Written by Ernestine Strini and photography by Liv Stirling Photography
All the pets we’ve ever had were adopted from animal shelters, and came in all shapes, sizes, and ages – all brought so much love and joy. And then, along came Taurus…
Our First Frosty-face Adoption
My father-in-law, Clifford, adopted Taurus from the SPCA; he was confused and scared, and the only person he really ever trusted was his new owner, my father-in-law. When Clifford passed away, we inherited Taurus, then nearly nine years old.
I will never forget Taurus’ expression when he set foot in his new home and saw five more fur kids coming closer. He sat down in front of me, and looked at me with big, petrified, but trusting eyes, as if to say: “Please be good to me and keep me safe...” A lost soul, advanced in years, just begging for love and kindness on his last journey in his life, Taurus was with us another four years. Although our other dogs licked away our tears, Taurus left a big void. I asked my vet to look out for another Big Old Oaf who was in need of a new home. And, in no time whatsoever, there he was: Cuba, a Great Dane-Ridgeback mix.
Another frosty muzzle, another heart of gold. The only crime he’d committed was growing old, and he was due to be euthanised, having “lost his worth” at 10 years of age; yet we shared many wonderful years with Cuba. Then, we were blessed with Mr Plod and many more, each as full of life and love as can be…
Grey Muzzles, Golden Hearts
Many people call me an Animal Angel; I disagree. Yes, senior pets have got certain needs, but so do puppies or dogs at any age. Old dogs seem to fit so much better and easier into existing packs; their years of wanting to be the Top Dog are long gone – they lead in a silent and diplomatic way. Oldies are only looking for a loving touch, a healthy meal, and a soft, warm bed to rest their old bones. That’s surely not too much to ask for!
There are thousands of Tauruses, Billies and Mayas out there with the same, similar, or even worse fate. Senior dogs often get discarded due to health issues, or because they’re getting tired and are “lying around”; or puppies are “more fun”... These pets were loving and loyal companions their entire lives and don’t deserve such cruelty towards the end of their days on this earth.
Since we’ve experienced the unconditional love of oldies first hand, we simply cannot turn our heads. The only dogs we adopt now are far advanced in years – our criterion for them coming to live with us is “one paw in the grave”.
They may need a few pills here and there and occasional vet treatments; and, yes, saying goodbye earlier than to a younger pet is painful and heartbreaking. But looking back and realising how blessed a person actually is by helping senior animals and experiencing their love just heals a broken heart in no time at all and gives one all the courage and strength one needs to open the heart and home to the next frosty-faced oldie.
I would like to leave you with my favourite words: “My oldies do not die; they simply make space for the next needy old soul out there...”.
Introducing Our Golden Oldies
After nearly 10 years of rescuing seniors only, our current “Old Age Home” boasts five absolute darlings – Liesel, Dora, Billy, Timo, and Maya.
My Beste Lieselkind
Liesel has earned her Oldie Status and has been our Love since she was adopted at eight months after being dumped at the tender age of six months old. After two months at the Edenvale SPCA, she was giving up on life big time – no light in her eyes, no recognition of people walking past. But we fell in love and, today, almost 14 years later, she gives us the same joy and love as she did as a puppy.
Liesel will be 15 years old in November 2017 and has grown into our most treasured Oldie Girl ever. She still has the same wiggly bum, same huge smiley face, and the same love of food. Oldies definitely aren’t boring.
Also known as Dora, our white-and-tan Jack Russell-mix was rescued from a squatter camp at a young age by Wollies Animal Shelter; she was curled into a tight ball of fear, knowing only neglect, and had given up on life already. When I met her, she only knew her kennel and even dragged her food bowl into it, since this was the only possession she’d ever had in her life.
She shared a camp with other old dogs since they were kinder and not interested in being dominant; she accepted people but wasn’t really interested in them. Since coming to live with us, Dora has become the “puppy” she wasn’t able to be in her desperate squatter camp situation. She is now a guesstimated 10 years, but has never looked better or younger.
Our gorgeous red-brown boy was found as a stray on the side of a busy road and never claimed; it was suspected by his neglected appearance that he’d been dumped – at around ten years old. Yet, despite his hardships, he still had a smile and great trust in people.
My husband, Russell, loved him at first sight and we named him Billy. His goofy looks and obsession with chairs and my shoes is priceless. Now aged around 11 years, the love and joy Billy has brought into our lives is priceless. He does have a degree of separation anxiety and, even if I’m home, he always needs familiar items surrounding him, not to chew them up but just to smell familiar smells (so the shoes, clothes and TV remotes are, although slobbered on, safe…).
Terrific Timo, aka TimTim
This black, fluffy guy with a snow-white face, now 14 years old, was originally a foster. He had a home lined up and even went to it, but one of the dogs there just didn’t get on with him and the family didn’t have the knowledge to integrate them and resolve issues. So, the animal welfare lady asked if he could come back to us.
Well, what do you think happened? Of course, Timo came back to us and has taken over my life, heart and office chair. He is glued to me (he has a bit of separation anxiety), so my working from home is the best that could have happened to our Timo.
Maya is our “latest” Frosty Face. For 15 years she lived with her owner, but when she had to move to a retirement facility, Maya (then named Snoopy) and a younger dog were not permitted to go with her. The lady (who had no transport) had the compassion to find out about Pretoria Dog Rescue, begged shelter founder Celia to look after them and keep them safe, and organise a lift for them to the shelter (more than most folk do with old animals!).
Maya’s younger friend was adopted quickly, but most people don’t want to adopt oldies and so she stayed behind, confused and pining for her friend. Now, you tell me how one can stand to see a 15-year-old sweet Oldie Girl in kennels during the cold winter months with little to no chance of getting adopted. Well, I couldn’t. So, our black-and-tan, big-eared beauty, Maya, was welcomed into our family. The years are falling off her and she seems to be getting younger by the day. I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful reward.
All of our Frosty Faces prove that there is no age limit on love, and that older dogs can – and do – fit in perfectly well.
Editor’s note: Maya took a turn for the worse and was in hospital on the day of the photo shoot, and sadly, after rallying for a little longer, she passed away peacefully on the 12th August.
PIP (Play In Peace) darling Maya and our sincere condolences to Ernestine and Russell. Only 8 short weeks you shared with Maya but time enough to show her what unconditional love is; her pawprints on your hearts forever.