You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

In many cases, that’s a good thing. Sometimes it works out well to be semi-oblivious when embarking on something new, unknown, different, etc. If I let the unknown hold me back, I would not be where I am in life right now and while life is up and down, I’m largely in a good spot.

This morning, one of my Facebook memories was of my first foster, Nellie (fka Cindy) from four years ago.

I look back on that experience and realize I had absolutely no freaking clue what I was getting myself into. It’s not a secret that when I started volunteering with SNORT, I had no intentions of fostering. Lucy was still a puppy – probably around seven months old or so. Our apartment had space but it wasn’t huge. My job hours were nuts (and remained nuts for the next four-plus years). ­

I’m not even sure what prompted me to change my mind about fostering. Because Nellie was a puppy mill dog, there were no photos of her (the Amish don’t allow people on their property to take photos of dogs they are surrendering). There was zero information about her besides she was a puppy mill mama who was being given up because she could no longer have litters.

But something in me just had to take her in, so we did. I picked her up sight unseen on a super cold, cloudy, depressing January morning, took one look at her, thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into?!” And promptly fell head over heels in love.

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Meeting Nellie for the first time. Love at first sight.

Now with seven fosters under my belt (and hopefully more in the near future), I’ve come to realize there’s a whole list of things I didn’t know I didn’t know before I embarked on this adventure. I was clueless about a lot.

I Didn’t Know:
1. I had such high levels of empathy and patience.
Patience has never been my strong suit. It’s why I’ve remained up in the air about wanting to have kids. But my level of empathy and patience has been practically unlimited with each foster. I don’t even have that much patience with Lucy. But with the fosters? Sure, I got upset when they crapped on the carpet or flipped the heck out during thunderstorms and kept me up for hours. But the amount of poop I cleaned up or the time I spent in the bathroom with a certain foster (Isaac!) during thunderstorms rarely fazed me. I’m not saying I’ve become Mother Teresa, but I’ve learned I have a higher capacity for patience and empathy than I previously thought.

 

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This handsome boy was petrified of thunderstorms.

2. There was so much medical lingo to learn
Entropian. Cherry eye (which I actually learned about with Lucy). Interdigital cyst. Pyometra. Thyroid levels. Seasonal alopecia. Unexplained alopecia. Spina bifida. There isn’t a single foster I’ve had that hasn’t underdone surgery or had a major medical issue. Nellie – heartworm, lyme. Violet (fka Snowy) – spay, entropian, dry eye, bladder cancer scare. Buddy – neuter, dental. Isaac – puppy Prozac, alopecia. Novalee – spina bifida. Blossom – spay, dental (I think). Lady – spay, dental.

I don’t know everything, but I’ve sure learned a lot.

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Novalee had spina bifida but you never would have known it.

3. I’d have to learn to not be squeamish
No sooner had I laid eyes on Nellie than I realized she was leaking…down there. And not pee. It was a…thick goo. Leftover from an infection or a recent litter, probably. But that poor girl just left a trail of gunk everywhere she went for a few days/weeks.

Many fosters have not been housetrained so there’s been countless pee puddles and piles of poo to clean up. So much laundry. Wiping of all bodily areas. I’ve seen tons of incisions, ears filled with wax and countless eye boogers. And let’s not talk about post-surgery poo…

Novalee once ate an entire bag of raw almonds. Let’s just say it became quickly apparent she hadn’t chewed said almonds when she spent three days walking around inside our apartment like a giant pez dispenser of almonds.

I’ve developed a stronger stomach over the past few years.

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Buddy the Pug may have peed on me (and Lucy) a time or two. #maledogproblems

4. That I would handle adoptions better than I expected
Don’t get me wrong, I was a disaster when Nellie was adopted. And tears have been shed every single time a foster has been adopted. I miss them all. But I absolutely love the experience of fostering. It gives me a sense of purpose, something to keep me busy and selfishly, it feels so good be a part of saving a dog. If I had an unlimited budget and a bigger home, at least a few of these fosters would have probably wound up as “foster failures.” But I know going into each foster that I really can’t have two dogs – not enough money, not enough space – and that reality helps when it comes time to find a forever home for each foster. Now, there hasn’t been a foster in which I haven’t uttered the words, “I think I’ll keep him/her,” but deep down I’m fully aware it’s not the ideal option for either party involved.

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Lady, my first foster all on my own.

5. It’s a total team effort
Six of my seven fosters came when I was living with Marty. While the interest in fostering was 100% me, actually fostering was a different matter. When more than one person is impacted by taking on a foster, it becomes a team effort. Maybe not with the equal distribution of work and time, but each person in the home has some added responsibility and stress.

It also takes help from my employers – days I may need to leave early for a vet appointment or even take an entire day off to shuttle a dog to a vet appointment or surgery.

And travel impacts everyone – most holidays I’ve had a foster so that impacts every family we visit over the holidays. Each foster is different and because each was not my own nor raised as my own, their quirks don’t necessarily make them ideal houseguests. So it does indeed take a village.

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Backseat roadtrip buddies.

6. It’s stressful
I believe I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but it is stressful to bring a foster home. The days leading up bringing home a foster are anxiety-ridden. What will he/she be like? Will they like Lucy? Will Lucy like them (probably not). Are they housetrained (probably not)? Will they eat (probably not)? Where will they sleep? Are they super sick? And then once I get them home? What does that bark mean? Are they scared? Why don’t they lie down and sleep? Is that cough normal?

I’m an anxious person by nature so the early days surrounding a foster are really stressful for me. Everyone’s different but stress is one of the overriding emotions for me when I’m fostering.

I’ll never forget one of the biggest sources of anxiety with Nellie – she refused to eat. I tried everything. Dry food. Wet food. Chicken and rice. Wet and dry food mixed. Straight bouillon. Nothing worked. Until it was suggested from a fellow foster mom that she probably had no clue what a bowl was or how to eat out of it. So, I scooped some food into a super shallow frisbee and voila! She was eating like a champ. But I was just so stressed out during those first few days when I could not get her to eat.

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Making a mess; we soon progressed to a frisbee. Baby steps.

7. I would have a hard time saying “no”
I’m kind of a selfish person. Hence the reason I’m not sure I want kids. I like setting my own schedule (when work allows), taking naps on the weekends and essentially doing what I want to do when I want to do it. Fostering puts a crimp in that. Having a foster is double the work, often triple the work. After Nellie was adopted, we were going to take a break and reassess whether we wanted to foster again and how quickly. We’d had Nellie for about six months, I think, which is a pretty substantial amount of time. But roughly six weeks after her adoption, I got a phone call about Violet, saying she needed a new foster home and wondering if I was interested. “Yes” may have slipped out before I could give serious thought to it. Oops.

So despite being a self-proclaimed “selfish” person, I’ve found myself saying “yes” a lot more when it comes to fosters.

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I’m not quite sure how you say “no” to that face.

All of this is to say that fostering is a big (and important) commitment. But there isn’t a single foster experience I regret. Each dog has meant so much to me and I can’t emphasize how much the benefits outweigh the stressors.

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In a Funk

The past two weeks or so, I’ve been in a definite funk. Not sure if it’s the fact that vacation is so close but still so far. And while it is vacation and I. cannot. wait., there’s still stress involved – making arrangements for Lucy, traveling solo, packing, etc.

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Cannot wait to be back here.

I have managed my (diagnosed) depression well for quite a few years now but there are still ups and downs with the downs being probably a bit lower than the average person’s and this is just one of those down times.

But it also hit me the other day – I’ve been without a foster for just about three months now, one of my longest stretches. It’s been a conscious decision – I knew I needed to wait until after vacation – but fostering gives me such a sense of purpose; I feel lacking in purpose without a foster. So I am definitely going to foster again, I just have to find the right foster. I live in such a small apartment (680 square feet) that I’m limited to dogs who don’t need a ton of space and aren’t overly energetic (there is absolutely nowhere to burn off steam in this apartment and with it getting to be hot outside, outside time will be limited for short-nosed dogs for the foreseeable future!).

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Foster #6, Blossom. Her dad sent me this photo a few weeks ago – clearly living the life!

There are still far more good days than bad days and I am loving life in my new home. I feel more refreshed than I ever did at any point during the 10-plus years in my previous career field. To be blatantly honest, it’s wonderful not being the boss anymore! Some people are meant to be bosses and while I’m not saying I’ll never be a boss of anyone again, right now it’s so freaking nice to not be in charge of anyone.

And Lucy has, of course, kept me sane and happy. I just love spending my weekends with her and while she won’t show it, I think she likes our new arrangement.

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Celebrating National Best Friends Day.

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There’s been a lot of this going on.

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Spending lots of time outside.

Four Years Ago…

Four years today ago my life changed in the biggest, best way possible. I brought home my first foster, Cindy (now Nellie).

Looking back on my blog posts from the first few weeks we had her, I had forgotten how much I didn’t know!

Cindy was a puppy mill mama to a “T,” and while they are the most rewarding fosters, they are also the most work, the most depressing (because of their pasts) and the most stressful. I had forgotten she refused to eat for the first few days, snapped at Lucy and had fluids leaking everywhere. I forgot she had no idea what toys were, what food bowls were and what a soft, comfy couch was.

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She was quite the complicated foster and yet from day one I was hooked. I can’t fully express how rewarding fostering her (and every other foster) was. It really hit home when she was adopted. We drove her to her forever home and after getting her settled with her new family, Marty and I got ready to leave. And then she followed us as we made our way to the front door. I remember sitting in my car and seeing her standing at the glass door watching us. It just about broke my heart and I cried the whole way home. But looking back on it I realize the fact that she wanted to follow “her” humans meant I did what I was supposed to do. I made her trust humans; I let her know people can be kind, unlike the humans from her past; I taught her what being a pet is.

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Cindy was the first of six fosters to date. The stress of the first few days with each foster always makes me question why I do it but then after we settle in a new routine, I wonder why I ever questioned my decision.

The rest of my fosters were equally rewarding:

Clearly I’m more than anxious to foster again but now that I’m living on my own in a teeny, tiny apartment, I need to wait for the right foster. My complex doesn’t allow bulldogs (I got in before that rule was passed, so Lucy is fine but I’m beyond annoyed) so I’ll have to wait for a pug or Boston from SNORT. I work further from home than at my previous job which is a negative but I do have weekends free so I know I can make it work. I won’t pretend it will be easy to foster and be in charge of the care for two dogs but I really need to foster again. I have a few hobbies but NONE bring me this level of fulfillment.

Settling In

I’ve been in Lancaster for almost two weeks now which have flown by, thanks in part to work and the move. Besides the physical move, I forgot how much other stuff has to get taken care of! Change of address, new mail key, bills put into my name, items for the apartment I still needed (took me over a week to finally get bath mats). I have a few things left to take care but bit by bit my to-do items are getting crossed off.

I love my new apartment; it’s super tiny (680+ square feet, I think) but it’s perfect (minus the overflowing toilet issue…). The rooms are small and getting furniture in was a bit of a jig saw puzzle but after two weeks things are pretty much in place.

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Lucy was settled in the minute I put her food bowl down.

I found a new CrossFit gym after some trial and error. Did NOT like the first one I went to; in fact, the first time I cried since being out here was after going to that first CrossFit gym. It made me desperately miss my old gym and the people there. Outside of co-workers at Susquehanna, they were my only friends in Selinsgrove. But the second gym I tried was much better and made me miss my old gym a little bit less. It’s less than four miles from my apartment and with evenings and weekends free, I should still be able to get there a minimum of four days a week, five if I really try (5:30 a.m. classes are available three days a week but man, that is early). Still trying to fit in running – early morning running around here isn’t totally feasible right now. I have to be at work at 8 a.m. so it is too dark to run before work because I live near some really busy roads and right now I can’t get into my community building during off hours to run on the treadmill (I need to get on fixing that issue). Nor does treadmill running sound appealing anyway.

Anyway, onto the holidays! Marty and I spent Thanksgiving in Lancaster, just the two of us (and Lucy). I had to work Wednesday and technically my office was open Friday and I did not want to use a personal day so early into the job. To travel both to my family’s (or Marty’s) in one day just did not seem practical so he came down to Lancaster Thursday morning and will spend most of the weekend here. We did manage to make Thanksgiving dinner without any disasters. Next year’s goal? Homemade stuffing rather than the boxed stuff! Feel free to send any (easy) good recipes my way!

 

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Plus, now that I have weekends free, I can get home more often and we’ll be making it back to New Jersey for Christmas. For Thanksgiving, though, it was really nice to just stay put and relax.

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Lucy and I discovered a park just a short drive away.

And I have lots to be thankful for since last Thanksgiving. The bittersweet ending to a job I’d held for six-plus years in a career field that has been my life for 10-plus years. A new job in a new career field. Three successful fosters (Isaac, Novalee, Blossom). A (mostly) healthy Lucy. A new life in a new “city” (while Lancaster is referred to as a city around here, I still can’t refer to it that way with any sincerity). The opportunity to see friends and family more. There’s plenty more – as much as I love to complain, I have many, many things for which to be thankful.

Now onto my absolute favorite time of the year – Christmas! I may or may not have pulled out my Christmas tree at 6 a.m. this morning 🙂

That Was Rough

On Sunday, Blossom was adopted. Cue the waterworks.

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She was adopted by a guy who is somewhere in my age range. He lives in a New York suburb outside of the city and is newly single. He lives in a single story home and does a lot of work from home. I told myself  the only scenario that would be better than our home was an owner who was home more than we are – and we found that. After less than a week on the available page, I was already in touch with Blossom’s new dad and everything was official yesterday.

Blossom is our sixth (!) foster and I don’t have favorites. Seriously. But she was the one I was closest to keeping for a variety of reasons. She is old, she had a horrible life and was bounced around a LOT the last year and yet had made tremendous strides to overcome her past in the two months we had her. And I loved her. I loved everything about her (ok, except her barking!). She and Lucy got along well and Blossom was happy with us. But an even more perfect home came around and I had to let her go.

It’s quiet and lonely at home now. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Lucy and she is more than enough for us – we don’t NEED two dogs around – but it’s funny how quickly you get adjusted to a new normal. Our normal with Blossom was a lot louder but a lot more fun, too.

I already got an update after Blossom got home Sunday afternoon and things are going well. She met some extended family – of both the human and dog varieties! – and the meet and greets went spectacularly well .

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Thanks to Marty for allowing me to bring her home. Thanks, Marty, for leaving it up to me whether we adopted her. Thanks to SNORT for allowing me to foster her and for working in finding Blossom the best home. Thanks to my parents for letting me use their house as the exchange site! As always, this was a team effort!

A Bit About Blossom

We’ve had Blossom for two months today and in some regards a lot has changed and in other regards not much has changed.

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She’s beautiful.

First, she still gets along wonderfully with Lucy. Blossom does not like or have interest in toys so that means she’s got at least one thing going for her, at least in Lucy’s eyes. No interest in toys means no fighting over toys.

While Blossom can be on the….annoying side (more on that later), I think for the most part Lucy likes having a companion. Every single day I come home for lunch, the dogs are curled up together on the couch. They are literally touching every single day. It’s so sweet. So I think the company is good for both of them.

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Blossom is still about as healthy as can be for an old girl. She recovered wonderfully from her spay and dental and besides some achy and stiff back legs, she’s one active little dog. Blossom MUST follow one or both of us if we even so much as get off the couch so obviously her mobility is not limited in the least.

So what’s changed? She has blossomed (pun intended) in the two months we’ve had her. We went from not being able to pick her up, touch her face, touch her paws to being able to (almost always) pick her up, kiss her face, rub her belly. It’s been remarkable, really. It’s the sweetest thing – each morning I go back upstairs after letting Lucy out to bring Blossom downstairs. Lately every morning she opens one eye, looks at me, then rolls onto her back for belly rubs. Then she waits like the spoiled dog she is for me to pick up and literally place her on the floor so she can go downstairs.

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Blossom most definitely knows the word “treat” and “runs” back inside after doing her business to get her treat. That girl moves when food is involved.

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“Running”

Her one major flaw? Her barking. It’s pretty constant and it’s slowly driving Marty mad. It doesn’t bother me nearly as much unless I’m trying to sleep. If she were our dog I might try to do some behavior training but with her abusive background I really didn’t even know how to start…so I didn’t. But if that’s her biggest flaw, I’ll take it. And her cute face MORE than makes up for it.

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YOU try to get mad at that face.

In short, I love her. I love her big eyes, I love how much she’s improved since she’s gotten here, I love her demanding little personality. I love having a shadow follow my every movement. I cannot wait to see how much more she grows.

The Old Lady Gets Surgery

It’s been a while between posts but that’s because things have been very routine, which is good! Blossom has settled right in. She gets along well with Lucy (although we call her the “fun police” because she barks at Lucy when Lucy tries to play), has our routine down pat and has been generally wonderful. No accidents and she sleeps through the night – in our bed, of course 🙂

This past Thursday, though, the time came to get her spayed. SNORT (and I ) went back and forth about whether it was worth it to spay a 14-year-old pug. We ultimately decided that spaying her could only help her odds of being adopted. Plus, we could get a dental done at the same time; since she wouldn’t let the vet examine her mouth during her initial exam, we really didn’t know what we were facing.

I was nervous because of her age but she did fine – better than fine.

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“How do YOU know I’m doing fine?”

I picked her up Friday afternoon and she was very happy to see me – as I was to see her. She was not sorry, however, to say good-bye to the vet. To quote the vet tech, “she doesn’t like us very much.” I’m assuming she was not a happy camper and had several “fits” when they tried to pick her up, put her collar on, etc. Oh well. Everyone survived.

She did lose 10 teeth – teeth that were either broken off and/or decaying. But other than that, the surgeries were routine and she’s doing great. Eating well, moving around well and not at all happy with the cone of shame.

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All cone, zero dog.

All in all, very glad to have this behind us. Surgery and recovery have, so far, been better than expected and now she has a healthy mouth and her spay is all taken care of. Next step – available for adoption?

PS – Lucy says hi.

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Blossom Update

So we’ve had a few highs and a few lows since bringing Blossom home.

Let’s start with the highs:

She’s adorable. So freaking cute. She has an adorable gray muzzle, the biggest cow eyes and the best head tilt in the world.

She has settled into our routine relatively easily. She’s quick to join us (and Lucy) on the couch, knows she gets a treat after doing her business outside, knows our walking route and quickly got into the routine of sleeping in our bed 🙂

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She and Lucy are still getting along very well. Again, I wouldn’t say they interact all that much – Blossom certainly doesn’t play with toys like Lucy does – but they are totally comfortable being in the same room and spend the days sleeping on the couch together.

Blossom’s relatively healthy (more on that in the “lows” section, though). She is perfectly house trained, eats with no issues and gets around wonderfully.

Now, the lows:
Despite appearing to be healthy, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Her levels came back low enough that treatment isn’t necessarily required but we’re still gathering the facts. Ultimately, she might have to undergo treatment for it, which would suck.

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Her “Elvis lip”

She has a few big quirks which I mentioned in my previous post. I cannot touch her feet and when trying to put on her (adorable) new harness we had a not-so-minor freakout that left her “off” for the rest of the night. She was antsy and nervous. Poor thing. I can’t expect years of abuse to be erased in a few days, if ever, but it makes me sad she was scared when I simply tried to put a harness on her.

She is a barker. Fortunately, a 17-pound peanut of a dog doesn’t bark very loudly but it’s still in stark contrast to Lucy.

She’s a velcro dog. This isn’t really a low but I wouldn’t call it a high, either. It’s hard to call it a high when I can’t pee by myself. But she’s so darn cute it’s hard to get angry.

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I cannot get angry at this face.

Anyway, it’s obvious I love her and she is fitting in very well after less than a week. We’re still learning her quirks and I’m very quickly remembering what it’s like having a pug around but so far it has been really good for all of us!

Introducing Blossom

After five long months, we are fostering again!

Meet Blossom:
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That’s right, a pug! A 14-year-old pug, to be exact. I picked her up a few days ago and knock on wood, things have been really good.

Her background is a bit fuzzy. I can only assume she was with one family for nearly all of her 14 years but I honestly don’t know. I do know, however, that the children (and I really don’t know the ages – I’m guessing older kids) in her primary home horribly abused her. I won’t go into the specifics but it was bad enough that she is now terrified of children. She was surrendered to another home roughly a year ago but that home had children and it was quickly discovered that was not a good fit. She was then turned over to a shelter and that’s when SNORT was contacted.

Because she needed a kid-free home and because I was actively looking to foster again, we decided to take her on. She was with a temporary foster home for maybe a week and they were wonderful with her. Blossom learned to better trust people and was already much less skittish by the time I brought her home.

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For an old girl, she moves!

The other reason I agreed to foster her was because she was reportedly good with other dogs and I can say that, as of now, that is true.

She is a true velcro dog and does NOT like to be separated from us. We had her gated in the kitchen for most of the first night and while it was ok, she was pretty vocal about her displeasure. The times she did get near Lucy were fine – she largely ignored her, which is fine by me!

Just a few mornings later, this was the scene on our couch:

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It looks sweeter than it actually was – I think Blossom plopped herself down there and Lucy was too lazy to move but it’s still sweet. The two don’t interact much at all but I’ll take peacefully co-existing 🙂

So, what makes Blossom tick? Besides being a velcro dog, she is definitely on the nervous side. She has definite “no’s” in her book. I can pet her but I cannot grab her face which makes it difficult (ok, impossible) to give her the eye drops she came with. She is iffy about being picked up. Sometimes it’s ok, sometimes it’s not. She’s largely ok with it if I’m lifting her onto the couch to be with us but if I pick her up simply to move her, that is not ok. We did learn that she is perfectly capable of getting onto and off of the couch all by herself, though. And touching her paws is most definite a “no.”

She has arthritis and a bit of a goopy eye which she is on the aforementioned drops for but again, I haven’t gotten the eye dropper even remotely close to her eye, let alone actually get the drops in 🙂

Blossom is pretty spunky for a 14-year-old. Despite temperatures approaching 90 and humidity at approximately 200%, she’s taken some brief walks around our apartment complex and even though her joints are stiff, they don’t appear to be causing her a ton of pain.

Today she got a visit to the vet. Not an easy visit by any stretch but she was a trooper. First and foremost, she’s healthy. No heart problems, lymph nodes are good, etc. She got some senior bloodwork done but pending anything off in those results, she’s as healthy as she can be at this age. We opted not to get her spayed at this time – it honestly won’t benefit her health that much and surgery at her age should only be of the mandatory kind, not the optional kind.

What broke my heart, though, was Blossom’s fear. She was literally shaking like a leaf the whole time. Our vet was wonderful with her and went so, so slowly. She finally let him pet her after about 10-15 minutes but obviously he wasn’t able to do a super thorough superficial exam; luckily what he was able to see was pretty healthy/normal.

For now she’ll be loved and spoiled with us. Every day she gets a bit more comfortable and trusting; last night she slept curled up at my feet and didn’t make a peep all night. I am so thankful she and Lucy largely get along – it makes things so much less stressful.

Blossom is a super sweet girl who’s had a super rough life and while I wish it hadn’t taken her 14 years to find a good home, I’ll make up for lost time.

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My favorite thing – spoiling my dogs.