Lumpy, bumpy and perfect: Why this veterinarian adores senior dogs
If our senior dogs could talk, they’d have such great stories to tell. Here, animal hospice veterinarian Dr. Kathleen Cooney contributes a guest blog post about appreciating the wisdom, and the stories, of sweet old dogs:
By Dr. Kathleen Cooney
I am a doctor of old dogs. For the past 10 years, my work has focused around animal hospice and preparing for death. It’s what I do. People do not bring me their young and healthy sidekicks ready for adventure. What they bring me is far better. They bring me the old, the frail, and the “full of history” sweethearts who warm my heart. They are lumpy, and bumpy. They are gray, sometimes a bit stinky, and their nails are long from sleepy days. My veterinary work revolves around their ups and downs and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why do we love the old ones so much? If you’re like me, you like the stories. You never know what’s behind those wise eyes — what crazy, silly, and amazing things make up who they are. While my work can be very sad at times (being surrounded by so much loss), what keeps me going are the stories. Hearing them makes me feel a part of the life and not just the death.
I once met an old boy who picked artichokes straight off the plant and ate them as his favorite snack. One old girl was adopted as a pup after wandering alone and scared in the Arizona desert. She grew up to be the pride of her family. Another old boy turned out to be the savior of his owner by leading him to safety in one of the worst snow storms in Colorado’s history. The stories of adventure, overcoming hardship, and true love go on and on. The thread that holds them all together is age. It’s rare to get so much from the young ones.
This year, my kids begged me for a puppy. Our Chihuahua had died unexpectedly and it left a huge void in our life. The new breed of choice … a pug. She’s darling. I’ll give her that. She’s fun, she’s playful, she smells great. It’s all there except for one thing: the wisdom. Today she gnawed on my shoe, licked the base of the couch for at least 20 minutes, and then picked up a piece of poop in the yard and ran around with it like a prize. Her nickname is “the mouth.” All right, I just have to say it. She’s quite dumb. The other dogs like her, but you can tell they have their limits. I forgot how much work puppies are. It’s like having a baby again. I can’t wait for her to grow up and “get old.”
The old ones do come with their challenges. As with anything reaching the golden years, systems do start to show wear. My goal every day is to help the old dogs move better, think clearer, eat stronger, and sleep sounder. I want them to show their well-earned wisdom and live with conviction right up until the end. And when the end does come, I want their owners feeling grateful for every moment shared.
In this season of celebrating friends, family, and fellowship, let us remember what makes our old dogs so special and thank them for every story.
Dr. Kathleen Cooney is founder of Home to Heaven, P.C., an in-home pet hospice and euthanasia service in northern Colorado. She writes, trains, and speaks on topics pertaining to advanced end-of-life care. You can learn more about her work at KathleenCooneyDVM.com.
Laura T. Coffey is author of the bestselling book “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts,” with photographs by Lori Fusaro. The book celebrates senior dogs and the joy that comes from helping older shelter animals.