In late October 2008, we moved from an inner city suburb to the bayside area, where we had bought our first home, and we decided to welcome a pet into our family. I stumbled across the Best Friends Rescue website, an organisation that rescues animals from ‘death row’ at the pound and then places them into foster care until a forever home can be found for them. It was on this website I found my furry soul-mate. His name was Kayser and he was a 9-year-old Siberian Husky. The title of his profile read “Senior Citizens Need Love Too”. A perfect wolf face looked back at me, and my heart melted at the sight of him. It was truly love at first sight.
I called the foster home immediately to arrange a meeting with Kayser that afternoon. When my husband and I got there, Kayser was so excited to see us. He was particularly friendly to me straight away, running around me and trying to lick my hand. His foster-mum said this was extremely unusual behaviour for him as he had been with a few different carers and was normally quite hesitant when meeting new people.
There was no decision to make. I already loved the old boy with all my heart and I was taking him home.
Kayser had a good sniff around his new home and he seemed to approve. The next few days were spent showering him with cuddles and spoiling him. We wanted him to settle in and feel nice and secure.
About 3 days after we got Kayser, I had a look through his paperwork and found his vaccination card. Inside the card was listed Kayser’s old address. Before he had been surrendered, he lived with his family in the house directly across the road from the house we had just moved away from. I could not believe it! I instantly remembered a pair of beautiful huskies being walked past our house each day when I lived there. I also recall saying to my husband “When we get our own house, I am getting one of those dogs….” Little did I know at the time, I would end up literally with one of those dogs walking past my house!It makes a lot of sense now as to why he was so at ease with me straight away. For four years Kayser had seen me walk past his house twice a day, to and from the ferry terminal to go to work. He knew me all along!
When I made the decision to adopt Kayser, I knew it would be tough. He was an old dog who would almost certainly have health problems. I also realised that such a beautiful looking creature had to have been surrendered for a reason. Biting maybe? His carers made sure we didn’t have children first, so obviously they were cautious about something. But like I told my husband, we were not getting him for the entertainment and ‘warm fuzzies’ that he could give us. We were adopting him for what we could give to him. His reputation was that he could be a little unpredictable. As a result, he had been shuffled from carer to carer to keep him off death row. His prospects were looking pretty grim. So I had made the decision to adopt him and love him, but also, respect him for what he was: A grumpy old wolf; a notoriously stubborn breed, at an age where he was virtually incapable of being retrained to fit anyone’s mould. We had to be prepared to just let him be him.
Well, it is amazing what love can achieve! Every day that I came home from work, Kayser would be out the front waiting for me, yapping and excited. I made a point of greeting him first and spending time with him, before anyone else.
I could now even pat Kayser when he had a bone and he wouldn’t growl at me. Although, no one else would get away with this, and only my husband was ever brave enough to try it! A curl of the furry upper lip was enough to warn him off.
I could put his food down in front of him and he would sit still, eager eyes watching his bowl, waiting for me to give the command “OK” which meant he could eat. Then he would happily dive right into his home-cooked dinner of kangaroo mince, chicken mince, veges and kidney beans.
We started to take Kayser down to the local off-leash dog park. Well, he simply blossomed! He would trot along beside us proudly with his head held high and straight, like a little grey dressage horse. He would run and play and sniff to his heart’s content. He played very happily with other dogs and never showed any signs of aggression. Sometimes, his biggest problem was that he was too lovey-dovey with other dogs, if you know what I mean! In particular, he was quite fond of smaller dogs and would play with them for hours. Even if they snapped at him in fear, he would just blink and doggy-smile back at them.
It was clear to us though, that he didn’t like being petted by humans outside of his ‘pack’. If petted, he would jerk his head away and snap lightly at the air, as if to say “Stop right there!” So we just accepted this trait in him, and would ask people to admire him from afar but not try to touch him, explaining that he was very old and cranky. Even though he never bit anyone at the park, or even tried to, whenever a small child came in, we would always put his lead on him, just to be safe.
The interesting thing about adopting an older pet is that you get to know them over a long period of time. They continually surprise you with their emerging traits and quirks. For example, we discovered that Kayser loved Christmas! We put a doggy stocking under the tree, for him, filled with all kinds of yummy snacks. Now, Kayser refused to take a treat unless it was physically given to him by one of his ‘pack’ (another of his interesting traits we discovered!), so we figured the stocking wouldn’t get raided and would be safe under the tree.
Somehow, Kayser knew there was a gift for him under that tree. All day and night he would keep his vigil at the tree and make sure no one got his gift.
His stunning golden eyes were focussed on that stocking and he didn’t let it out of his sight!
If you tried to reach your hand in towards his stocking, watch out!
In September 2010, Kayser started screaming in pain when he tried to walk. He would suddenly jump up and run around in circles, yelping in agony. X-rays revealed that he had a degenerative spinal disease which was causing several of his vertebrae to knit together. The bones were pinching into his spinal cord. We were happy to pay for the expensive $70 per week painkillers to keep him comfortable for the rest of his life, but unfortunately, the strongest pills available did not do anything to lessen his pain. After a torturous week of seeing no improvement, we sought the advice of his veterinary surgeon, Selina, and made that tough decision. I was not willing to hear him cry any more. Kayser was put to sleep, in bed with Mum and Dad cuddling him, aged 11 years old.
Even though I never expected it in the beginning, Kayser gave us so much more than we could ever hope to give him in return. He lit up our life like a beacon and filled us with joy every single day that we had him. He was a gift to us and I feel so honoured to have had him in my life. The thought that such an amazing, intelligent animal so full of life could have been put down is unfathomable to me.
If you are thinking of getting a pet, particularly with Christmas approaching, please refrain from buying your animals from a pet store. You will only be supporting the cruelty of back yard breeding. I urge you to take in a rescued pet, and please, don’t shy away from taking a Senior Citizen. There are so many wonderful, loving animals just waiting for you to shower them with love and TLC. The reward to you and your family will be immeasurable.
To my boy Kayser.
I will never forget you. I love you with all my heart and I know you will walk alongside me, protecting me always.