True confession time – my husband and I are hopeless Lab-a-holics! But after raising two Labrador Retriever puppies… well, let’s just say we’d had our fill of potty training, sleepless nights, veterinary emergencies (stitches, gastric lavage, corneal abrasion…), backyard escapes and youthful canine mayhem. So back in 1998, we added our first CILRA adoptee, a 10 year old female named Leah, to our pack of two humans and old girly-Lab Pélé – and thus began our love affair with “senior” Labbies.
Adopting harder-to-place seniors suits our lifestyle, and serving these deserving Labs at the tail end of their lives has become something of a mission to us. We get many questions about this side of involvement in Lab rescue:
- Aren’t the dogs you adopt “other people’s rejects?” In a word: NO. No one keeps a “problem” dog around for 6, 10, or 12 years – in virtually every case, human circumstances are what have led to the painful decision to surrender what was a well-loved pet. When we adopt a senior, we not only give a forever home to a deserving Lab, but we give a bit of peace of mind to a family facing the crisis of a sudden death, home loss, or chronic illness.
- Isn’t it hard for an old dog to adjust to a new home? Every Lab’s temperament is different, as is their bond to their previous families. We’ve had outgoing, confident dogs become “ours” from the first meeting at the foster’s home, and sensitive dogs who were sad and somewhat reserved for a year or more. But we’ve never had a rescue who couldn’t quickly (within days or a week) adapt to the rhythm of our household and fall into a routine. Having another dog in the house to show the newcomer the ropes – where “we” sleep, eat, hang out, do our business – can help with the transition, but it’s not required.
- Isn’t veterinary care expensive for an old dog? Caring for these senior citizens can be more costly than owning a middle aged dog (but is less expensive than owning a puppy). With experience, though, comes the acceptance that even with advanced medical procedures, the time that our old Labs have with us is limited. We provide whatever medicine will cure a problem, reduce pain, or maintain a quality life, and surgery (for a tumor or injury) where full recovery is expected. Choosing a veterinarian who supports our decision to limit treatment makes it easier to say “no” when a CT scan, exploratory surgery, or chemotherapy is recommended.
- Isn’t it hard to “lose” a dog that you’ve only had for a short time? We’ve faced euthanasia 10 times and it never gets easier. Loss is just part of the deal we accept when we open our hearts to creatures that we’re destined to love and outlive. Without our adoption, some of our rescues might have been euthanized before their time; knowing that, our pain is eased a little bit.
We see these old guys and gals off on the final leg of their journey on the road to the Rainbow Bridge. Their needs are so few and so easy to meet – security and closeness to their humans, a warm and comfy spot to sleep away most of the day, medicine to ease their aches and pains, a few tweaks to their diet when digestive upsets and lack of appetite start to impact their quality of life. Kindness and reassurance when they can’t get to the potty in time. And showers of love for whatever time together Fate grants all of us. Although our hearts are heavy with every loss, we know that somewhere there is another deserving Lab waiting to hog our pillows and leave muddy paw prints on our kitchen floor.
We now enjoy the company of our ninth CILRA adoptee – Biggie Smalls (formerly “Rolly”). Biggie is one of those rescues who instantly decided that we were “his” people. He is a giant (98 lbs!) lover boy and snuggle bunny. He learned how to use the pet door right away, but is in such a hurry to get back inside to where his people are that I’m afraid he’s going to punch a giant hole into the side of the porch. Biggie slides a bit on our hardwood floors; when he forgets to slow down while running upstairs, he ends up taking a tumble. He is a VERY good boy and didn’t have his first “naughty” moment until yesterday, when he took a bag of burnt microwave popcorn off the nightstand. (Right at Labbie level? Must have been intended for HIM!) He snores. His giant sneezes are legendary and will leave a human face sopping wet. Biggie will half-heartedly chase squirrels in the back yard, but they aren’t taking him too seriously. Before Biggie’s adoption, we were dog-less for the first time in over 30 years – we are thrilled to have another Lab in the house again! — Sue D.