Building a Better Community Since 2007

Fresh Eyes: The Real Recycle

Lara Wisniewski  |  Monday Mar. 31st, 2014

The other day I was at the Bozeman Petsmart where I was socializing my new rescue dog, Bettina, who I got a month and a half ago from the virtual shelter of the Rimrock Humane Society in Billings. As we ambled along staring at the cages of colorful birds and dreamy walls of fish tanks, we happened upon the large furry bodies of the senior cats there on display courtesy of the Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter. They all reminded me of my deceased cat Langston, especially when he was at his best as a senior, large and furry with his big, heavy adult body, his sagging tummy, his large rabbit like feet and claws honed by hundreds of mice. Langston was a rescue, a Brooklyn mouser I took in when he was two, who lived to be thirteen years old.

My current senior cat, Mena, is another version of that, loving and cranky in her own way. I got her when she was six hours old and we have been together for twelve years. She knows we are in it together for the long haul, and even though she can’t help being coy most of the time, she always needs to have our love affirmed with long adoring moments (as long as she thinks no one else can see us!) I also need to remind Bozeman Magazine readers of her cameo appearance in the first Fresh Eyes article: “A Bad Day in Bozeman?”

This article is dedicated to senior dogs and cats, as well as to all rescue animals. It seems when looking at the local rescue sites, that most of the available animals are seniors. Beth Harper, the Animal Care Manager from the Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter,  told me that their senior dogs available are forty percent of all of their adoptive dogs. And that is surprising to me, because after my dog Spike went through his senior years and gently passed away at fifteen, I only wanted to be around senior dogs. Senior dogs are like a better, intensified version of all the best things about a puppy or an adult dog.

Spike was a mutt, his own version of rescue. He was a surprise gift to me from a friend who found him in a litter, behind a bar in a river town on the California border. If I hadn’t taken him, he probably would have ended up homeless, he was definitely potential rescue status.

Until I went through his elder years with him, did I realize that these animals are at their best in the golden years. The ability of a senior dog or cat to show and share their love is focused and condensed. Yes, they still have the food drive, what animal doesn’t? But it is as if they know there is something beyond that. They have wisdom and opinions, they know more about themselves and so I think they are able to be more communicative. They are searching for more than food and attention, they are searching for an authentic connection, love, physical and emotional comfort and support, as well as the coveted food, treats and walks. They know who loves them and would go the mile for them. I believe just by observing through my own experience, that it becomes more important than their survival mechanism for food.

These animals show their deep gratitude for you in so many ways, in snuggling and being the satisfied dog who lays around waiting for your next move. They are great companions, calm and easy going. They also seem to know how to talk. I am certain that if Spike had been able to live for five more years, I know he would have started to speak English.

Although society has been recycling its excesses forever, we all know it has become a necessary trend as the planet’s populations and its garbage grows exponentially. There are endless amounts of recycling everything from plastic to newspapers, grocery bags, makeup compacts or even weirder, recycling outdated bras. It’s important to manage the garbage for sure, but it’s heartbreaking when our throwaway society treats its domesticated animals like inanimate objects. Who can’t say that the Sochi Olympics weren’t slightly tainted for them by the displaced dogs and cats of that city who roamed the strange new streets looking for their homes. I saw a snowboarder jump, and then in my mind, I saw some poor stray wandering the streets of this Russian city.

I think it was the Sochi Olympics that finally pushed me over the edge to consider getting another dog. My time spent grieving over the passing of Spike was long and difficult. Even now, a year later, I tear up. But I had healed enough to realize as I browsed the Heart of the Valley and Rimrock Humane Society’s websites, as well as the classifieds of the Mini Nickel, to be more excited, than grieving about the prospect of having the joy of a dog again in my life. It was funny, because I was immediately drawn to the senior dogs.

So I have to make a confession here. I was going for a senior, when my husband who adores me, made the point of asking, did I want to have a dog pass away sooner rather than later, going through the pain of what I had just been through with Spike? I mean, we never can predict the lifespans of our best friends, but the chances of a long life are better with a pup. It was after I read the testimonial of Sandra Church, the President of the Rimrock Humane Society in Billings,  that my mind was changed forever.

Sandra so wisely puts it: “Many do not want to open their hearts to a senior animal for fear of losing them after only a very short time. But love is meant to be experienced in quality, not quantity. I cannot think of a more deserving creature of a new life than a senior dog. Many of our senior dog adoptees have proven that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks and they will adapt to a new life as long as that home is filled with love, patience and understanding!” Suffice it to say, that convinced my husband and I that the next dog we get will be a senior. Sandra’s insight inspired us so much that we have committed to always having a senior dog in our life. We love dogs and are hoping one day to always having three around, and the third will be our senior, (as long as we have the space and can afford it of course!) To me, having the faith to adopt a senior dog is a great act of community, believing that the things that already exist are its true treasures.

Local Bozeman dog trainer, Kelly Engel, of Know thy Dog Training Center,  quoted to me her own testament for senior animals: “I developed a love for senior animals when I worked for animal control and realized that many shelters didn’t have the resources or advocates to help seniors get adopted. Senior dogs are the most endearing dogs that I’ve had in my home. They are quiet. They have amusing idiosyncrasies. They love to take naps. They still like to chase balls and take hikes and explore the town. And take more naps. My 15 year old Mini Aussie loves to show off her tricks and boss around puppies. I will someday have my own senior dog rescue program because they are my absolute favorite.”

Beth Harper from Heart of the Valley, told me a great success story about  their adoptive dog, Little, a fourteen year old pit bull who was adopted this last weekend. They had Little for six months, he went to a foster home two weeks ago and now he has a permanent home where he can live out the rest of his days in safety, security and comfort. Beth says that “while it is our mission to compassionately shelter the lost and surrendered pets of Gallatin and Madison valleys, we at Heart of the Valley are grateful for those individuals that choose to adopt and we strongly believe in the bond that forms when one adopts a cat
or dog.”

My advice is if you just want to smile and maybe even laugh in the middle of your day, go to the Heart of the Valley Facebook page and see the adoptive success stories; there are so many cute animals and the incredible people who help them out. It may even inspire you to adopt an animal. Heart of the Valley also has children’s programs and is always looking for new volunteers and donations. Beth told me that “In this pet loving community you’re bound to bump into someone who has an HOV alum.” (You will get the same smile checking out the Rimrock Humane Society’s website too!!)

Sandra Church from the Rimrock Humane Society passionately reinforces the HOV mission, urging perspective dog owners who “don’t want to adopt from a shelter or humane society because (they believe that) the dogs there are bad … why else would they be there, right? Or they may want a purebred dog and you cannot find those at your local shelter, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Did you know that 25% of the shelter dog populations are made up of purebred dogs? Whether purebred or mutt, these dogs are in these shelters due to marital issues (divorce), moving, financial woes, landlord problems etc. They are beautiful souls whose lives have taken a 180 due to no fault of their own…It never ceases to amaze me, the number of wonderful, fabulous canines that come through our doors for adoption.”

We definitely live in a time when newness is the choice of many, adopting a senior goes against this grain, but recycling animals is the Montana way in my mind. I have noticed how people here return to the things they know to be true, they return to the wild animals, to old annual traditions, to the land; so taking on a senior animal and giving it a new lease on a life fits right in line with being a resident here. Recycling by saving a life and giving it a second chance is the very essence of the meaning of community work. It is a powerful way to contribute while making life easier here on the planet. On the micro level, what you will find after you and your rescue bond is that you have performed the greatest act of love, for yourself. Recycling dogs and cats, whether they are young or old and providing them with a loving home and a secure life until the end, is a true act of community. It is the real recycle.    

About the Author(s)

Lara Wisniewski

Lara Wisniewski is a professional editor of the written word and a longtime writer of fascinating life interests, art and culture. She is also currently at work on her first novel. She is an extremely happy, new resident of the Bozeman area and the proud, new mama of her rescue puppy Bettina.

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