To start with, we renamed him Rambo. It seemed fitting for a German shepherd. The "B" honors Biggie, our departed 13-year-old shepherd mix. And he certainly looks like he's been through a war. He was 53 pounds when he was found, and 84 the day we brought him home. At his last vet's visit, he weighed in at 133.4 pounds. (Our vet told us to go easy on treats and get him back in the 120-pound range.)
Judging from the calluses on his elbows, it appears he lived much of his life outdoors. Now, though, he lives like an indoor house cat. We rarely leave him in the yard, and my husband and I stagger our schedules so that he's never left alone for very long.
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Not that he'd notice. Rambo naps like he gets paid to do it. You can usually find him snoozing on a rug just inside the front door, a spot that provides maximum barking opportunities at passersby and the postman.
His skin condition continues to be a challenge, but it is vastly improved. His lower back used to be hairless except for the occasional tuft jutting up between his many scales and scabs, all caused by an aggressive yeast infection and chronic allergies. Now, he sports a rich, thick, glossy coat and that traditional shepherd's "collar" around his shoulders.
He might be wearing a wristwatch too under all that fur. He spends most of his days holding down the floor, but about 6 p.m. each night, like clockwork, he gets to his feet. It's time for his walk.
We set out to spoil him, and we might be getting close. Rambo takes a fistful of medications and supplements each day, but administrating those pills can make for drama.
My husband came home one night recently to find me making chicken liver pate. "I can use it to trick Rambo into taking his pills," I explained. "Who's tricking who?" my husband wanted to know.
Before Rambo, every dog I ever had started out as a puppy in my care. I'll never adopt another one, though. That's because there's almost always someone who will adopt a puppy. But there are far fewer people willing to take an older dog.
Taking in an older dog like Rambo has been one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences of my life. True, it also sets us up for heartbreak when the moment comes — and it will come sooner rather than later — that Rambo succumbs to old age.
So my husband and I have made a pact. Instead of tears, we'll find solace knowing that we accomplished what we set out to do: We took in a dog that no one else wanted, and we showered him with love, affection and dog biscuits on the last leg of his journey.