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.

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

Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘oh my god let the election begin already’

  • I am so sick of all the election stuff. The leadership races in BC have several different candidates calling on almost a daily basis. We are not members of the BC Liberal party yet all of the candidates called us more than once. Now the NDP leadership candidates are calling and emailing everyday. Now, with yet another threat of a federal election the candidates are calling. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was an actual real person on the other end of the phone except there isn’t – they are mostly just recordings.
  • We had a very interesting presentation today from the BC Human Rights Coalition. I learned a great deal about how human rights work. Like for example the only rights we have are those that are enshrined in legislation. Another interesting factoid is that human rights do not extend to private spaces i.e. golf courses with male only rooms. Another great thing is that BC’s system is direct access and all claims are accepted. It was a great presentation and I would recommend that every work place contact them for a presentation.
  • Apparently WordPress was down today for some time. As a result, they opted to give all of us daily bloggers a pass for today. Well, I choose not to take the pass. I am hopeful that they are back up now so that I can post this blog. Apparently they have been having some server issues lately. I guess they are not solved yet.
  • And now for some fun news. All of the dogs are doing well. Deb has a new plan called ‘Operation 2nd fat Shihtzu.’ The goal is to get some weight on Clio. We have never been able to get any weight on her. She doesn’t eat a lot at any one time and if she eats food that is too rich she gets diarrhea. So the plan is several small meals per day of cooked food that is easy to eat. She will still get her raw although it may be more ground with bone. Part of her condition is difficulty breathing which might make it too hard for her to chew for any length of time. Hopefully this will help to get some weight on her because at this point if she were to get some kind of respiratory infection she really has nothing to fight with.

Miz Molly

Yesterday, Molly, our now 21-year old Pomeranian, has developed what sounds like a wet cough. Molly has had a cough, on and off, mostly, it would seem, the result of dry air or some kind of irritant. She would cough for a couple of days and then it would stop. This cough was different and a bit worrisome. So it was off to the vet today.

The vet decided it could be one of three things: asthma, an infection or cancer. She wanted to do an x-ray. We did not want to do an x-ray as we felt it would be too stressful for her. So we broke it down. It is not likely asthma as we likely would have seen it by now. If she has lung cancer it doesn’t matter if we know because there is nothing that can be done. It is most likely an infection so we got antibiotics. I am confident, given that the vet said her heart was fine, that does not have lung cancer because they usually develop a heart murmur.

Veterinary care with senior dogs is a delicate balance. You need to decide what you are going to treat and what you are not. Are you going to aggressively treat cancer in a senior dog? If so, who are you doing it for? The answer is likely not for the dog. This extends to intrusive diagnostics. If your dog has elevated liver enzymes are you going to do the ultrasound or the biopsy when you know that you can’t really treat it? It just doesn’t make any sense. You intervene as much as you need to so that the dog is comfortable. You treat pain and you can treat infection. If it is something like lung cancer then, when the time comes, you intervene with mediation to make the animal feel better. When you can no longer keep them comfortable it is time to let them go.

We know that Clio has lung cancer. She is doing ok at this time and when the time comes that her coughing is interfering too much with her life we will get medication for her. We won’t allow Clio to go to far along into the cancer because of her issues. Clio is brain-damaged and really does not understand things or cope well. She has always been a dog who is very anxious and needy. Deb said that she got her head stuck in a gate the other day and she was very upset and confused. This may be a sign of the cancer going to her brain.

Today, everything is fine. Molly, our little energizer Pilates Queen, has an infection we are treating. I am confident she will be back to her normal little self in a couple of days. I think she will be with us for a good while yet. She is alert, she sees and hears well still and she is a pretty happy little dog.

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



We lost Tucker* today as he had been slowly deteriorating for the last week. He wouldn’t eat or drink. Tucker had been a starved dog so for him not to eat was a major indicator that something was wrong. Tucker was also vomiting and lethargic. It had become clear that he no longer had any quality of life.

One of the hardest decisions when living with old and sick dogs is deciding when the time is right to let them go.I read another blogger who basically said she would rather let them go too soon then to wait too long and have them be in pain. I believe this is a good approach. Still it is very hard to make the ultimate decision. At our house it is generally a consensus approach. Quite often you can tell by looking their eyes. They seem to have a way of communicating what they need. It is very important that we be open and receptive to their message.

I think we timed this really well for Tucker. His pain meds still seemed to be doing the job and up until yesterday he was eating some food with his usual gusto. When Tucker would not take food and didn’t fight when Deb gave him his pills we could see that a lot of him had gone already. So the decision was made that today would be the day.

Helping a dog to pass is the most important thing we can do for them. Making sure they are not alone and that they are not scared is paramount. Holding their heads and stroking them and making sure that they are not scared is crucial. A lot of us who have rescued dogs try to make up for all the things that particular dog did not have in their lives. We are no exceptions. They are loved, they get treats, they go for walks, they sleep in our bed. We do the very best for them that we possibly can – right up until the end.

Happy trails Tuck. I hope that wherever you are you can eat as much as you want and run like a puppy. We loved you.

Tucker waiting for a treat
Tucker at the dikes having a great time.

*More of Tucker’s story here

Update Mashup

It has been a while since I have blogged about the goings on at chez Shihtzustaff, so I thought it was time for an update:

  • We have adopted Tucker and Gemma Joy.  We found out this week that Gemma has mets in her lungs from her cancer and more masses in her abdomen. She is palliative now. She is still feeling great and enjoying life. For the first time she is out of a pen and not being forced to breed. It was because of the breeding that Gemma ended up with mammary cancer. Please spay your female dogs before they go into heat and you can reduce the chances that they will develop this very lethal form of cancer by almost 100%. Tucker continues to be with us. He is developing some canine cognitive disorder like behaviours so we are working with the vets to manage that and his pain. He continues to ensure that he does not miss a thing around here – especially food!
  • Molly our ancient toothless pom is like the energizer bunny of dogs. She stretches and spins and does her various yoga poses. You can’t help but laugh at her. She is so full of life. We do see her slowing down a bit though. She has started to put herself to bed most nights now.
  • Living with senior dogs is not for the faint of heart. The other day I was coming into the house and Tucker was laying in front of the door. Tucker is deaf so telling him to move is not effective. So I gently push the door against him and I see his eyes roll back in his head. I think he is having a stroke or a seizure or something that is not good. Nope, he is just hard asleep.
  • Kiefer gets the most improved award this month. Because he is big he is able to reach plates on tables etc and this often results in Kiefer inspecting (and slobbering on) everything we eat. I came up with a way to stop him – as he comes for the plate, the plate moves toward him. It only took him a couple of tries and now he has stopped completely. Way to go Kiefer!
  • Everybody else is doing well. The pug is adorable and so well socialized. She goes to SAINTS occassionally and visits with all the animals.
  • Work is going well. My health seems to be doing ok. Pain level still quite high most days but I can deal with that most of the time. I need to be very careful to get enough sleep or things go south quickly. Plus I am now going to see a psychiatrist to deal with the anxiety caused by chronic pain and disease and see if there is something better that can be done to address both issues. The problem is that my anxiety ramps up every time I am in pain.
  • And the best news of all? I got an iPhone 3GS. It is a work of art I must say. It is so incredibly easy to use and set up. I virtually needed no instructions whatsoever. I can’t wait to use it on a daily basis. No more getting lost in Abbotsford with built in GPS!

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!

Our Mabel-Mae

mabel in fleece
mabel in fleece

Mabel came to us from SAINTS in February of 2007. You can read some of her history here from the SAINTS blog. Mabel came to our house to die. She was urinating blood and she had a big cancer tumour on her neck. As soon as she arrived she commandeered the laundry room as her domain. It was quiet and she could sleep and be out of the way of the thundering herds in our house. She quickly made her presence known which is not easy in a house with 7 other dogs. We asked nothing of Mabel and gave her everything she wanted. She quickly made her food preferences known. She liked the raw food we fed the other dogs but she had a real penchant for chicken and Cesar dog food. One day we gave her ham – she was fairly sure that it was heaven on earth. The next time we cooked a ham she barked at the stove for 90 minutes straight while it boiled. She could smell it and she wanted it!

Mabel lived life on her own terms. She preferred to be dirty and smelly and would turn into a Tazmanian Devil whenever Deb bathed her. She often connected but I don’t think she ever drew blood but it was not for lack of trying.

After several months at our house Mabel developed a small tumour on her leg. We took her to the vet and had it treated. In the beginning they thought it was a lick granuloma but it never healed. At the same time the vet checked her teeth and she needed a dental. She seemed healthy enough so we opted to have blood work done and if all was ok we would proceed with the dental. Her blood work was not only ok, her liver and kidney function had improved. So, we went ahead with the dental and had the tumour removed. She came through it like a trooper!

She enjoyed two summers at our house. She would do her daily constitutional around the yard and then come back in. We had a couple of scares like when she became quite disorientated while on antibiotics for her leg but she improved again.

Mabel lived for food. She ate 4 or more times a day usually within a time period of four hours. Deb would feed her and Mabel would bark an hour later and Deb would swear and feed her again not believing that a little dog could eat so much. I found it quite amusing that Deb would attempt to ‘reason’ with Mabel. She would say things like: “You just ate! You can’t be hungry again” and Mabel would continue to bark. Then my favourite line was: “If you stop barking I can feed you more quickly” and Mabel would bark louder. She simply did not care. We were her slaves – she knew it and never let us forget it.

Rest easy Miz Mabel-Mae. You were a force to be reckoned with and you were loved.

My favourite pic of Mabel. It captures her confidence!
My favourite pic of Mabel. It captures her confidence!

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.