Many question the wisdom of adopting a senior dog given the limited time you have with them.
In Suji’s case, we were blessed to have her for almost seven years.
She came to us via the Pacific Pug Rescue when she was almost twelve, wheelchair-bound, cantankerous and, surprisingly, not very affectionate for a pug. She didn’t mind Akemi, didn’t like other dogs, and certainly didn’t like me who she tried her best to avoid those first couple of days. Akemi wanted to give her a new name to symbolize her fresh start while I insisted that it was madness to rename a dog heading into their twelfth year of life, so we compromised. And Suzy became Suji (short for Sujiko, Japanese for salmon roe).
And so, Sujiko started her new life with us. Due to her condition, her back legs didn’t work so well so she relied on a wheelchair. But she was a determined girl so we decided to test her, exercising her regularly, eventually walking her with a towel to help support her hindquarters – first a few steps, then the length of a street, eventually an entire block. We brought her to therapy (hydro, laser, massage), and, slowly but surely, she regained the use of her back legs. She started walking again. A little wobbly, but she still walked – and we were able to put her wheelchair in storage.
Also due to her condition, she wasn’t able to pee on her own so we learned to express her bladder, first Akemi crouching down with her as the vet videos taught, later me with a standing off-the-hip motion that would worked far better. She was also an oblivious pooper, dropping the occasional nugget until I learned to help her in that respect as well, earning myself the nickname Poop Whisperer.
Suji settled in quickly and grew to tolerate the other dogs in the house, fellow pug Bubba and frenchie Lulu. She actually formed a bit of a bond with laid-back Lulu and, after Lulu’s sudden passing, spent days wandering the apartment looking for her.
Unlike most dogs, Suji didn’t mind being dressed up and she seemed to love the camera, so Akemi had no trouble starting a dedicated instagram page for her, a page that, at last check, had over 52k followers, over 10k more followers than I do despite my 400 hours of produced television including Stargate and Dark Matter.
Like a lot of celebrities, Suji would occasionally get recognized when she was out in public – on the street, in the park, once by a retail worker at Lululemon in Vancouver who rushed out of the store to meet her. And, like a lot of celebrities, Suji was indifferent, grudgingly posing for pictures or suffering unsolicited pats.
Eventually, she lost the use of her legs again but this time, no amount of therapy would help her regain mobility and she was back in her old wheelchair for a time. But eventually the neurological condition she suffered from made even that impossible so we switched to a doggy stroller and she would enjoy the outings, the feel of the rolling wheels underneath her, the sun on her face, being inaccessible to other dogs.
In her later years, Suji seemed to give in to her natural pugly instincts and actually enjoyed being cuddled, usually on Akemi’s lap or when I would carry her in my arms like a baby. That was when she was the most comfortable. And, really, so long as we were near, she was fine. Of course as she got older and her hearing went and her eyesight failed, “near”, became increasingly Suji subjective. She preferred it when I sat on the couch beside her and worked or if she could rest her chin on my reassuring foot while I was at my stand-up desk. The last time we went away (to Japan), she was still mobile and had Lulu to keep her company, so she stayed with a friend. When we picked her up following our two week trip, she absolutely let us have it, barking her outrage in the backseat of the car the entire drive home. But since Lulu’s passing, and Suji’s high-maintenance needs, we shelved our travel plans indefinitely.
Suji turned 18 this past May and, all things considered, we thought she was doing pretty well for a girl her age and were hopeful she’d hit 19 at least. But her conditioned worsened. The vets suspect her neurological condition was slowly working its way up her body, robbing her of the ability to walk, then making the most mundane of things difficult – holding her head up, chewing and swallowing, breathing. We switched to softer food, smaller bites, and then hand-feeding. We tried propping her up so she’d have an easier time of it. Despite our best efforts, she struggled, occasionally choking. I had to perform the doggy Heimlich on her on three separate occasions over the past month.
Ultimately, breathing became an issue so we would lie her with her chest and head propped up, or we would carry her around, again like a baby, to keep her airway clear. But, in the end, even those measures were fleeting and she would suffer scary respiratory attacks where her tongue would turn purple. So we made the decision. The plan was to take her out for burgers and coconut ice cream (to accompany the seasoned chicken Akemi had been making for her, her absolute favorite) and arrange a visit for an in-home euthanasia today. But late yesterday afternoon, she took a turn for the worse – gasping for breath, tongue purpling – so we called our vet and brought her in.
Our vet, and the team at then Queen West Animal Clinic (connected to the Four Paws Rehab center we would take Suji to for her hydro and laser therapy) were amazing and incredibly reassuring. I held Suji in my lap as she drifted off to sleep for the last time.
My biggest regret is that she never got that coconut ice cream.
Now, the house feels quiet and empty. Unusually so. For the first time in almost 25 years, I’m without a dog. And I don’t like it.
For now, Akemi and I will mourn our girl and focus on other things, maybe finally take that long overdue trip back to Japan.
And when we come back, we’ll look into adopting another dog or two, preferably seniors. Because in spite of the limited time you have with them, what may feel like few years to you is a second lifetime to them, one filled with hope and love and fun and affection and sleeping on a huge bed and getting to paint with little sponges on their paws and eating barbecue duck from T&T.
I’ll miss my girl.
I leave you with a few of my favorite Suji videos…