The Life and Death of an Elderly Dog Gives Us Hope

RIP Gizmo
By Finnegan Dowling, February 2016

You wouldn’t think that the passing of a 13-year-old dog could be considered sudden, but it was. Gizmo had some issues, but none were life threatening and all were under control. Which is why it was a shock when, after seven months in our care, the elderly terrier went into renal failure.

Gizmo didn’t have a home, but he did have a family of sorts, houses he loved to visit and a good life. When he passed, he was attended by one of his best friends, a staff member who took him home for sleepovers and frequently shared her office with him. The vet who had steadfastly monitored his care was there. He didn’t die surrounded by strangers and he didn’t die because he didn’t have a home. He died because he was old and his body couldn’t go on anymore.

When we met Gizmo, he was a mess. He had only three teeth in his head, and his tongue hung out to one side. His coat was so thick and tangled that he looked more like a bathmat than a dog. He wheezed and sneezed. But with his little, brown, button eyes and low wagging tail, he was irresistible.

Found on the streets, he was running out of time at a crowded city shelter. When the shelter let us know that he needed help, HSSV transport coordinator Candy swooped him up and brought him back to us.

Gizmo spent the majority of the seven months he was with us in foster care. While he came in for doctor visits and adoption fairs, he lived the life of a normal dog: He went for walks. He rode in a car. He slept inside. Because he was so “dentally challenged,” his meals were specially prepared. (He left a debris field when he ate, which no one thought was a big deal.) When his wheezing and sneezing proved to be asthma, we got him an inhaler. We took him to a local television station to film a “Perfect Pet” segment and he stole the hearts of everyone on set. We believed in our heart of hearts that there was a forever home out there for him.

When his foster parent was no longer able to care for him, he spent most of the time in behavior programs manager Michelle’s office, waddling after her with gusto. Due to his mellow nature, he was given the run of the joint so he could follow her wherever she went. Some nights, he went home with her, others, he went home with volunteer Kelly, who took him on beach outings and made sure he got his walks. Because Gizmo loved walks, even if he couldn’t keep up.

And eventually, he did steal someone’s heart. The potential adopter had to go out of town for a few days, so while he waited, Gizmo hung with Kelly.

But one weekend, he stopped eating and became lethargic. A blood test confirmed that his kidneys had begun to fail. There was no cure and there was no comfort. Amid tears, the decision was made to euthanize him.

While this wasn’t a happy ending, the story of the last seven months of Gizmo’s life is a triumph for many reasons. He had a big life. He went on TV. He went to the ocean. He went just about everywhere and hung out with his buddies all the time.

Gizmo didn’t have a big life because he had a bucket list or because anyone felt sorry for him, but because, with the aid of awesome foster parents, that’s what we could offer him. Foster parents like Kelly have taken many dogs to the beach and given them islands of normalcy during transitional points in their lives. He went on TV because our local media supports animals and wants to help them find homes. He had a great life because people cared.

More amazing than the fact that he had a normal life was that he had a life at all. Ten or 20 years ago, the script for a stray, elderly, special-needs dog would have been very different—he would have been written off as a hopeless case. Instead, staff at the busy city shelter went out of their way to give Gizmo a second chance. They were certain that with a more time and more care, a dog like Gizmo would find a home.

That certainty speaks volumes about where we are as a society.

Another reason Gizmo’s life was a triumph? There were options like HSSV available to him. There were arms willing to welcome him. Candy, Kelly, our medical staff, our receiving staff, our managers: nobody balked at taking on Gizzy and his issues. That’s what we’re here for. Us being here, and being embraced by our community, is a triumph in and of itself.

No, Gizmo’s story doesn’t have a textbook happy ending. There are no unicorns, no sunsets, nothing to wrap it up in a happy bow. It does, however, demonstrate how far we’ve come.

RIP Gizzy. Thanks for everything you taught us.