On December 10th of this year, we celebrated the one-year adoptiversary of our senior rescue, Holly. And what a year it has been! This spunky, sassy girl’s proper introduction is long overdue (especially since 75% of my Instagram consists of pictures of her!).
Last year was an incredibly heartbreaking one when it came to our pups, first losing Drifter to cancer in May and then experiencing the traumatic loss of my sweet Annie right before Thanksgiving. Reeling from Annie’s loss, I didn’t want to entertain the thought of welcoming another dog into our home right away, but the house felt so empty without a pup.
Eventually I found myself on PetFinder, searching the local area for cocker spaniels. Two results popped up: a young male and a 10-year-old female spaniel mix. I, of course, thought both were adorable, but I was drawn to that senior girl. As an advocate for senior pet adoption, I immediately felt a tug at my heart when I looked at her pictures. She had a chocolate-colored coat with a white face. Her name was Holly.
Her description didn’t include too many details, and I was hesitant to send an inquiry on her, worried that I would become attached immediately, so naturally, I asked Ben to call the shelter and see if he could learn more about her. He reported back, “Kim, you’re going to love Holly.”
The shelter shared that she’d been with them since early November, and a lot of her history was unknown, but volunteers who had walked her described her as an affectionate, sweet low-to-medium energy dog who loved people. Apparently she easily distracted by squirrels and birds on walks, but there were notes that she did walk well and seemed well-trained. She had chronic dry eye, which may have contributed to her being surrendered, and she was also deaf. The health issues weren’t deal breakers to me. If anything, they made me want to love her more.
Ben and I decided we would walk her during an upcoming shelter event so that we could meet her. Even still, I was nervous about meeting her. What if I didn’t like her? What if she didn’t like me? What if she was a good fit? Was I being disloyal to Annie by adopting another dog so soon?
All my trepidation disappeared when the shelter volunteer brought her out for our walk during that Saturday morning meet-and-greet. “I love her,” I told Ben no sooner than I saw her.
We signed the official adoption papers that afternoon. I couldn’t stop cuddling her in the car on the way home.
That car ride was the extent of our cuddling, though, because she showed her independent nature once we settled in at home. As it turns out, she doesn’t really like cuddling. She was definitely curious about me and Ben, but she wasn’t what I would have described as affectionate. She kept a close eye on us at all times, constantly assessing and judging her present situation.
Because of her deafness, we didn’t quite know how to communicate with her, though we had brushed up on doggy sign language leading up to our meet-and-greet in anticipation of possibly adopting her. She was very food-motivated, so that was our best tool for communication early on. And to top it off, she kept peeing on EVERYTHING.
Those first few weeks were tough. She didn’t seem to like me very much, and everything about her was so different from Annie. There were times she seemed happy, but the majority of the time she actually seemed kind of grumpy. She hated belly rubs—what kind of dog hates belly rubs?! As she would lie on the floor, I’d try to cuddle next to her, but as soon as she realized I was near, she’d move a few inches away. I remember crying to Ben on more than one occasion, questioning if we had made a mistake in adopting her.
He would calmly reassure me, “She needed us, Kim.”
Over time, I stopped comparing her to Annie and started to appreciate her for being her own dog. She shares a few traits that Annie possessed, such as her love of playing ball and crawling beneath our bed at night, but she also has a lot of her own quirks that are equally as lovable.
She likes her crate so much that she doesn’t like us to keep the door shut, even when we are home. She taught herself how to open the door from the outside; she doesn’t lie in it when we are around, but she likes having the option available. She likes having the freedom to make her own decisions.
Given her unknown background, the shelter estimated her age. At times we think she’s much older than 11, but she surprises us with puppy-like energy at other times. Despite being a senior dog, she has a mischievous streak also reminiscent of a puppy; she loves sneaking goodies out of unattended trash cans and crawls under our bed with her treasures whenever we forget to keep an eye on her. In a similar fashion, her favorite spot in our backyard is behind a shrub next to our house. At times when we play ball, she’ll sneak behind the shrub for a break, and we’ll see her snout peaking out.
She curls up and falls asleep on/in anything we have on the floor—gift boxes, Thirty One bags, discarded plastic bags…. When I was reorganizing Christmas decorations last year, she hopped into the plastic storage tote and fell soundly asleep. And when we were trying to get her pee problem under control, I resorted to puppy pee pads; instead of using them for their intended purpose, she used them as a bed.
We dubbed her our Holly Bear because she often sits in a way that reminds us of a fuzzy brown bear.
She’s what I describe as a morning dog—she is just so happy in the mornings, always greeting us with a wagging tail, shining eyes and a cold, wet nose. She still isn’t a cuddler, but she shows her affection through her incessantly wagging tail and those sweet spaniel eyes.
And oh, her facial expressions! She communicates so many emotions through her expressions. The first time I caught her pouting in the seat next to me before entering the vet, I couldn’t help but laugh; she looked so pitiful. Car rides either bring her great concern or great joy.
She does like people, and while she usually doesn’t want to be right next to you, she wants to be in the same room as you. She likes to keep an eye on you at all times. Much like Annie did, she runs through the house looking for me. There are times when I’m sitting on the couch and she wakes up and “loses” me so she runs through the rooms until she finds me in the exact same spot I had been all along.
Her love for water knows no limits, and she doesn’t hesitate to let us know when the water bowl is empty. Initially she would kick it around the kitchen, but now she stands solidly in it and stares us down.
The constant peeing? Turns out she had a UTI when we first adopted her. Luckily medication took care of the majority of the problem, though she does still have an accident in the house from time to time. Sometimes I think she pees in the floor out of spite when she doesn’t get her way. I worried that her undying love of water and unending peeing were symptoms of an underlying medical problem, but blood work confirmed that wasn’t the case.
She has, however, had more than her fair share of health issues. In addition to her chronic dry eye, she also has skin issues. In some places, her fur grows beautifully, but then she has thin, dry patches in other spots. A change in dog food has helped with this a bit, and her fur is actually incredibly soft now. Earlier this year we had a few cancerous tumors removed from her legs, but the margins were clean so we are hopeful surgery took care of everything.
We faced our biggest medical challenge this fall when she broke one of her front legs jumping off of our couch. After a series of vet visits, x-rays and consultations, Ben and I made the difficult decision to amputate the leg. She had surgery on Halloween, and I felt so sick over it, but she bounced back even better than we expected. She even still loves to play ball.
We started her on a series of shots to help with arthritis in her other legs. Since she’s a tripod now, we are doing everything we can to take care of her remaining limbs. Ben built a ramp so she doesn’t have to mess with the steps that lead into our backyard. Most sadly for her, though, she’s no longer allowed on her beloved couch. On a few rare occasions, she surprises us by taking a large running start and then hopping onto it completely unassisted. We always closely monitor in these cases, but for the most part, we’ve tried keeping her pretty grounded by making the floor as enticing as possible by covering it in blankets and dog beds.
As the year has progressed, her grumpy demeanor has disappeared, and that’s not just this dog mom’s opinion; our vet has commented on it, as have members of my family. I think when we first adopted her, she truly didn’t know what to expect. Paperwork in her file indicates she had at least two previous owners before us, and there’s no telling what kind of life she experienced as she was shuffled around. She’s stuck with us for the long haul, though.
My vet thinks Annie had a paw in our finding Holly, and she may be right. Even though I still greatly miss Annie and think of her often, Holly has helped my heart heal.
She may have needed us, but I also really needed her.