Hi everyone! I'm Liz Arbittier, the founder of Hospice Pet. I can't tell you how excited I am over the success of Hospice Pet, especially in such a short time. Thank you so much for your support! We've only been live for about 10 days and we already have 91 animals listed and 1 adoption! One of our animals got 283 shares and another got 234 shares within days of posting! The more we connect with people, the more animals can find their forever homes.
I have a long history adopting senior and hospice dogs and I am a veterinarian BUT please be clear that I'm a horse vet!! I'm not a small animal vet and unfortunately cannot help with your small animal veterinary questions. I think that my value in the Hospice Pet mission is the depth of my experience from the owner side and my ability to help dogs adjust, coexist, and thrive in their new home. Plus I feel like these dogs give back SO much more than we give them...that's the big secret that people don't understand until they adopt one!
I'm frequently asked for advice on how I'd handle various situations so I thought that starting a blog might be a nice resource for anyone who was interested! And it is perfect timing because I just brought a new dog home today. This first blog post is a little long as we need to do some introductions but after this, I think the posts will be less wordy. ;)
It would be helpful to give you a brief overview of my household. I currently have 6 dogs. I know, I know, it's A LOT! I always excuse it by pointing out that the total weight of dog (TWOD) in my house is 41 lbs...so really, my 6 really only counts as 1 medium sized dog. :) That math makes sense to me!
For reference, here's my family:
Nigel: 11 yr old Yorkie mix that I inherited when my parents died. He is a CLOWN. He makes me laugh every day. He's not the most tolerant but when something bugs him, he just gets huffy, gives lots of side-eye, and then talks to me until I fix whatever his issue is. He is a real goof.
Florence: ~11 yr old Beagle mix that I adopted over 2 years ago. She was a victim of the floods in Texas. She is a wonderful and very very smart dog. She wants to be a bit of a resource guarder (I am HERS) but she has gotten so good and she's so obedient, she's a true gem. She is velcro-ed to me at all times and she is the thinker of the group.
Chaz: ~16 yr old Pomeranian who I took in as a hospice case over 2 yrs ago. He was a cruelty case and he was untouchable. They actually bathed in him leather cat restraint gloves because he was so bitey. He still bites but it's very halfhearted and now he doesn't even hide how much he likes a cuddle every day....on his terms. I can now pat him and kiss his head (he loves that but don't tell anyone). Also he has no teeth so the biting isn't a big deal. He has a heart condition so I try for him not to get too excited because he faints which is dramatic to say the least.
Pixie: 12 yr old Pomeranian. I just got Pixie two months ago because her parents went into assisted living. She is perfect, a little angel.
Peek: Peek is my special little girl. She's an aged Chihuahua. I got her last May as a hospice dog....except she was in such bad shape you couldn't even say for sure she was a dog! She was just 2.6 lbs when rescued from a hoarder. She has two chronically broken front legs, is mostly blind, brain damaged, and has a seizure disorder. She's also the happiest, most cheerful, most wonderful little thing out there!! Don't let that list of ailments make you sad! She's now perfect weight at 3.4 lbs and is thriving. She has an Instagram @tinydogbigbark if you ever want to see photos of the world's cutest and most inspiring dog.
A few days ago, I got a message from a woman who runs a terrific senior rescue called Penny Lane Senior Sanctuary in NJ. She told me about a little old Poodle that sounded like he was right up my alley. I was reluctant - I recently lost a dog I'd had for 17 years and I wasn't in a rush to fill the spot. 5 dogs is plenty. That said, I trust her implicitly so I sent an email to the rescue that had him and introduced myself. Fast forward to today and my drive up to get Midnight!!
Midnight is a 16.5 yr old dog...he will turn 17 on June 30, 2019! He lived with his elderly owner until her passing. Her kids then sent him to a shelter which makes me so so sad. A small rescue in NJ heard about him and just 5 days ago he traveled 9 hours from North Carolina to northern New Jersey. To say he has been through a lot in a short period of time is an understatement!
Midnight is 4ish lbs and thin. He hasn't been eating at his foster home. He should probably be a solid 5.5-6 lbs and he's also muscle wasted. He is blind in one eye and is visual in the other, not sure if that eye has limitations but he's definitely visual. He is neurological (a little wobbly) and very very fragile.
When she handed him to me, he felt no heavier than the fleece blanket he was wrapped in....and he just curled up in my arms and then slept the whole 3 hrs home.
When we got home, I carried him in. I knew that Chaz and Peek were in their rooms so Nigel, Florence, and Pixie would meet us at the door. My dogs are very very good about newcomers as long as the newcomers mind their manners.
I put Midnight down and he started to wobble around and I got my first impression of his neurological impairments - not terrible! He then started to chase the other dogs. Not in an aggressive way, he just looked very very curious and anxious. He's so fragile, I don't think he could hurt anyone if he tried but boy, within a few minutes I could tell he was going to be VERY annoying! He just seemed to want to put his nose on them and stand as close to them as humanly possible which they found inexcusably rude for a newcomer. I don't blame them! He didn't read their body language at all and even when Nigel warned him with a sharp bark, it scared him but he didn't know what it meant and he kept chasing. I picked him up and put him in the space I had prepared for him.
I have gated off most of my dining/living room for him and made a giant pen with 5 different beds so he could choose what he liked. He was very anxious, not surprising, crying a little and pacing. I let Chaz and Peek out and after patting him for a while, I let him out with them. Chaz was amazingly tolerant thank goodness. Chaz is terrifying when he wants to be...even though he's toothless and harmless and all of 5.5 lbs, he sounds really scary when he wants to. Peek, with her brain damage, doesn't respond normally to situations so she had zero idea what kept touching her and why and it was just making her run which we try to avoid on her brorken legs. I put MIdnight away again.
At this point I knew I needed a plan. Midnight was not at all aggressive but he definitely had a lot of anxiety with these dogs. I couldn't tell if he had never been with dogs or if he just missed the dogs he used to live with. I'm going to see if the rescue knows. My suspicion is that he hasn't lived with dogs and that's why he's so non-responsive to their body language and corrections but I don't know. He also is intact which can definitely be driving some behavior although usually when I get them at that age and they're not neutered, they don't have much of a libido or testosterone-driven behavior. Maybe he will be the exception to that rule...I hope not because I'm in no rush to put a dog his age under general anesthesia.
I gave him a tiny slurry of wet food and water to try to get some fluids in him. That's a big thing with these old guys, you have to be on top of their hydration. He actually showed interest and drank it down. I then left him in there and let the other dogs out so they could normalize.
He was pacing and anxious but not terrible. I put a camera on his area so I can watch him from work or when I'm not home or even from my bedroom...I LOVE cameras when I'm acclimating new dogs!!! I can really figure out what they need and how they act when I'm gone which gives me clues on how to help them. Can't recommend cameras enough.
I fed everyone dinner and left Chaz and Peek in their rooms after they ate...they love their rooms so it's no hardship. Midnight ate a small slurry really well which was nice. I never worry if they don't eat immediately, they will eat eventually and it's not the end of the world if they miss a meal. I let him out again and things were better.
I sat down in the middle of the floor so he could have a home base if he needed it. He immediately started following Florence and she was SO smart about it. She avoided him but then sat next to me and just watched him. She didn't growl but it was in there, I could feel it and everything about her body language was warning him without making any noise. She just kept listening to me and watching him. She even washed his face a couple times. His behavior doesn't freak her out and I think she will be the bridge to guiding him in the future because he can follow her without her panicking. She's so obedient that she will do what I ask even if she doesn't want to, and her instincts were to be gentle with him even while he was being overbearing.
Nigel was just done. He started giving sharp, piercing barks anytime Midnight attached on to him and it worked. Midnight would startle and then turn and I'd be there to cuddle him. It was great...Professor Nigel to the rescue. I know Nige won't hurt him, he is a total baby (and I'm right there) but he is TEACHING him to respect boundaries without hurting him. Midnight definitely seemed to learn a bit which excited me. Then he saw Pixie (who herself is only 4 lbs) and she kept running away with him following but she really wanted to lay down and sleep and he wouldn't let her. So she started growling and warning him and he did finally seem to respect it...a little. I put Pix on the sofa so she could get away. I took this photo of Pixie, Florence, and Nige on the sofa and Midnight wondering where all the dogs went....cracked me up!!! Florence and Nigel were smart to remove themselves.
Midnight took a nice nap in my lap...poor little dude was just exhausted. I then put him back in his space so Chaz and Peek could come back out. He happily went to sleep in one of his beds.
I think we are all going to be fine. I won't compromise my existing dogs' quality of life but there's always room for one more. Especially one like this...realistically how long can he have left? I want him to be as happy as he can possibly be.
He will settle in for a while, however long he needs to de-stress and then I'll take him to my vet. Unless there is a pressing physical issue, I usually try to let them relax for a while before taking them to the vet because it's always hard on them. I like them to be a little bonded to me so I can help them get through it.
I think it will be a while before he can be loose but he seems very happy in his area and that way he is still right with us and not isolated. It will be interesting to see this little guy settle in. Most of my seniors just co-exist and don't really interact...his anxiety with the other dogs will be an interesting puzzle to figure out. Stay tuned!
Liz and Midnight