By Elaine Gantz
This week we welcome guest blogger Elaine Gantz, foster mom to Old Dog Haven dog Archie. Elaine has been doing final refuge for a number of rescue groups, including Old Dog Haven, for the past decade. Elaine lives in Port Orchard “with four barking fur babies,” and she says her “greatest joy is giving a final, loving home to a senior dog.”
Heidi, a four pound grey and white shih tzu, had come to Cookies’ Pet Corner to get her nails done for years. Everyone loved Heidi and her mom. Her mom had cancer, and as she got weaker, I told her that if Heidi ever needed a home to let me know. A few months later, she came to the store and asked if I could take Heidi. She was going into hospice with little time left. We visited every day until she was gone. That’s how Heidi came to live with me and my pack.
Heidi followed the rule of three: Three days to adjust to her new surroundings. Three weeks to begin to trust. Three months to begin to show her true personality. My dogs are used to others coming and going, and they are quick to help out. The first thing they always do is show the new dog the potty room and that it’s ok to potty in the house. Each dog is different, and they figure out how to help with the dog’s transition: Offering toys. Sitting close or nearby. When we go outside, there is always one who chooses to remain outside until the new guy is ready to come in the house.
Heidi had a few bumps in her transition. Her teeth were terrible, which is not uncommon for seniors, especially a small shih tzu. Her mother adored her but couldn’t afford much care. A dental was critical as she was having terrible sinus infections that wouldn’t clear. The thought was that the decaying teeth were a large part of the problem. So a few weeks into her new home, after several vet visits, a dental was done. She had nine teeth removed. Unfortunately, her jaw was broken during the procedure (I have since discovered this is common in tiny dogs). As you can imagine, she was in pain, confused and not eating or drinking. Several emergency visits later, she began to heal.
As she got better her feisty personality began to show itself. She is the boss. Period. She tells the boys what to do and when. She fuffs at me if she wants up in my lap. A fuff is a silent bark which somehow physically propels her back a step or two, a bit like a wind-up toy. Her true Heidi self was emerging. She hates baths. If she doesn’t want you to do something, good luck. I began to figure out the things which had been part of her former life. She is most unhappy if dinner is later than 5 o’clock. A treat will be served an hour after breakfast. She likes to be held like a baby. Car rides are great. The back of the couch is hers as a place from which she can view the world. She detests being groomed. She became a full pack member. Her boys adore her and she is very close to the newest ODH FR Archie. They are generally side by side.
Recently Heidi became ill. She stopped eating and drinking. Praying she would start eating and drinking on her own, I spent 24 hours syringing goat’s milk or water hourly to try to keep her hydrated. It wasn’t working. I raced her to the emergency vet. I wasn’t ready to let her go but what if she was? The hardest part of final refuge is learning to put yourself aside and make decisions based on what is best for your pet. Better to let them go a day too soon than to selfishly hold on to them and let them suffer. Happily I didn’t have to make that choice yet.
One day not too far in the future I will have to decide. My heart will break as her life slips away. I will tell her I will love her forever and miss her for always. My last words, with a kiss on the head, is always, “I will see you on the other side.”
People ask me how I can take in an animal that may only have days to live, and I always say the same thing: “If not me, who?” No one—dog, dog, cat, or human—should die not knowing they are loved and will be missed. No one should die alone. That’s why I do what I do.