Adopting an older dog or how Ms. Precious learned new tricks

What is age, be it in human or dog terms? A collection of remembered experiences? A slow accumulation of knowledge accompanied by a similarly slow dissipation of good looks? Why do we, humans, hold to a stubborn belief that older means less fun, beautiful, clever or worthy of chances we so easily afford the young? A couple of years ago, I happened to take in an 8 year old white Shitzu dog named Precious. She had already lived with several fosters and arrived with a myriad of instructions for her severe skin allergies that put her in a shelter in the first place, literally half naked. The foster girl before me took such excellent care of her skin that Precious was once again fully furry, but despite her improved appearance all she wanted to do is hide from people. Needless to say, this did not make her an adoption day magnet, until one Saturday a lady called Maria came in saying she wanted her and nobody else. After successfully adopting Precious she kept in touch, sending regular updates. My reasons for preferring older dogs are numerous, but I thought Maria’s own words would speak better to the mystery and special joy of adopting one. Here's Maria’s gorgeous letter:

Dear Oki,
Today is the first anniversary for my HART rescue Precious (now Petra) and I wanted to let you know how she is doing.  Earlier today, sitting together on the sofa, her front paws sprawled across my lap, and her eyes half-closed as I slowly scratched her under her chin, I thought back to the early days when she spent most of her time either under the sofa or under the bed, trying to get used to her fourth home in eight months and I thought “Okay, we’ve made some progress here.” 

The "Before" #2
She is now a slim, trim 16 pounds; down from the 23.5 pounds she was a year ago.  A weight, the vet tells me is excellent for her and may explain why she no longer snores!  When she came here, a half-hour amble was enough to leave her flaked out for the rest of the day.  She can now do a three-mile circuit on a Sunday and come bouncing up the steps for her after-walk treat. Beside her neighborhood walks, we go to parks several times a week where she gets to commune (in an olfactory sense, at least) with the deer, foxes, raccoons, badgers and the other forest creatures.  Her skin condition is under control, what with her medication, the “healthy skin” formula of her high-end dog food, the fish-oil supplement she gets at every meal and, of course, her prescription shampoo. 

She has even begun to take some interest in toys.  In the beginning, I kept buying different ones trying to find something she'd enjoy.  We tried various chew toys, rope toys, squeaky toys, furry toys, and squeaky-furry ones. She displayed an utter lack of interest in anything that wasn’t edible. But I finally found a “best buddy” chew toy where one can insert rawhide rings into the cavity so she would chew on it to get them out. After a while she began to chew on the toy even when it didn’t have the treats.  A few months ago, when I arrived home, she picked up one of the cat toys and tossed it at me.  So I got out all the dog toys out again and eventually she started using them.  She now has one furry toy she will even carry around the house with her. 

When summer came, we started a Level 1 obedience class, to give this beautifully behaved dog a challenge, where she graduated top of the class! (Okay, there were only three dogs at the final session because it was the middle of August but she was the only one who didn’t break on the down-stay!).  We then went on to Level 2, where upon completion the instructor suggested we consider competition.  I am not sure either one of us was cut out for that but we sincerely appreciated the compliment. We took the winter off, (classes are held outdoors) but started the spring semester with Agility for the Fun of It, Level 1, which is shaping up to be a blast!
The "Now"!
I should also mention that Petra is now a certified love-sponge.  

We joined an organization that arranges pet visits to nursing and retirement homes, where she has become a huge hit. She now has a patch she can wear on her vest for when she goes sashaying into the various establishments, looking for someone to love up.  Speaking of her vest, she has now acquired a wardrobe of her own.  She has a sweater, a quilted coat and a rain jacket. I told myself these are strictly utilitarian and not to be confused with “dressing up,” until I succumbed to the peer pressure at her small dog playgroup and entered her in the Halloween costume contest.  (She got honorable mention, by the way, for her ladybug outfit.) 

I could go on about her but then this letter would probably never end.  Darling sweet Petra, she is curled up at my feet as I type.  I don’t know what concept dogs have of the future, but I hope as she lies there that she knows that there will always be good food and a soft bed, walks in the park and rides in the car, a warm lap with cuddles, and legions of admirers telling her how charming, cute, beautiful and, indeed, precious she is, and that there will whatever help she needs when the time comes for her to leave us.
Thank you so much for taking her in and then for letting her come to me.  She is the delight of my life.  

- Maria and Petra

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