiety. He is always concerned that he is going to miss something and he is always on alert. Tucker is also mostly deaf. As a result he devises strategies to know if the humans he has now fallen in love with move. He will lie so that he is touching my chair so that I cannot possibly get up without him knowing. Another consequence (and one that is simultaneously amusing and disgusting) of his lack of socialization is that Tucker never really came into contact with female dogs. Enter our little hussy, Piper the pug. On several occasions now I have seen Piper laid out, on her back, like Miss September and Tucker enthusiastically ‘cleaning’ her. That is all I will say on the subject.



Kirby is our next oldest dog. He is 10 and he also came from ARF. Kirby was painfully shy when he came to us as a foster dog. He had this unique ability to blend in with his surroundings and stay perfectly still making it very difficult to find him. Although, who, in their right minds, takes a brand new dog to the park and lets him offleash? Well, we did. It was dumb. It took us a long time to find him that first day and he was right by us. Kirby was so timid he was almost euthanized at the vet’s office where he was dumped. He was saved by a very eager and talented vet student who had done his neuter. She could not handle the fact that he was about to be put down and she contacted ARF. It was clear immediately, to Deb anyway, that he was not going anywhere once he had arrived. Almost 10 years later and he is a treasured member of our family.

Mackenzie smiling.

Mackenzie smiling.

Mackenzie is about 8 years old and she has lived with us for all but about 4 months of her life. She started her life being tied up in a yard and left to the elements and the loud noises. This has affected her greatly. She is very scared by thunder storms and fireworks have made her seizure from anxiety. She was also kicked to maker her aggressive and into a watch dog. They succeeded on the aggressive part for sure. She was human aggressive when we got her and has remained dog aggressive. Mackenzie has been the focus of a great deal of soul searching and agonizing about quality of life. She lives in a multi-dog household and this means that she must be separated from everyone else as her aggression, while predictable, is severe. Mackenzie spends a lot of her time in Deb’s office. She gets lots of exercise and for the most part seems to have a good quality of life.

What is clear from our seniors is that there are real and palpable consequences to how dogs are treated. Dogs who spend their lives on the ends of ropes or chains outside become fearful and unpredictable. Dogs are pack animals and need to be with their people. They are social animals who need to learn to the cues from both other dogs and humans if they are to navigate their way in society successfully. Having the pleasure of having a dog in your life comes with serious responsibility. Dogs can be expected to live between 10 and 20 years and if you are getting a dog you need to be aware. Dogs require good quality food and regular vet care. Please if you are thinking of getting a dog make sure that you do your research into breed characteristics and learn something about training. Many dogs lose their homes because their people did not research the breed adequately. If you get a Border Collie you need to know that have to work or they will become destructive. Pugs were bred to be companion dogs – they need to be with their people. Northern breeds have high prey drive. While not all dogs of all breeds will display all of the breed characteristics it is good to at least be aware of the potential. One last request, if you are thinking of getting a dog please check out your local shelters, rescues and pounds. Please don’t support a puppy mill.

Edited to add: I just saw this post from Turtle Gardens with some more discussion about consequences for dogs brought on by human failures. Excellent post.