Old, deaf and practically toothless: meet the 13-year-old collie-whippet who found herself homeless a little late in life. Having successfully tucked on a human’s heart string, Sophie is proof that oldies are goldies. Writer Kayleigh Rattle tells their story
Six months ago, my partner James and I agreed to look after a dog for the weekend. It was a favour for a local dog walker and, in all honesty, a bit of an inconvenience at the time. We almost said no. But we were assured that, as the dog was on the elderly side and liked to sleep, she wouldn’t be a problem. So we welcomed Sophie, the 13-year-old collie/whippet into our home – and let’s just say things were never the same again …
My boyfriend and I both grew up with dogs, and it was evident that we’d get one together one day – but our respective jobs prevented us from ever turning a much-conversed-about dream into a reality. Having Sophie for the weekend well and truly brought the conversation to the fore. We registered our details at dog rehoming charities, and I set about doing something I’d been thinking about for a while: braving the world of freelance.
We scrolled through endless pictures of dogs who needed homes. We read bios for quirks and temperaments, and made a list of the qualities we’d be looking for in our candidate dog. We agreed that, ideally, our future dog would be small-to-medium sized (we live in a tiny cottage), must not like the sound of their own bark (again, an end-of-terrace cottage makes for some very thin walls!), and must get on with children and cats. Preferably, they’d be no more than a couple of years old – a good enough age so that we could hopefully live a long, happy life together.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about our weekend with Sophie. The warmth she had brought to our home, the sound she made when she ran around in circles chasing her tail, that loving look in her eyes and the vigorous wag of the tail every time she saw us. I didn’t know much about her home life, so I presumed she had a loving owner, and I busied myself with my new working situation, not quite admitting to James that perhaps the reason we hadn’t yet come across the perfect dog was because we’d already found her …
Call it serendipity, call it fate or simply just a coincidence, but not long after I’d adjusted to working from home, I received another call from the local dog walker.
“I know this is completely out of the blue …” she said.
“Yes!” I cried before she’d even finished the sentence. “Yes, we’ll look after Sophie again!” There was a long pause.
“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that,” she went on to explain. “Sophie needs a long-term home.”
Sophie’s elderly owner had been in and out of hospital for months and, sadly, could no longer provide for her. In turn, and unbeknownst to me, Sophie had been going through a bit of a rough patch: on top of being separated from her lifelong owner, she’d been temporarily re-homed, only to encounter a several hostile cats. Sophie was 13, deaf and homeless. Who would take her on, the dog sitter asked in a panic?
But not without some lengthy discussions first. Sophie barely had any teeth, was slight of hearing and her eyes were starting to cloud. In human years, she was 91. An elderly, fragile being in a precarious situation, not to mention somewhat traumatised by the aforementioned cats. And what would happen when … if … how long … ?
I’m happy to say we pushed the uncertainties aside and welcomed this wide-eyed, loving canine into our home with the hope and intention that we’d give her the happiest of twilight years.
Of course, we knew that taking on a dog with 13 years of learned behaviours and quirks – and disabilities – would require some adjustment for all of us. Certainly, we’re finding that Sophie is a lady who knows exactly what she wants: human beds and sofas only, please. Any obstruction to either of these (we’ve tried putting down tinfoil, chairs in place of cushions, stair gates on the stairs) is an exciting challenge for this wily and still nimble pooch.
Games aside, there are of course some truly challenging and testing times – now and probably in the future. There have been protest wees when we’ve tried to convince her to sleep downstairs, and territory marking when we’ve closed the door for more than a couple of hours.
“Is it stressful, difficult?” my friends and family ask. Yes, a little. I say. But what’s a little wee in the face of boundless love and happiness?
Each day with Sophie is at once a learning curve, and a blessing. In spite of her diminutive build (we think she looks more like a corgi or fox than a collie/whippet), there’s a power between her paws and what she lacks in teeth she sure makes up for in energy. Walk her and she’ll become even more energised. Take her off the lead and she will outrun any greyhound in its prime, her large, characterful, spotty ears point north as she gallops. The sound of thudding paws is broken up by my cackles of laughter and surprise at her brazen defiance of age.
Just last week we took her for a walk along a nearby estuary. We followed the winding trail along the river as far as it would go, until it met only water. Standing at the edge of a small ravine, we were admiring the view when Sophie unexpectedly launched herself off the top of the pathway, a couple of feet below us. Deftly picking herself up with a grin, she sautéed around in the mud, until her white feet were sporting what looked like black patent boots.
We’re incredibly lucky that she has well and truly fallen on her feet, and found loving owners. Sadly, a lot of older dogs in need of forever homes don’t.
We have no idea how long we’ve got left with Sophie – it could be years, it could be months, it could be weeks. But we’re not going to let that hold us back. After all, we could say the same about life, couldn’t we? We don’t know how long we’re going to be on this crazy, rotating thing called earth. All we can do is give it our best shot, and hope for the best – championing the underdog all the way, of course.