November is Adopt-a-Senior-Pet month.
In honor of that, special guest contributor, Denise Fleck, shares her story about Sushi, an 8-year-old Akita facing homelessness and life in a shelter. Fleck rescued Sushi, and in turn, Sushi showed her how loving a senior pet could be.
The Story of Sushi
By Denise Fleck
She had the widest head I’d ever seen. As she barked furiously at the meter reader, the sun’s rays caught the silver tag attached to her choke collar by a piece of twisted wire. Large brown eyes gazed intently at the uniformed man as she threateningly bore her teeth to protect the woman at the other end of the leash. This woman, in her sixties and of medium frame, led the Akita to my car, patted the dog’s head and proclaimed she’d miss her “almost as much as her rose bushes.”
As I drove away with the dog bouncing frantically around in my SUV on that September day in 2000, an unseasonable drizzle hit the windshield adding to the melancholy feel of the day.
Two days earlier, I had received a phone call from a concerned lady named Margaret who noticed a photo of me in a local newspaper. She said I just “looked like someone who could help.” At church, a fellow parishioner told Margaret she was moving in two days, but had made no plans to find a home for her loyal canine companion of eight years. The woman had called the pound to have Sushi picked up, assuming someone would immediately adopt her, but with the enormous number of homeless animals in Los Angeles, reality is a much different picture. For an 8-year-old Japanese Akita – reality would be grim.
We only had 48 hours, so Margaret and I worked madly on the phones, pleading with no-kill rescues, sanctuaries and animal lovers if they knew of any place Sushi could happily live out her remaining years. But as is so often the case – every group had more dogs than they could handle.
I myself had recently lost my canine soulmate, Sunny, a yellow Labrador Retriever my husband Paul and I rescued from her last day at a city shelter nine years earlier. I must admit that I just wasn’t ready to become attached to another so quickly, yet my heart made me get involved and get to Sushi before animal control arrived.
For the next few days, Sushi stuck to my side like glue. She received an abundance of ear scratches and soon relaxed enough to let us give her belly rubs. She went for walks in the park, had breakfast with us at outdoor cafés and entertained herself with what was probably her first-ever toy! At night, Sushi would drift off to sleep on her own bed, placed next to ours, with what was unmistakably a smile on her face. We were convinced that Sushi wanted to stay, and how could we imagine life without her?
Over the next four years, the Soosh (as we affectionately called her) became the queen of our home and developed quite the personality – something that must have always been aching to come out with the proper love and nurturing. The excitement that came over her at the words “car ride” never diminished and she became a happy and calm passenger. That grizzly-bear appearance I first saw changed into that of a fluffy teddy bear, and her beautiful smile grew even wider, displaying a heart full of unconditional love.
There was also a transformation in the photographs we took of Sushi. Sure, the graying of her face softened her look, but even more profound was the inner beauty that blossomed through her eyes. She developed a proud and confident presence and became not only our friend but also our loyal protector, immediately alerting us to any sound or sight near the property. I still can’t believe we became a family when Sushi was already 8 years old for that doggie made us feel like we had been together forever.
After a short bout with cancer four years late, inAugust 2004, our angel on earth became an angel in heaven, and joining our Sunny on the Rainbow Bridge. Once again I felt as though my heart and soul had been ripped from my being. Although it is painful to say good-bye to such a close friend and family member, the happy memories will forever be cherished, as we feel confident that Sushi’s time on this planet was lived to the fullest, and she gave of herself to the fullest.
During our unforgettable time together, Sushi taught me that my mission in life is to love as many dogs as I can and provide them with forever homes. She helped me understand that I can find more than one soul-mate canine companion (and I have), as each dog will have its own unique personality and find his or her own special place in my heart.
If I didn’t know it before, Sushi convinced me that great credence should be placed on the nurture part of the nurture vs. nature theory. Many consider Akitas, Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and other breeds to be aggressive. Having been a protection dog left on an elderly woman’s back porch for eight years, Sushi was tough and could fit that bill, but…oh so quickly, when shown love and kindness, she overcame adversity and sowed what she reaped – love and kindness tenfold.
Sushi opened my eyes to how much a senior pet can offer. We have become a throwaway society, with our possessions, elderly relatives and aging pets. People and animals should enjoy their golden years as a reward for a life well lived, but as their bodies break down and more care is needed, guardians don’t always want to be burdened with the extra responsibilities.
As I now explain in the workshop I teach on caring for dogs and cats over age 7, with proper care, nutrition, exercise and stimulation by human contact, senior pets can enjoy many more happy, healthy, fun-filled years on this earth.
Adopting an older dog (or just keeping and loving the one you have) can be so rewarding. True, your time together is shorter than when you adopt a puppy, but the quality of that time can far outweigh the quantity of years. Showing dogs love and attention keeps them going. Seniors don’t need to be trained or housebroken; they know the rules, are happy to have a slightly less-active lifestyle and still have so much love to give.
With her love, Sushi healed my broken heart over the loss of Sunny, and inspired by Sushi’s love, I had no choice but to continue that circle. Barely more than a month after saying our final goodbyes to our Soosh, my husband and I adopted a 9 year old and 10 year old – Rico the Black Labrador Retriever and Rex, an Akita-Border Collie mix.
It wasn’t our plan, but Rico and Rex were dogs in need who I feel certain were sent to us by Sushi. They seem so grateful for their new life, and are now helping to heal my once-again broken heart.