Captain Wally

What goes into the choice of a foster dog from Old Dog Haven? Sure, there is some thought and analysis, but much more importantly, there is faith and trust. The photo above was our primary reference.

The trust is an easier issue. Judith, the director of ODH, has a certain gift for her mission of caring for old dogs. Even though we are relatively new in the big picture of ODH foster homes, she knows us well enough to pre-filter the dogs she sends us to see. Sometimes the dogs pile up, and she would probably like to see anyone take them on, but she never forgets our criteria, our home situation with our own dogs, and she never stops thinking about good matches for the dogs in her care. In short, if she sends us a dog to potentially foster, we already know that there are good reasons. It’s hard to put a value on that aspect of Old Dog Haven.

The harder part is faith, simply because it comes in so many forms. First up is always, are we up to the challenge? ODH dogs come with issues. Health issues, of course, but also emotional issues. As often as not, these are dogs that were once loved, adored, and spoiled rotten. They just had the incredible misfortune of outliving their people. I’m not making any direct comparison, because frankly I have no way to even imagine the pain of losing a child, but a dog outliving its person is probably similar. Parents have unfathomable devotion to their children, and dogs have incredible devotion to their people. Some dogs roll with the punches, and some never recover from the loss. Do we have the love and patience to overcome the all-too-likely outcome of a dog that never forgets?

The second leg of faith is in our vet. We are very fortunate to have found a vet who takes old dog care as seriously as we do. She’s smart, experienced, and sympathetic, and it never hurts that she is married to another vet who has the same qualifications with a slightly different approach and philosophy. It’s a powerful combo. Can you imagine their dinner conversation? One of the hallmarks of a good vet is that they give you the benefit of their knowledge without getting carried away with their own skills. The truth is that doctors of any stripe can only know so much. The rest is a pattern matching effort based on what they have seen before and educated guesswork. If a vet, or human physician is willing to tell you what they do and do not know, you have found a good one. Hang on with both fists.

Not to play like a broken record, but the expertise in ODH comes into the faith equation as well. The organization was started and is run by Judith, a woman who probably has seen more focused health information on geriatric dog issues than anyone on the planet. In practical terms, that comes in the form of near-perfect oversight on the health care of old dogs, and serves as a good control for anything any given vet has to say. It has certainly served our ODH dogs well.

The final leg in my own view of the faith pyramid is the hardest, and that’s the ability to know when it’s time. When enough is enough for any given dog, when the suffering outweighs the potential for a positive outcome. To take on an ODH dog is to take on that decision. It’s a literal “life in your hands” decision and it’s never easy. Everything comes into play. The vet analysis, the emotional state of the dog, the delicate balance of timing in terms of whether a dog can survive long enough to feel better… How that dog looks you in the eye and asks for a coup de grace… Everything.

Dogs have no illusions about the end of life. I’ve known several who chose to disappear into the woods to die. I’ve known one who asked me to deliver a coup de grace because he didn’t have the strength to wander off to the woods. When I refused, I felt his disgruntlement until he understood that we were taking him to the vet for that very purpose, and then he became calm and satisfied, and went through the whole thing without a doubt. We struggle hard with end of life issues, but dogs understand clearly when it is time to go. They are not mired in certain blends of human faith, or some concept of sin. They simply understanding that when they cannot serve their purpose, it’s time to go. This trait strongly suggests a canine faith or even understanding in whatever comes next. We fight against the dying of the light, and dogs do too, with an indomitable spirit, but when it’s time they know, and they embrace it. It’s one of many lessons we could learn from them if we let go of the hubris that we are the only species that understands existence. Because, we don’t.

So, we picked up our new guy on Saturday, from the Southwest Washington Humane Society. They clearly have a fine facility and plenty of support. They took him in, named him McTavish, which I believe driven Judith crazy, because he is a Shih Tzu, not a Scotty, but I can see the point of the name. He is bold, smart, fearless, and energetic; all things I would like to ascribe to my own Scottish heritage. He has serious skin problems, he is missing one eye, but in faith, he is far from done. By the time we made it back to Olympia, his name was clear: He will be Captain Wally, aka Wally. Will he ever care? No. His hearing is not good, but he will feel it just the same. The intention of his name, and a new sense of belonging in a human world that could have just as easily left him to die among strangers in a shelter. That is the power of Old Dog Haven.

Also in broken record territory, I will keep pointing out that I am working on a documentary film about ODH until I finish the film or die trying. If you get where I am coming from, please head on over to my gofundme page and make a donation to my documentary. Every little bit helps. My goal is to give ODH the tools to promote their efforts, and hopefully, to tie them to some long term funding that allows them to plan for the future. That being said, you should be aware that they have done an amazing job for 13 years, delivering health care and support to ODH foster dogs. They spend a fortune on dog health care, and amazingly little on the organization itself. In terms of non-profits, they are beyond perfect. If you want to support the mission directly, head to their site. If you want to gamble a bit on leveraging the future of their mission, head to my gofundme and give me the resources to tell their story at the level they deserve. Your choice.

If you are in the region, one of their biggest fundraisers is happening this Sunday at Cromwell Park in Shoreline. Show up, meet some dogs, and if you take pictures or video, find me. Odds are, it will end up in final documentary. That would be cool. Crowdfunded video is even better with crowdfunded footage. Contact me if you want optimal settings for your camera.