The Emotional Journey of Adopting an Older Dog
I first saw a picture of Tomé almost a year ago, on October 28th 2018. It was on one of my favourite Instagram pages @homeforpaws_pt. Homeforpaws promotes shelter dogs by taking awesome pictures of them, highlighting their quirky and weird personalities. Tomé was the second dog they had photographed and I fell in love with his story immediately: he lived his entire life, 11 years of it at that stage, in a shelter, never having been adopted. I knew then and there, we were supposed to be a family. But then came the doubts. Our one bedroom apartment was small as it was. And we already had Yoshi. Where would another dog fit? What if he didn´t get along with Yoshi? And most importantly: were we ready to lose him since he probably only had a couple more years to live at most?
So we put the thought on hold. Christmas was nearing and we told ourselves that maybe now, with Homeforpaws´ promotion, Tomé might find a family. One that had more space and less fears than us. But just as Christmas came, it also went and Tomé stayed at the shelter. Then Tomé went on national television with Homeforpaws, getting even more exposure and having his story told to perhaps millions of watchers. And we hoped again this would be it for him. But Tomé continued at the shelter. And in our hearts. Months went by and every now and then when we´d be spending our evenings at home, we´d say to each other: I think Tomé would be happy here with us. We slowly put our selfishness aside and decided that losing him in a couple of years was a fair price to pay if that meant we could give him some happy final years in the comfort of a family with a way too small house.
And then one day, exactly a month ago, on September 14th we got into our car to head out to Associação Bianca, Tomé´s shelter. We spoke little on the way, we were probably both nervous and afraid that if we´d open our mouths we´d convince the other one that we were making a crazy mistake. Our car was loaded with donations for the shelter and Yoshi was snoozing in the back seat next to all the cat sand and dry food, not knowing he´d be getting a brother in a couple of hours. As we pulled by the gate, hundreds of dogs started barking. We rang the door bell and after a brief introduction to the lady at the shelter, Ana, we started carrying all our donations inside. You might think it´s silly, but as soon as I stepped foot into the shelter´s yard and saw the first dogs in their cages, all my fears went away and to me, it was beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were doing the right thing. Ana thanked us for all the things we brought with us and offered to show us around if we had time. "We actually wanted to meet one of your dogs" I said. "Oh, that´s great! We have plenty of puppies." The yard was empty except for four pups she had released when we got there. The rest of 400 dogs and 70 cats were in their cages. She naturally assumed we were going to go for a puppy. Her face as we told her we actually wanted to meet their Tomé, was priceless.
She took us to the back, where Tomé was sharing a large cage with Canela. All dogs that we saw were in pairs of two in their cages and all had little houses to sleep in. Everything was more than clean, but despite the conditions being much better than expected, I still couldn´t wait to get Tomé to our small home. My heart cried a little as Tomé and Canela got out of their cage and walked right past us, showing minimum interest for me and André. We spent about 15 minutes trying without success to lure him to us. Then Ana asked: "So?". I think I answered for both of us: "We´d like to take him home." "Fantastic, let´s see how he gets along with your dog". She put a leash on Tomé and we left the yard. The shelter being in a rather remote place, the suggestion was to take a walk with Tomé and Yoshi, side by side but without them touching or smelling each other. If that went well, we were one step closer to adopting him. I cannot begin to describe the storm in my heart as we were walking with the dogs: me with Tomé and André with Yoshi. I was in such a delicate emotional state, I had convinced myself André had changed his mind and that unlike the team we usually were, we were now against eachother. I was convinced to show him that the two would get along, but I wasn´t quite sure of it myself.
Luckily, Ana considered our walk a success and asked one last time "So?", to which I think I again answered for the two of us "Let´s take him home." Light paperwork followed as well as some vaccines and his microchip. He had never needed one until now. It turned out Tomé came from a litter of twelve pups. The first nine got adopted when they were babies. The tenth one flew to his new family in Sweden a couple of years afterwards and Tomé´s last brother, Tomas, was adopted a mere two months earlier from a family in the Netherlands. After 12 years, the shelter had lost hope Tomas and Tomé would ever have a family, and yet here we were. We had to lift Tomé to get him into our car, for his second ever car ride. He behaved excellently. On the way home, we called some four dog trimmers to get him an appointment for a good bath. With no one available on such short notice, we scheduled one for a week from that day.
We parked our car next to our house and soon realised we had to take Tomé around the block as he couldn´t walk up the stairs we usually walk up from the parking lot. Tomé had probably gotten very little movement throughout the years so his back legs had basically no muscles for climbing stairs. This was not going to be easy.
One day in and Tomé was hating the kitchen floor because he was constantly slipping on it like Bambi on ice. I almost twisted my hip trying to carry him up the stairs from our lower level apartment. He wasn´t eating. Towards Yoshi he was apathetic and we still hadn´t seen a tail wag. The tv scared him. He wasn´t understanding mirrors. He woke us up at 7am that Sunday to take him out. His nails were too long and making a lot of noise on our wooden floors. And he smelled like a trash can. This was hard but we were going to make it work.
One week in and he had gotten an amateur bath by me and André, which did nothing, and finally a proper dog grooming with turned him into a fluffy teddy bear yearning for your hugs. The kitchen floor was still bad but he was now getting up the stairs with just some pushing and begging. He was now eating, but only wet food. The tv and mirrors were still mysteries.
And finally, a month in, today. Tomé has now had a couple more car rides, even if he now has a temperament towards the car and doesn´t seem to like it. He´s been to the beach. He´s almost run on the sand. He´s lost some weight but gained some muscles in his hind legs. He now walks up the stairs without pushing, even though we still do the begging part. He´s now fully comfortable with the kitchen floor. He sleeps in. On the couch, which he has now made his own. He smells like semi-fresh laundry and loves licking our hands. He wags his tail whenever we get home. He even has a few moments where he almost plays with Yoshi. He eats his own special food now, designed for his old bones and liver.
Sometimes I have this odd feeling that Tomé is a tenant in our apartment and that it´s not really his. But then he´ll come and kiss my nose and remind me we all have to be patient with this new journey. And that whether it lasts a couple of years, months or mere weeks, giving an old dog a family was probably one of the best things we´ve ever done.
If you´re thinking of getting a dog: please, please, please adopt one, don´t buy. And if you can bring your heart to it, get an older one. They might be less fun, more stubborn and want to sleep most of the time, but the love you´ll get in return to offering them a small corner in your house and heart is so worth it. We thought we were going to adopt Tomé, when actually it was him adopting us. And I cannot help but feel eternally grateful for that.
Cristina, André, Yoshi and Tomé.