Sometimes things happen for a reason and you don’t know what it is until a little time passes. I believe that the day four-pounds of ragged, toothless, geriatric dog peeked out from a ditch as we were passing by was the beginning of a life lesson for me.
Just a week before Christmas and it was going to be a sad one. I’d canceled all festivities and wanted to wallow. But a little mild-mannered gentleman took my mind off my own problems as I concentrated on his.
It was raining that day and we had a brand new car. My Ben stopped at my insistence but once we got a look and a whiff of what smelled like death on this little pup, he refused to let him in the car. We all know how that would go over. I stood in the rain holding this pitiful critter and told him I’d walk the five miles home.
In the rain.
With the dog.
Sighing in frustration, he let me hold the dog on my lap after promises that I’d only get him medical help and try to find his family for him.
The old fellow sat up in my lap and looked straight ahead as if to say, “Finally. I thought you’d never show up.” He was ready to go.
We arrived home and I fed him, then got him a warm bed and let him settle in for the night. The next day I took him to the veterinarian, who told me that it appeared to be a senior dog, at least 12-14 years old and in horrible health. Barely four pounds, he was tangled, matted, covered in fleas and so very skinny that you could see every rib. His jaw also appeared to be a little sideways, probably an old injury that healed on it’s own, the vet said. (I internally cringed at the thought of maybe him being kicked or abused) Unfortunately he had severe gingivitis and not too many teeth, either. His mouth was full of painful pus pockets that needed to be treated before the teeth could be seen to. The vet said it was obvious that he’d been out on his own for a very long time, which would later show as he passed all the sticks and leaves he’d been eating.
They had to shave him to free him of the tangles and fleas.
The vet asked me how much I wanted to put into his care since he was a stray, very old, and maybe too close to starvation to save. I replied whatever it takes to make him comfortable. They shot him up with antibiotics and told me he probably wouldn’t live long.
During all the handling this little man was quiet and patient, standing there with a proud but hopeful look in his eyes. An expression that said “I know this isn’t easy but I know you want to help me.”
I brought him home. A tiny shell-shocked and eerily quiet little fellow who didn’t even have the strength to bark or climb onto the couch. We called him Grandpa and he ate very well but otherwise slept most of the time, snuggled into the softest and warmest thing I could find, my beloved Pashmina scarf from our trip overseas. I devoted every minute of the holidays to caring for him and as I concentrated on making him feel safe and loved, we got through Christmas. During this time, I posted his photo on every lost dog site I could find so that if someone was out there looking for him, they could be reunited.
We had a lot of possible connections, but none of them panned out to be his real family.
Because we were at full capacity and dealing with a trauma-pup, I tried to fulfill my promise and find him a new home to live out what might only be weeks or months of the rest of his life. We tried two new places but they didn’t work out and I brought him back both times, silently thankful for more time to love on him.
Then he got sick. Very sick with vomiting and bloody diarrhea every day. We spent a lot of time at the clinic until we finally found out he has CIL, an intestinal disease that can be fatal. That began a journey of trying to find a diet he could handle. We tried many things before resorting to home-cooking and finally we hit upon the right combination of cooked meals mixed w/prescription kibble.
I continued to look for the perfect home and Grandpa was changing. With a new, strict diet he was gaining strength and he found his voice again. He also found joy in following around my pups, attaching himself to Riley Radcliffe as his closest buddy and comrade. He began to understand the affection I poured on him was a good thing and he wanted more, always coming to me to be tucked into my sweater for a little nap.
Soon I could see my Ben trying not to show that he was always warming up to our little Grandpa. It was hard not to, as the little guy just oozed friendliness, and forgiveness for the way humans had treated him so far. He began having a great time gallivanting around the yard with Riley, sniffing out critters. We even caught him eating a bird once and we lectured him, and assured him he’d never go hungry again. He made us laugh daily with his bobbing tail and the long tongue that always hung out the side of his mouth. And he was so very eager to please! To belong! We found out that his age was actually a plus because he was much lower key and more affectionate than a younger dog. But we both agreed that we just couldn’t handle another dog, especially one that was so old and would have many needs.
But then Grandpa and I had a moment.
It was more special than all the others put together. I had taken him out into the December cold air one morning to potty and when he was done, he ran back to me. I tucked him into my sweater to bring him in and once inside, I decided to keep him there for a few minutes to warm his skinny bones. We sat down in the rocking chair and he tucked his little head under my chin and burrowed deeper, even closer to my chest. Usually he was fairly stiff, unsure of being dropped or who knows what else. But this time, I felt his body begin to slowly relax. Soon he began a soft little snore and I looked down and saw total contentment on his sleepy face. I realized that I might just be the first human he completely trusts and is willing to let his guard down with.
That sweet, love and trust-filled moment was all I needed to convince me that Grandpa had already found his home. And he wants everyone to know that rescuing older dogs is a gift and not a chore. Like him, he knows that the senior pups who have nearly given up hope only need someone to give them a chance. Let them in and they’ll show you that you won’t be rescuing them, because they will rescue you first.
For more stories on rescued dogs and those needing homes, please follow Kay Bratt, Director of Advocacy for Yorkie Rescue of the Carolinas, at her website www.kaybratt.com
Edited to add that after two and half years of devotion, from us to him and him to us, we laid Grandpa to rest on April 29, 2020. Grandpa was a very tiny pup with a huge heart of gold. When we brought in Primrose and Bitsy, mom and daughter fosters, he loved on them. Clara, too, in the short time she was here. And especially our newest Bratt Pack member, Rango. He’s a younger pup with a lot of trauma issues. Grandpa allows Rango to snuggle up to him for naps. When I take Rango to the vet, Grandpa was the first one to check him out upon return, kissing his face with that loopy tongue and telling him it’s okay.. he’s home now.
Honestly, our hearts are broken and empty, grieving for the light he brought to our lives. Thank you to all who have donated in his name to go toward future seniors that find their way to the rescue I work with. It means so much that his death has brought in kindness. For such a lovable soul who never met a person or critter he didn’t like, Grandpa would appreciate that.