For the Love of Seniors

Meet beloved older lovebugs shared by a few of Spot's Facebook friends.


I have the world’s most wonderful two Senior Pets around, Bubbas and Oski.

Bubbas came to me in 2006 at 2 years old as a $15 rescue from the San Bernardino Animal Shelter.  When he was picked up, the person told us "he's a lucky boy, we were just prepping the room to put him down as he'd been here for over a week and his time is up." He is the most beautiful and sweetest boy I have ever known.  He wakes up every morning at 5am to go outside and watch the morning sunrise and visit with the birds and squirrels.  He adores chicken jerky, long walks and rides in the car.


Oski was a Craigslist rescue at the age of 10 back in 2012. He is a Chow/German Shepard, and adores rolling around in the grass.  He is my big cuddle muffin shadow man who waits by the door for me until I come home and follows me wherever I go.  He loves babysitting little puppies and is the perfect teacher and nanny: so very patient, loving and calm. Oski's favorite things in life are chicken, pets on the head, and walks in nature.

- Jess Peterson


Our little old man, Jake, is a marvel. Sixteen, two rebuilt knees, spinal surgery that nearly killed him, deaf, losing his sight and what we believe is doggie dementia, and yet there are times he has the eagerness and energy of a youngster. We are his family three, getting him at the age of six, and will be his forever people. Of five other dogs in our lives he is the most memorable and will be the most missed when he leaves us, but until then he makes us laugh every day and shares our great love and affection.

- Patty Hudson


"My name is Miss Lily, and nine years ago I curled up in Mama Laurel's lap because I knew I'd found my furever home. The past nine years have been filled with great joys and deep sorrows. I am a sensitive beast, and show my family expressive, unconditional love no matter what path we walk. My age has not really slowed me down much; I still hike and swim and play and learn new tricks. I'm so grateful Mama and Dad came into the shelter, and I tell and show them every single day."

- LaurelAnn Boone


His name is Guinness and he is 19 years old. He was a pound puppy, so his first year of life is unknown to us, yet evidence like the bb's lodged throughout his small body point to a rough start. So... you can’t blame that he only trusts those he loves. Those chosen few have aided in providing him an amazing life. He is my best friend and I am not satisfied with 19 years, I want him to share my entire life. I understand that's unreasonable. So, instead I will enjoy every moment until I kiss him our last goodbye.

- James Moore & Travis Ayres

Fresh food — it’s good for everyone


Heather Macfarlane of WILD Pet Provisions has worked in the pet health and nutrition field for more than 30 years. In that time, she says one of the most frequent questions she’s heard from pet parents is what senior dog/cat food is best.

Macfarlane says nutritional recommendations are based on each dog and cat's individual needs, and senior pets are no exception. “Diets should be tailored to meet each pet's nutritional needs, and not based on age alone,” she says. “Every person I know eats for their needs — why should pets be any different? 

In the natural world, Macfarlane points out, there is no puppy, adult, or senior food for wolves or wild cats, and in fact no packaged food at all. “Their food is their prey —  raw muscle meat with organs, bones, fur, and pre-digested greens, berries, and anything else that’s in the stomach of their prey.”

What did dogs eat before commercial pet food became available a mere hundred years ago? Macfarlane says, “People food. Mostly consisting of the parts of the food we didn't eat — meat scraps, organs, bones, veggies, etc. This was much closer to their natural diet than what we find in the pet food aisle today.” 

Macfarlane goes on to say that while the pet food industry holds that senior dogs and cats should eat differently than adults or young pets, there isn't a consensus for guidelines on such senior formulas. “In reality, senior pet foods on the market vary in content and analysis, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, and calories,” Macfarlane says. “Just because a pet food says it is for "senior dogs/cats" it doesn't mean it's good for all senior pets. A dog the same age as your senior dog may have very different nutritional needs, so feeding them both the same food may not be beneficial to one, or either one for that matter.” 

22-year-old Turtle is one of Macfarlane's four senior felines (and one senior dog)

22-year-old Turtle is one of Macfarlane's four senior felines (and one senior dog)

All dogs and cats should eat according to their individual needs, not just based on their age, Macfarlane says. 

So what to consider when making food choices for your pet? Macfarlane says body condition and underlying disease or imbalances are much more important factors than age when it comes to feeding your senior pet. 

“What I recommend is that all dogs and cats, including seniors, eat fresh, raw food,” Macfarlane says.  “Raw food is in its natural state and the nutrition is readily recognized and utilized in dog and cat bodies. Older pets thrive from food they are designed to eat, which provide moisture, natural joint support, digestive enzymes, and animal-based protein.” 

Where to start? “Some fresh food is better than no fresh food at all,” Macfarlane says. “You probably don't eat salad every single day, but you eat salad, right? Likewise, if you don’t feed your pet a 100% fresh food diet, then incorporate fresh as much as you are able by adding fresh foods to your pet's current meals, feed fresh meals once a day, once a week, twice a week, whatever is feasible for you and your pet.”  Pet nutrition assessments and individualized dietary plans are available through Macfarlane’s business. 

Beneficial foods Macfarlane recommends incorporating into your senior pet's diet include:

  • Green Juju (contains buffalo bone broth, celery, coconut oil, dandelion greens, ginger, kale, lemon, parsley, turmeric, zucchini)
  • Canned sardines (packed in water, not oil)
  • Bone broth
  • Freeze dried food and/or treats (such as Stella & Chewy's, K9 & Feline Naturals, Vital Essentials, Primal)
  • Phytoplankton
  • Eggs
  • Wildcraeft's Heal
  • Turmeric or Golden Paste
  • Green and Blue Lipped Mussel
  • Coconut oil
  • Probiotics
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Boswellia

Learn more and meet the nutrition specialists at WILD Pet Provisions at 2393 NE Fremont, Suite A in Portland, or at


What do we do when our loving pets face the last leg of the race? We do all we can to help them finish well, of course. We take time to read the unspoken needs of the friend we've come to know so well. We give the simple reassurance of a loving touch when the old boy seems confused for no reason.

We groom them faithfully, but more gently, as age brings muscle wasting, and the arthritic bones aren't so well padded. We learn to slow down for their sake, as they enjoy the scent of the wind, or track a visitor’s trail across their yard. We expect to be inconvenienced and aren't angry when it happens.

We watch for pain and treat it, watch for changes in vision and hearing and do what we can to help preserve those precious senses for as long as possible.

We take care of their teeth and make sure their food is a manageable texture for them. We remind them of the need for a potty walk when they seem to forget.

We remember the little rewards. We scratch the graying ears and tummy, and go for car rides together.

When the pet we love has an unexplained need for comfort, we give it freely. When infirmities bring a sense of vulnerability, we become our old guardian's protector.

We watch their deepest slumbers, when dreams take them running across long-forgotten fields, and we remember those fields too.

When they cannot stand alone, we lift them. When their steps are uncertain, we steady them. And if their health fails, it falls to us to make the choice that will gently put them to rest.

Until that time comes, we pause to let the autumn sun warm our old friend's bones. And we realize, autumn is not a bad time of year at all. Old age is not a disease or a reason to give up. It is a stage of life that brings its own changes. Autumn can be a beautiful time of harvest.

And, sometimes, the harvest is love.

~Christy Caballero

Endless Love

Spot invited (through Facebook) pet-loving friends and pet parents to share photos and tidbits about the beloved seniors in their lives.

As the stories and pictures came in, the Spot team paused many times to feel the power, share the tears, and appreciate the phenomenal love that radiated from every single one.

Thanks to everyone who participated for sharing their beloveds with all of us!

Enjoy ♥



NAME:  Shasta

AGE/BREED:  Tri-color Australian Shepherd.

PACK:  Shasta travels and lives with me in the van as we explore America. She is looking forward to being out of the van and spending the holidays in a real house with real people. We'll be in Texas with family for December.

LOVES:  Shasta loves me and her big Kong squeaky tennis-type balls. I probably come in second to the ball. Shasta was out playing ball the day I picked her up at OHS and my hope is that her last day will include ball time.


SPECIAL NOTES ABOUT KATIE:  In the last year and a half Shasta has travelled over 30,000 miles in the western half of the US. She has seen mighty rivers, herds of buffalo and listened with me as the coyotes howl around us at night.

— Marty Davis, Shasta’s mom 


Neptune was dumped in an anonymous overnight drop box in at LA animal control.  He was skinny, fearful, matted hair, and (worst of all for adoption) old — 12-13 was the guess. His two remaining teeth had to be removed.  Years of neglect had taken its toll. The shelter's groomer estimated he had not been trimmed in years — a Maltese, possibly purebred, his hair grows all the time —he actually lost a pound or two after being shaved. He wasn't cute or young, and he would have been euthanized if My Way Home Dog Rescue in Sandy, OR hadn’t agreed to take him into foster care.
Seeing him, you’d never know all that. He's perky and playful and pounces into laps for cuddle time. He loves to scamper with his adoptive brothers. Like many seniors in rescue, Neptune likely had people at one time, as he adapted quickly to home life. Unlike many younger dogs, he was housetrained and just needed to learn the new home rules and routine. As a senior, he's restful — he loves cuddling for naps and dozing outside in the sunshine, and he’s thankful for a little peace. While we know we won't have him as long as we'd like, we are blessed to be able to give him a safe and secure time in his golden years. He is a joy — reminding us to appreciate the important things in life — a warm lap, a sunny day, and (of course!) treats.

     Lisa and Rachel Turley-Bertoni


You may recognize Bo (short for Bocanacht, or Bocan) — he was Spot’s 2010 winning Cover Model! He stills loves walks, chasing the ball, and the beach. He is now 12 years old.

Bo and I became a registered animal therapy team 2012. Oh my, the fun opportunities to meet new friends, especially at college stress relief visits! In 2014 we started volunteering with Signature Hospice. Once a week Bo and I visit a local facility. The staff greet him by name, and enjoy his visits as much as the patients. 

Bo's appeal has no generational boundaries. Headed out from a recent patient visit, we stopped at a nurses’ station. Two VERY young-looking aides loved his attention, petting and hugging him, while he made his trademark squeaky joyful noises. One declared that he's way cuter than a baby. The other, "He's adorbs!”

—     Ann Martin, Portland, O


Hi Spot Magazine staff,

I'd like to introduce my best friend and constant companion, Finn — aka Mr. Finn or Finnster. I found Finn, a found stray, in 2013 at Multnomah County Animal Shelter. He was covered in fleas, had a terrible skin infection and severe hair loss from fleas and skin disease. I am a surgery tech at Cascade Veterinary Referral Center, and saw a post about Finn on CVRC's FB page. I kept checking the shelter's website to see if he was still there — something about his sweet senior face drew me. I couldn't imagine a 12-year-old dog being stuck at the shelter and knew he was not likely to be adopted over the younger dogs. I visited him and it was all over. I was not leaving without him. I had no idea of his condition as the posts just showed a head shot. When I saw him the first time, I was shocked. He was underweight and his skin was terrible and malodorous. I feel so lucky I found him. His skin was treated, and he began to gain weight.

We have been through a lot in a short few years, good and bad. We've taken many trips to the beach where Finn's grandpa lives. Also a road trip to visit family in California, hiking, geocaching, window shopping. Finn loves restaurants where he can join mom outdoors. He goes to work with me every day, and my life is planned so he can accompany me wherever I go.

I've never had a dog so many people were drawn to — he’s been called magical. He’s a happy boy who loves everyone.

Finn has been through a lot this past year, dealing with tumors and even a mini stroke. He's got a lot of spirit though, and continues to go on daily walks and weekly physical therapy to maintain his mobility and strength.

I cherish every day I have with this boy. Of course, I am a proud dog mom Here are some of my favorite pictures, which I hope show that even though a dog is senior, they can still enjoy a lot of activities. We're so excited you're doing a frosted face edition because seniors are simply the best! I couldn't imagine him living out his final years in a shelter. We have shared so many great times and adventures.

—     Angie Dutcher, Finn’s mom


This my 11 year old Boxer, Jake. We adopted him at age 5. He is full of love and cuddles. He enjoys drinking from the hose, sitting in front of the fire, and going to grandma and grandpa's farm. This photo was taken on his 11th birthday, right before he got his big special birthday treat!

— Elizabeth OeDell


14-year-old HANK, aka”The English Cream Doxie” (because his Grandma always wanted one), lives with 5 Doxies, Grandma Virginia, and Cousin Travis on their Cedar Flats AIR BNB spread, along with 24 chickens, 3 ducks, and neighbor horses, goats and rabbits. He looks forward to seeing his mom soon, who is coming to visit him from Lebanon (Middle East) this month.


My Old Girl Lily

This sweetest face makes me cry every time I look at this picture. It took me years before I could replace it as the background on my phone. Lily was mama’s girl. She was perfect in every way that a dog can be perfect. She grew up with our kids, kept them safe when we weren’t home, cuddled, loved, belonged. We miss her. L

—Ginger Rapport, Beaverton


Chewie is a beautiful Tortie we got 15 years ago from the SW WA Humane when she walked right up to us and begged to go home through the cage bars. She was ours! Later, she returned from her spay with the worst URI ever! I had to nurse her for almost 2 weeks while she recovered. She loves to cuddle in my arms like a baby, the way I had to hold her to force feed her. She lays in my arms and reaches a paw to tap my cheek or wrap around my neck while staring at my face. Her next favorite place is right over my shoulder, and when I worked from home, perched on the back of my chair with her front paws on my shoulder. Even now her favorite place is right next to me, with a paw on my arm or leg. Her favorite position to lie in is with her back leg tucked under her chin or wrapped in her front paws. She has some arthritis now, but that doesn't stop her from assuming odd and awesome sleeping positions!

When she was younger, she let us know she didn't have enough toys by catching garage mice and bringing them in the house to chase. That taught us!!!

Chewie would rather be an only kitty, but that has never been an option. Still, she doesn't take guff from the other 3 cats, and will even smack our German Shepherd around if he’s in her space. She totally has "Tortie 'Tude"! We call her our curmudgeon, but she is so full of love for me. She gazes into my eyes, then ducks her head and butts my face/arm/leg/whatever she can reach. I can't make a move without her.

—Tena Abbey, Vancouver, WA


Riley has been the best dog I’ve ever had. He’s been by my side whenever I needed him. He listens to me, he is my ‘support group' — he has my heart. He is now 11 years and 3 months old and I bless each day he is alive. <3. He is a Beauceron, if anyone was wondering :) I took these pictures at a park to spend time with him. He can't walk very far anymore so to parks and coffee shops we go.

—Shelli Rasmussen


This is my 8-year-old Golden ANNABELLE.  She is a sweet loving girl who just loves to be near her mommy (me)! She loves looking out the window watching birds, squirrels, and an occasional cat!

—Mary Lou Robison

Miss Beatrice!

We adopted Miss Bea about a year ago. Her previous family gave her up due to her age, which is their loss because she is the absolute best. Even at age 12, she can keep up with her five-year-old sister, romping on the beach or at the dog park. She loves going to doggie daycare and mixing it up with all the other pups. She's also a big fan of sprawling on the couch and watching sports on TV.  She says she could do without the cat that tries to sit on her face, but we think she secretly likes it. We are so lucky to have found her, and are hugely thankful to My Way Home Dog Rescue for bringing her up from a California shelter, taking good care of her, and then matching us up. We love her!

—Anna Joyce and Tami Parr


I do intake for My Way Home Dog Rescue and I saw Harold was at San Bernardino Animal control. His body was so small from starvation his head looked huge. My Way Home decided to help him. He came into my foster home, and fit right into our pack. While I loved him (and he came on my Birthday) I found him a home. 

It was the home of an auto racer. Come to find out, our Harold got very nervous being alone when they went to work. He spent his time learning how to open the door to the race car room and, well, he marked everywhere. 

When he came back I decided he really was meant for me and the rest is history. As with all separation anxiety, he has mellowed. He is a big goofball and loves our life, no matter what twists it takes!

—Cheryl Yoshioka

Snickerdoodle, The Love of My Life

Snickerdoodle and I found each other in April of 2008. My 10+ year-old Black Labrador Max had just passed from cancer, and I was in search of my next best friend. When I came across Snickerdoodle at the Oregon Humane Society, he did not even look like a Labrador, he was so withdrawn and sad. He was 3 years old and his family had just surrendered him to OHS. They were moving and could not take him. As soon as he was let out of the cage, he became a happy boy and I knew he needed to come home with me. 

Snickerdoodle is starting to slow down a bit, but he is still a happy-go-lucky dog. He still loves to play ball, go to the river and swim, and play with his cousins (my Sister lives next door and has 2 Shepherds).  I know my time with this wonderful dog will be up sooner than I would like it to be, but that is just life. My job now is to keep him comfortable, watch over him, and just love him for however long we both have.

—Bobbie Bacoccini


KT is a 9-year-old Boxer/Lab mix (Boxador). She’s been grey since age 2, but gets more so as she matures. KT loves to find squirrels (fuzzys). She loves to cuddle and go for hikes on Powell Butte. She loves going on the boat with her friends and run on the beach. She is big momma! We love her so much and can't imagine the day when she isn't here. If she is quiet for a few minutes I start freaking out — Where are you? What are you doing? Love this girl to pieces.

—Misty Wagner


2015. He began life as a show dog and quickly rose thru the show world to Westminster in NYC. Sadly reaching such heights of success would lead him to the depths of hell when he was sold as a stud dog to a lady who turned out to be a hoarder. Max became one of 98 dogs in an 1100 sq ft home where he had to fight for food, fresh air, etc. The officer who rescued him said it was one of the worse hoardingsituations he’d ever seen and looked forward to seeing us each year at Doggie dash as he used Max as an example of a rescue success story. Debarked and down to 15 lbs, Max was nursed him back to health. Still, he had a lost look when he was brought into OHS. I got him a few months after he became healthy, shortly after losing my first Beagle, Sonny. The night I brought Max home he attacked my female Daisycher over food (even though they had met before). I wondered if he had too many issues to keep him, but I’m so glad I did. He earned Pet Partners therapy dog certification so he could come to work with me as a Pediatric Occupational therapist. The kids would "do it for Max" when they wouldn’t for Miss Jayne! He was known as the real-life Snoopy as he was a rare all-white Beagle. He was such a lover and I know he is my guardian angel waiting for me on the bridge.

—Jayne Bailey

For the love of Blake

“Thump, thump, thump.” That’s the sound I hear each morning from my precious dog as he wakes to greet the day with a wagging tail. My heart thumps in response, bursting with love for him. 

I adopted Blake from a local shelter, a big, goofy, 7-month-old Golden Retriever mix with floppy ears and chunky feet. It seems like yesterday we were bounding through the pet store, loading up on "new dog necessities." Now, 12 years later, Blake's gallop has slowed to a jolly trot, and dozens of stuffed animals and chew toys later, he still has some of his favorites from our first days together. He is a distinguished older gentleman now, with a soft white face and deep soulful eyes. He may sleep a little more and move a little less these days, but I treasure every moment. His health and happiness are a priority for me more than ever.

Blake has some of the common problems of aging. Arthritis in his low back prompted the purchase of a super-comfy orthopedic dog bed a couple of years ago. It’s better than my mattress, although I won’t tell you how I know! Still, muscles start the day tight, so I stretch his hips and legs each morning to help his movement. Blake also gets massages. I recently took a class to learn the best techniques for not only easing his muscle tension, but increasing his overall well-being. He loves it! Exercise is key for Blake, too. He still runs when a squirrel dares to cross our property line, but he most looks forward to our daily walks, which grow more meaningful to me as the days pass.

One thing that hasn’t slowed is Blake’s mind. We began playing “Go Find It” when he was a puppy. It’s a fun start to his day and a routine he expects. He makes a point to pop his nose around the corner in the morning to make sure I’m on task. He patiently waits while I hide treats around the house for him to sniff out. I truly believe this has kept his mind sharp as a tack. Obedience training has played an amazing role as well. Blake became a Canine Good Citizen when he was about a year old, and I feel it’s served his mind well. He always listens and obeys commands, and he’s still a bright, alert dog who’s a puppy at heart.

That’s not to say Blake has been a perfect little package since I brought him home. We’ve battled pancreatitis since puppyhood, and he’s overcome two major surgeries, one for a giant fatty tumor on his groin. The second occurred while I was writing this story. We made our third visit of the year to DoveLewis — this time for a twisted stomach. Now, a week after surgery, he lays before me fast asleep, looking like a patchwork quilt from the stitches and shaved patches all over his body. Incredibly, his spunk and appetite have returned with vigor. In fact, he and I have had a few heart-to-heart chats about him needing to rest while he heals! Speaking of that big heart of his, Blake is now in early-stage heart disease, which was diagnosed last spring. We have it well-managed with twice-daily meds, and it’s going strong. I always joke that we keep the lights on at our vet’s office.

I don't count the dollars I've spent on Blake or the lost sleep awaiting news from the vet in the middle of the night. Not the endless scoops of poop or the many nighttime trips for his favorite treats — after noticing the jar was empty — for our morning game of "Go Find It." What I do count are the soft sighs as Blake falls asleep, the soft, blinking eyes as he gazes at me from across the room, and the wishes I have that they would last forever. I also count my blessings. Twelve years, four legs, and the endless happy thumping from my incredibly loving senior dog . . . and my heart.

Kimberly Maus co-anchors Good Day Oregon on Fox 12 each weekday morning. She lives in North Plains with her husband Matt, her dogs Blake and Rodeo, horses Peso and Maverick, and a donkey named Daisy Mae.

Traveling through Life Together

The Adventures of Ellie, the Golden and Andrea, the Person

Ellie and I do almost everything together; we are rarely apart. So much so that when she’s not with me, people ask, “Where’s Ellie?” I love having her with me; when she isn’t, I miss her energy. We are getting older together, too. So far we’ve been lucky health wise. 

Ellie attracts attention wherever we are — waiting in line, sitting at a restaurant, walking in the park, shopping, in an airport. Wherever and whenever, people are drawn to her, and she to them. I have to add that she is beautiful, and I’ve learned that beautiful people and things actually attract a certain kind of attention. I’ve gotten used to it. 

Ellie has an equally big personality, and is very smart. She is an experienced traveler, accompanying me on frequent trips between Portland and the Bay Area, sometimes by air, sometimes on the road. Ellie moves expertly through airports, and is a pro at being a well-behaved passenger — people hardly know she’s there. She always knows where we are — recognizing the people, the parks, every rest stop, and all our routes. She has developed habits, routines, and places she likes every place we go. It amazes me how she remembers.   

She loves to walk on the Google campus, especially on weekends when we have the place to ourselves. We run around, jump in the ponds, and hang out on the colorful tables and chairs. Sometimes we watch as tourists pose for pictures in front of the Google signs. I want to take pictures of them taking pictures. 

While I mentioned we are both healthy, I do have one glitch: I’ve had one form of breast cancer or another for 25 years. I have been treated at UCSF, and regardless of where I live, have stayed with my medical team. There is no rhyme or reason why I’m still alive — they say I’m a bit of a medical anomaly.  

Ellie has been part of my cancer experience every step of the way and has always been amazing during rough treatments. She’s always given me reason to get up and out to walk with her. Her needs don’t change, and that’s been good for me. 

A year ago I was diagnosed Stage 4, which changed my plans a little. I had to think about what would happen to Ellie if I died first — something I’d never considered. I had never doubted my survival before, no matter how tough things got. This time I had to. It’s weird. I finally asked a dear friend who is crazy about Ellie if she and her family would care for her if I died. Of course, she said, yes. I knew Ellie would be loved and safe, and I was relieved. 

We visit the beach at Chrissy Field at Golden Gate Park after my monthly medical appointments. Being in that open space together is fun and a terrific counterpoint to the doctors and medical centers. If I didn’t have Ellie in my life, I wouldn’t have the same compelling reason to go to the beach and play. Ellie’s joy, chasing the ball in the ocean, is infectious and makes me happy. Her personality and character give me so much life, and I know I make her happy too. We are safe together, traveling through life whatever it throws our way. 

Oh, and I’m happy to say: I’m doing really well — we both are. 

Andrea is crazy about Ellie. In one of her former lives she opened the pearlretriever dog shop in the Pearl in 2004, and the dog-loving social network in 2007 (now owned by Spot). Andrea and Ellie live in Portland.

Life with Scooby

He wakes up and dive-bombs into the first scratchy carpet he finds. His butt high in the air, his back legs and hips drive him forward, scratching every spot on his face. Left turn, right. Forward and back.

He stops. Motionless. Just for a second. Then, boom! He explodes onto his back, continuing the scratch dance upside down and every which way he can. Jumping up when finished he ends with a big shake.

Good morning. His name is Scooby. A Beagle-Basset mix. He is 21 years old.

But before these days of morning happy dances there was a long list of sad. It hurts to write, it hurts to read.  Severely worn and fractured teeth. Heavily infected ears. Large masses on the chest, abdomen, legs, paws, and more. Painful arthritis in the hips and spine. Severe alopecia. Thickened skin in many places from chronic infection. Severe dental tartar. Gingivitis. Allergies. Bright pink skin. Multiple warts over entire body. Numerous hematomas. Fleas. Multiple and serious medical issues. And more.

He was 17 and in rough shape. That’s why the shelter felt euthanasia was best. They said he was old. That he hurt — a lot. He could not hear much because his ears were swollen shut. He could not eat much because his teeth and mouth hurt.

But I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was that a 17 year-old dog with health issues was going to be euthanized in a shelter simply because he was a 17 year-old dog with health issues. It was not a time to place blame — that wouldn’t help. But I knew what my Pongo would want me to do. Pongo, who had passed away in 2007 when he was almost 19. He would want me to help this friend named Scooby. And I knew he was right.

And that’s when Larry met Scooby.

        “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”   — Gandhi

That long list of sad? I only learned those things after I’d met Scooby and reviewed the paperwork. It was a surprise, because when I met him it was like meeting a puppy.

His spirit was powerful and strong. He was buoyant. His eyes bright. He climbed into my lap despite the horrible pain that should have made such movement impossible. And that’s all that mattered. He needed help and I could help. Done.

That was four years ago. Scooby celebrated his 21st birthday this past August 31st. Four years ago the paperwork said he should not have those four years. They were wrong.

Many things on that list remain. They don’t get fixed or go away. But what could be fixed has been. What has not changed? His spirit. His spark. His spunk. His inner Scooby!

And while he looks a bit unique thanks to some bulging and benign lipomas, what is most noticeable is his chi. He just bursts with it. The gusto contained in this 50-pound loveboat is beyond belief.

He’s had many families over the years — I think I’m his eighth. I met his last family. During the worst of times they became homeless, sleeping in an office building doorway. They tried, so hard. I know they did. What they lacked in money they made up for in love. They loved Scooby to the moon and back. But the care he needed required more than just love.

All that pain, yet he harbors no anger. He’s a mix of the Dalai Lama, Buddha and Gandhi. I kid you not. He is the essence of love. An essence that touches everything and everyone he meets. Even those he has not yet met.

Scooby breaks it down to the most simple. He finds the good.

Shortly after Scooby and I connected I was at a party and a friend introduced me to a well-known veterinarian. My friend began the introduction by telling this person I had just adopted a 17-year-old dog. The vet’s reply? “You must like short relationships.”

More bad jokes followed. He was the only one laughing. His wife pulled him away, telling him to stop. She later found me to apologize, saying he was like that sometimes.

But I knew what he was really like: he was scared. That was all. How often do you meet someone who adopts a 17-year-old dog? And as a lifelong veterinarian he knew what that meant.

He wasn’t trying to hurt me, but to keep from being hurt. He’d been there too many times himself.

When I saw him again a few years later I told him Scooby was doing great and about to celebrate his 21st birthday. He smiled broadly. And I saw the tears in his eyes.

Science and medicine and veterinary school could not prepare him for that moment. This time there were no bad jokes — just pure, heartfelt joy. This singular moment might have given this lifelong veterinarian more hope than any textbook ever could.

21. That’s 147 in dog years. Of course he has some aches and pains. But I do too. We spend a lot of time laughing together about our problems. And we feel better. 

He swims. He runs on the beach. He tickles the ocean and tries to befriend every seagull he meets. He jogs on a therapy treadmill. He gets acupuncture and massage. He’s kissed an opossum. He caught a squirrel just to say hello. He has 10 beds. He received a Mayoral Proclamation. On his birthdays we share champagne. He lets me have most of it. That’s how he is.

Every Friday he gets a couple of French fries. Because it’s French Fry Friday.

 “Until one has loved an animal, part of one's soul remains unawakened.”  — Anatole France

There’s no end game in sight. No bucket list. We plan on being here for many years to come. Tomorrow’s another day, and we’ve got things to smell and places to pee.  

We always buy food, supplements and meds in the biggest sizes possible. We just renewed Scooby’s license for three more years, the maximum. And yes, we’re fully expecting to renew it for another three years after that. 

But there’s still that number. Scooby is 21. He’s considered an old dog. But that’s not the point. For me, he’s just an old soul — he’s Scooby. He is Wise. Peaceful. Faithful. Kind. He brings Hope. Joy. Love. He brings it all. Every single day. 

He should know. Because four years ago he was just days away from having no more days. Yet here he still is. Being Scooby. 

Many tell me that Scooby is lucky that I adopted him. That he needed me. But they are wrong. I am the lucky one. Because it was me that needed him. And I love him so very, very much. 

 “I have sometimes thought of the final cause of dogs having such short lives and I am quite satisfied it is in compassion to the human race; for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of ten or twelve years, what would it be if they were to live double that time? —     Sir Walter Scott

Next August 31st we will celebrate his 22nd birthday. We’ve already got the champagne in the refrigerator. 

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live. I Love Scooby. 

17 Larry Chusid Photo Credit The Pongo Fund.jpg

Larry Chusid is a Portland-born entrepreneur and nonprofit activist whose accomplishments include several businesses and, more recently, the founding of The Pongo Fund in Portland, Oregon.

Much to consider, and a great deal of help, for when the time comes



My husband has two old text messages he saves. Reading them can feel like that nagging sore on your lip that you keep biting, just to see if it hurts any less than the last time you bit it. But we refer back to them anyway, usually to launch another conversation about “our boys.” When we married two years ago, our big, blended family included Glenn’s 16-year-old Golden Retriever named Dylan and my 14-year-old three-legged black Lab/Shepherd mix, Levi. Even as Levi accompanied me down the aisle with our wedding rings carefully tied to his custom tuxedo shirt, we knew the early part of our marriage would be punctuated with goodbyes. Still, we celebrated and cherished moments and preserved memories. It is the bittersweet reality of life with elderly animals. We were prepared, as much as anyone truly can prepare.

The first keepsake text reads: “He is gone. He was peaceful.” Dylan was a young dog when Glenn and his first wife divorced. They had shared custody ever since, which meant sharing decisions and expenses through Dylan’s two bouts of cancer, pancreatitis, and a complex surgery to repair a freakishly severe spiral fracture after he’d slipped on the kitchen floor. They were practiced at painful discussions and wrenching, emotionally fraught decisions. Their final negotiation was over Dylan’s last day. Just a week shy of his 17th birthday, they decided he’d have one more visit with me and Glenn followed by home euthanasia at Dylan’s other parents’ house. The simple two-line message perfectly expressed the excruciating mix of loss and peace.

Our share of Dylan’s ashes sat in an urn on the dresser for months, waiting for a day that felt just right to take them to his favorite beach. We also waited to feel ready to part with this last physical connection to the boy we called Silly Dyllie. That day came when Levi started having small seizures and we knew our time with him was drawing short too. At 15, he’d already lived years longer than doctors predicted when he lost a leg to aggressive bone cancer at age 10. We had long since stopped taking him to the beach as he struggled to run in the soft sand, but we gathered our resolve, Levi, a sling and Dylan’s ashes for a day at the beach.

Levi helps Glenn spread Dylan's ashes - Apr. '15

Levi helps Glenn spread Dylan's ashes - Apr. '15

With help from the sling, Levi huffed and stumbled through the soft sand. When we reached firm sand, he grabbed his ball and Chuck-It from my hand and pranced proudly – a favorite quirk we hadn’t seen in months. The mood bounced from playful to poignant as Glenn opened Dylan’s urn. Levi gave it a curious sniff and hopped behind Glenn, in a somber way that suggested he understood, as the wind carried Dylan’s ashes.

The beach outing breathed vigor into our fading friend, so several days later I had an unexpected midday break and impulsively lifted Levi into the car for another visit to the beach. This time, he jumped from the car before I could ready the sling and hopped across the beach while I tried to catch up. As he rested near the surf, proudly grinning over his sand-covered tennis ball, I snapped a picture and texted it to Glenn: “Look where our boy is.” A week later, Levi was gone.

Our boys Levi and Dylan shared a family, a love of fetching, and an unhealthy obsession with all things edible. But they were very different from each other, and in dying, as in living, they needed different things from us. Navigating their dying processes, we were reminded of the many pieces that must come together. End-of-life decisions demand that we make excruciating choices, often with little warning, all while our best friends, our bank accounts, and our hearts hang in the balance.

Deciding Where

With an old or ailing pet in your care, a careful conversation with your veterinarian can bring invaluable peace of mind. End-of-life policies vary by clinic. You want to know your options — in advance rather than during a crisis. In our case, we learned that Dylan’s veterinarian offers home euthanasia for established patients; Levi’s veterinarian does not. There are home euthanasia services with doctors who specialize in offering compassionate end-of-life service, but you’ll want to know in advance how to reach them, when they’re available, and what it will cost. You’ll also want to think about your pet’s temperament and preferences. If you have a choice of where they spend their last moments, think about how they like the vet’s office, the car, the yard. Are they happy to see visitors come into their home, or does that cause stress?

Ours were two very different boys. Dylan was a typical buttery-soft Golden Retriever. He was happy with almost anything, but definitely more comfortable at home or in the car than at the vet’s. Levi was high octane. Our favorite joke was, “He only has one speed: ON.” He was all about going: rides, walks, runs, errands, strangers’ houses — any adventure. Combined with our vets’ policies, it was clear that our golden boy would be euthanized at home on his own memory-foam bed, while Levi would take a ride around town that ended in his vet’s parking lot where his doctor, “Uncle Chris,” could give him final loves and treats in the backseat of the car.

These decisions — like all human and animal healthcare decisions — can also be influenced by cost and availability. For a large dog like Levi, home euthanasia and cremation would have cost a bit more than $500. An expense like this may be out of reach, especially on the heels of whatever medical care your pet has already had. While home euthanasia often feels like the most appealing choice, if cost is a factor, there are less expensive ways to create a peaceful, loving ending for your friend.

Deciding When

Both of us had been faced with the kind of pet deaths that didn’t require decisions. Years before we met, my elderly black Lab Gabby died in my car en route to the emergency clinic in the middle of the night. Glenn’s German Shepherd Anna had to be euthanized in a doctor’s office during a medical emergency with a painful, untreatable condition, and his cat Beau had simply mysteriously died one day while he was away. These crises can happen, and then we simply do our best. When set in our laps rather than carried away by fate, the decisions are both a weighty burden and a sacred privilege.

Levi's last beach day - Apr. '15

Levi's last beach day - Apr. '15

The decision of timing can be the hardest. Levi’s vet said some people choose to euthanize old or ailing pets on a good day to avoid the inevitable bad days. As much as I wasn’t willing to let my best buddy suffer, I also couldn’t take any good time away from him. If he had another game of fetch or even one more beach visit in him, I wouldn’t end his life before he had them. I also knew our high-octane guy wouldn’t be happy to stick around if he didn’t have his physical abilities. Sweet, snuggly Dylan was a bit different: when physical activity got harder for him, he was happy with snuggles, back rubs, and assisted potty breaks. 

These individual characteristics were important, but we applied the quality of life standards we’d use for any of our cherished friends. There are templates available online that help you rate the overall quality of life, but we also watched for whether our guys still had interest in their favorite things. If they could savor their food, get excited to go in the car, or luxuriate in a belly rub, we wanted them to continue experiencing those things for as long as it made sense.

A wise vet gave some life-changing advice almost 20 years ago when my precious rat Mr. Go was declining from cancer and age. I had gathered my courage and stuffed down the unbearable grief and made an appointment to have him euthanized, but I arrived at the clinic blabbering about my decision process, ticking off uncertainties and doubts. She stopped me. “It isn’t time. When it’s time, you still don’t want to do it, but you’re at peace and ready to accept it. Go home. Give him some peanut butter, bananas, shoulder rubs. You might be back tomorrow, but it will feel different because you’ll be sure.” She was right. Mr. Go and I had another cherished two days. When it was time, my heart was heavy but my thoughts were clear.

Deciding How

Dylan’s final day consisted of his favorite treats, which he didn’t eat, and a massage, which he savored. Levi’s final day included a visit from family, mounds of his favorite cookies, a visit to his favorite drive-through, and a car ride. While we sat in the car at the vet’s office, Levi devoured the ultimate forbidden treat for any dog who shares his home with cats: an entire container of the smelliest, grossest canned cat food, all to himself.

These final moments are surreal and excruciating and sacred. It is a time to listen to your gut and advocate for your beloved friend above all else. I asked Levi’s doctor to give him a sedative first, and when they had difficulty finding his vein during the final injection, I knew why my gut had told me to make that choice for him. Peace and comfort are priceless here. Follow your heart.

Like Dylan’s, Levi’s ashes have now spent a few months in an urn, waiting for a perfect beach day, waiting for us to be ready to watch the wind carry him away from us. That goodbye feels so final, so absolute. As solace, a dear friend has commissioned an artist to make glass beads with a sprinkle of Levi’s ashes preserved inside. Glenn’s bead will hang with his keys, riding in his pocket next to his phone with the treasured text messages. I’ll hang my bead from a necklace, next to my heart.

Services to Help

Levi's final day

Levi's final day

There are numerous studies and articles that tell us what we already know: losing a pet is as painful as losing a human member of our family. We are fortunate to live in a culture that increasingly understands this. Most people will offer heartfelt support during our bereavement process, but there are support groups and professionals who can offer more structured support when we need it. These local businesses provide end-of-life care that can ease you through the process of planning a loving, peaceful, dignified farewell, and coping with the loss of your beloved companion.

·        Ute Luppertz offers animal communication, a hospice care support group, and calming therapies such as TTouch through her Portland-based Pet’s Point of View.

·        Portland’s DoveLewis Animal Hospital has an array of grief support services, ranging from support groups to memorial art therapy workshops (all free of charge).

·        Photographer Kristin Zabawa offers intimate photo sessions to capture the bond between humans and their pets near the end of life. SoulSessions Photography works on a donation-only basis to make the service available to anyone who wants it.

·        In the Portland, Vancouver and the outlying areas of NW Oregon and SW Washington, Compassionate Care Home Pet Euthanasia Service is available 24 hours a day and can arrange after-care such as cremation.

·        Dignified Pet Services will conduct memorial services and offers a range of after-care, ranging from caskets for burial to cremation, urns, and memorial jewelry.

Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

Still Lucy

Recognizing dementia in your pet—and how to deal with it

It's 4:30 am and my 15-year-old Maltese mix Lucy is barking incessantly. I stumble out of bed to find out what's wrong. There she is: lost in the jungle of the dining room table and chairs, which have been in the same place for five years. She repeatedly bumps into the furniture legs like a furry pinball, unable to find her way out.

Soon after, I speak with Dr. Christine Fletcher, an associate at North Portland Veterinary Hospital experienced in canine geriatric issues.  She says Lucy's problems are fairly typical for dogs with cognitive dysfunction — aka senile dementia. "Many of these dogs get lost and confused really easily," Fletcher says. "And they will start to bark a lot, because they don't what else to do. This can be a distress behavior for them."

Lucy is not alone in her distress: in a recent study of 180 dogs age 11-16 years, 28% of those 11-12 had at least one sign of cognitive dysfunction, while 68% of those 15-16 had at least one symptom of the condition. For cats, more than half of those 15 or older were found to exhibit at least one symptom as well.

Mental decline in pets is becoming more prevalent, but it's for a happy reason: they’re receiving better care, so they're living longer and are therefore more prone to many of the same age-related conditions seen in humans.

People are also simply more aware. "When I was growing up we had a dog that lived until she was 17, and looking back she clearly had dementia, but we didn't know what it was," Dr. Fletcher remembers. "She lost her housebreaking, she was always wandering. Our vet didn't have a name for it. Now we actually have criteria we can apply."

Dr. Daniel Krull

Dr. Daniel Krull

Doing the DISHA

Dr. Dan Krull is a board-certified Veterinary Neurologist at Columbia River Veterinary Specialists in Vancouver, WA. He feels that increasing education of those criteria among both pet parents and animal care professionals is key as more pets live longer.

"There are still many veterinarians I speak to who aren't entirely aware of some of the symptoms that come along with this condition," he says, adding that the simple acronym — DISHA —can be used to describe the signs of cognitive decline.

"D" is for disorientation. In addition to seeming out of sorts, pets can become confused in familiar surroundings. "Wandering, getting lost in the house — this is something to keep an eye on," Fletcher advises.

That said, older pets are prone to physical conditions like sight and hearing loss, which can also lead to disorientation, so it's important to rule those out first.

"I" is for interactions. Is your pet suddenly more subdued or aggressive, or even more loving or needy? Fletcher says the latter happened with her own 14-year-old dog.

Dr. Christine Fletcher

Dr. Christine Fletcher

"One thing we started noticing is that this dog who was never super affectionate — she liked people fine, but was definitely not cuddly — is now coming up and soliciting petting."

"S" stands for sleep. According to Krull, changes in a pet's sleep cycle often signal that something isn't right. "The pet is pacing or vocalizing; or 'my cat's walking around, he's louder than usual and won't let me sleep'. That's a common thing for owners to complain about."

"H" is for house soiling — urinating or even defecating in places they never have before. "We really try to distinguish this from urinary incontinence, which is much more common," says Fletcher. "That's where the animal is not aware that they're urinating, which is a medical issue, versus a dog that is just walking through the house and then squats or lifts his leg to pee, which can be cognitive dysfunction. We have to talk about what exactly the dog is doing."

"A" refers to both activity and anxiety. According to Dr. Krull, dogs usually have increased activity with cognitive dysfunction, especially at times when they previously were less active — like at night. Anxiety can also cause nervous pacing, or a personality change owners notice.

It is also urgent that pet parents don't just assume what they're seeing is the onset of age-related mental decline. "If you have a pet exhibiting a lot of these signs — the DISHA — it's really important for a veterinarian to do a full, thorough neurologic exam," cautions Dr. Krull. That's because if there are other symptoms present, like weakness, decreased sensation, or loss of vision on one side, it could be indicative of a brain tumor or other physical issues, and not cognitive dysfunction. 

Wait to Redecorate

While there is no cure for cognitive dysfunction, owners can maintain their companion's quality of life, and possibly even slow the disease's progression.

"The one area over which pet owners have the most control is environmental modification and enrichment," says Krull. "Stimulating these pets mentally, continuing with training, exercise, introducing novel toys. Try anything that keeps them active, involved and alert." Physical and mental activity can also help with sleep issues.   

Maintaining a consistent physical environment and a regular schedule is also a priority, according to Krull. "One of the worst things for these patients is changes in who or what is in the household."  

Fletcher adds that it's also a good idea to check your home for hazards to help keep a symptomatic cat or dog safe. "Make sure the pet is not going to fall down stairs or get stuck somewhere. Use scents as cues — smell seems to hang on longer than many of the other senses. For stairs, putting a dab of scent in the middle of each tread is an idea."

Drug therapy is another tool pet parents may want to consider when cognitive symptoms and related stress become severe. Lucy is on a low-dose pain pill to help her sleep through the night. Xanax — given to the pet, not the owner — is often used to alleviate dementia-related anxiety.

Finally, while no conclusive evidence exists to suggest that nutrition or supplements can either prevent cognitive dysfunction or improve its symptoms, a diet rich in antioxidants and Omega-3s has been shown in some studies to be beneficial.

Here and Gone

On my desk there's a picture of Lucy that never fails to make me smile: she's perched on the edge of a moving fishing boat, gazing over Lake Merwin like it's her personal kingdom. A few minutes after that shot was taken, she scared the expletives out of us when she decided to jump into the water for a swim.

Eight years later, that same brave, impulsive little dog has trouble finding her water bowl and howls at the walls.

According to Dr. Krull, what's happening to Lucy is likely similar to what happens to humans diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

"There's what we call atrophy of the surrounding brain as dogs and cats age. Amaloid beta proteins — plaques — are absolutely found in Alzheimer's patients, and while it's not quite the same, we do feel that the more [of them] there are in the brains of dogs and cats, usually the more cognitively affected they are."

This condition can shorten a pet's life, though not for a physiological reason. Often a physically sound animal passes because their quality of life has declined to a point that the owner chooses to humanely euthanize the cat or dog.

According to both doctors Krull and Fletcher, it's an excruciating decision.

"Often it's easier if the animal has cancer or kidney failure [because] there are definite signs to look for," says Fletcher. "With cognitive dysfunction, it's hard because these animals are eating great, drinking, their bodies are going along pretty well. So one of the things I'll talk to people about is if this animal is still able to do any of its usual routine. How much of that animal is still there?"

Krull agrees. "There's so much gray area," he says. "I usually try to tell owners to think of four or five things their dog or cat loves to do. If they start to not do those things anymore, and you're crossing things off the list and you get down to that fourth or fifth thing, for some people, that's it."

Hearing this lifts my heart a little, because in addition to belly rubs, Lucy still very much enjoys a meander down the street. Yes, she tends to wrap her leash around trees and often finds a scent she likes so much she refuses to budge. But that's ok. All of a sudden I'm starting to appreciate the fact that she's still as stubborn as the day I adopted her.

Does My Pet Have Age-Related Dementia?

While there is no cure for senile dementia in pets, watching for signs in your senior pet can mean an earlier diagnosis, and possibly better adjustment.

Possible symptoms — DISHA

D — Disorientation: wandering, seeming out-of-sorts.

I — Interactions. Depression, fear, excessive neediness, or sudden uncharacteristic extreme affection/friendliness.

S — Stands for sleep. Night pacing or vocalizing. Can signal dementia, pain, anxiety, or illness.

H — House soiling. More often physical than cognitive; see your vet.

A — Activity and Anxiety. Newly active at night, wandering in circles, restless pacing, fear of previously familiar places and situations.

DISHA applies to both canines and felines, but symptoms are often more subtle in cats. That's because not only do we interact with cats differently than dogs, but also because cats are expert at hiding weakness, making problems more difficult to spot.  

Michele Coppola is a veteran Portland radio personality, copywriter, and freelance writer who shares couch space with her three rescue pooches, Lucy, Bailey and Ginny, as well as Byron, the stray man she married six years ago.

Keep your old dog young at heart ♥

Katie sporting booties during a hike on Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain on Mt. Hood

Katie sporting booties during a hike on Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain on Mt. Hood

We expect our dogs to be the same forever. Leaping joyfully and playing with utter glee, curious, bright-eyed and eager for anything. Instead, their joints stiffen, their senses of sight and sound diminish, and they spend an increasing amount of time sleeping.

It may seem that older dogs are content to snooze the day away, and with our busy lifestyles, we are happy to let them do so. Walks become fewer, car rides infrequent, and entertaining playtimes go by the wayside. Veterinary behaviorists identify this as the “shrinking world syndrome”. As the dog gets less enrichment, there is a decline in mental and physical stimulation. As pet parents we tend to change our behavior toward our aging pets, and oftentimes these changes take away many things that keep their minds and bodies youthful.

Tamara Smith of Portland takes Katie, her 14-year-old Lab/Basset Hound mix, on walks twice a day, with longer hiking adventures on weekends. Rescued 13+ years ago from Bonnie Hays Animal Shelter, Smith says, “Regular exercise has always been a priority.”  She also credits glucosamine and fish oil supplements for Katie’s youthfulness. “Bassets have a tendency to have bad backs, and she had some skin allergies, so I started giving her supplements when she was just 3 years old.” Katie also recently began acupuncture.

In addition to acupuncture, another successful modality for seniors is hydrotherapy or pool time. “It is one of the best things we have found for our senior dogs,” says Cheryl Yoshioka, founder and president of My Way Home Dog Rescue, which finds homes for many senior pups. “It feels good, and it makes them more limber and helps with joint issues.” Yoshioka adds that she hasn’t seen a single dog they’ve treated with hydrotherapy who didn’t love it. Hydrotherapy isn’t free, though, so only about half of the seniors in their care (those who need it most) are able to enjoy it. 

Many oldsters can’t walk as far or as fast as they used to, some due to underlying issues such as arthritis or heart problems, but they still benefit greatly from getting out and about. Small outings — such as a jaunt down the block in a stroller for smaller dogs or a cart for larger ones, a brief car ride, or a slow stroll with you to the mailbox — may not mean much to you, but can be huge for your old buddy who gets to sniff the grass, feel the warmth of the sun, and breathe fresh air.

“When dogs come into our rescue, we try and find out what they love,” Yoshioka says, adding that seniors depend a lot on their noses and love small walks in new places. They also love cuddle time, she says. “Just like with younger dogs, they want to be by their person and feel loved.”

Seniors enjoy the benefits of hyrdotherapy

Seniors enjoy the benefits of hyrdotherapy

And just like with humans, exercising the mind is equally important. Happily, contrary to the old saying, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! Make it a goal to teach your grey-faced pal a new trick once a month. Make the training sessions short and a positive experience. Tricks needn’t be complex — bark on cue, high-five, give a kiss, push a ball — it’s the learning that’s important. And really, who cares if they never quite master the high-five? What matters is the quality time together, and mental stimulation.   

“Every dog delights in finding new things” says Yoshioka, pointing to Kongs, puzzle toys and treat-dispensing balls as great ways to get their noggins thinking and spice up their lives. Protect their aging choppers with softer versions of toys made just for seniors.

Also important is regular exposure to other pets and people. Short sessions of socialization and playtime in a controlled environment, taking care not to over-stimulate or include overly rambunctious playmates, is ideal for enriching mental health. As with humans, if your four-legged best friend doesn’t stay active and involved in life, the desire to do so can fade.

In some ways it may seem they age overnight. Because we see our dogs every day it’s easy to miss subtle changes. Barring medical issues, we can do so much just by adjusting the ways we connect with our pups to keep the spark bright in their wizened old eyes.


Let’s not forget the kitties when it comes to physical and mental activity. They may not pounce like they used to, but exercise is important to help prevent obesity and other issues. Create an enriched environment with items such as a cat tree for climbing, stretching and lounging. Or ever-popular among the kitty crowd — boxes! — entice most felines to play and investigate. Time outdoors in catios (cat patios) or walking on leash help keep seniors entertained and active, burning excess calories and keeping joints healthy.

Interactive toys and food puzzles and activities that spark kitty’s stalk and hunt drive are all gifts you can give your best friend. Studies show the most popular cat toys are those that involve human interaction … so get out and play! Always tailor toys and activities to fit your cat’s age, mobility and health factors.

Cats are social by nature, so be sure to continue to provide companionship and love through gentle petting, stroking and grooming.  

Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington.  She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), six chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog..  Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.