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Caring for a senior poodle.

Florida Poodle Rescue often receives senior poodles. While many people may first think of younger poodles, senior poodles often are a better fit for people looking to adopt a poodle.

It's important to realize that as a poodle ages, like most dogs, your vet visits may need to increase. Be prepared to properly care and love your poodle.

Petunia's story.

When Petunia became a member of Florida Poodle Rescue, she didn't have a name. She didn't have a tooth on her lower jaw. She didn't have a lower jaw.

She didn't have an extra ounce of fat on her tiny little body. And she didn't have the gay little prancing gait that most toy poodles have.

What she did have was years of abuse and neglect under her belt. A breeding bitch out of a central Florida puppy mill, she had had dozens of puppies and a lifetime of walking on the crosshatches of a wire crate so her delicate, long legs wouldn't slip through the floor and into the cage of the poodle below her.

But best of all, she had spirit.

Her coat was terribly matted and the stench that surrounded her was so bad that I had to drive the roughly two-hour trip with all the car windows down. But she let me know that even though she was in a crate in the back of a station wagon she was enjoying the ride. For probably the first time in her life she felt the wind on her coat and the sun on her face.

Over the weeks that followed the vet determined she was a very elderly girl — probably 16 or so, he decided, before he pulled all of her teeth because of decay.

She cleaned up rather well and became the poster child of that rescue event. She appeared on television. I was her foster mom, and just knew that she'd be adopted because of her confidence, her demeanor and the quizzical look on her face that was the result of her disappearing lower jaw.

But no one called for Petunia. And I was delighted.

That was six years ago. The tiny little black girl who was afraid to walk on the grass, sleep in a doggy bed — better yet sleep in my bed — or enjoy a peanut butter treat now rules my house.

She's the smallest of the group — and she barks the loudest — and everyone else listens.

Many of my kids are on the elderly side. But she lays claim to being the oldest — we figure she's somewhere around 22 or 23.

She still has the funny gait that she developed living in a wire crate, but she loves to sit on the pavers in the back yard and soak up the sun. She enjoys a hearty breakfast and takes a morning nap on her pink polka-dotted dog bed in the kitchen. Around noon she awakens, strolls around the living room, finds the snuggly sheepskin bed and naps till dinner time.

She is the slowest eater but everyone waits till she finishes dinner because they know that dessert treats aren't handed out until everyone finishes their meals. She takes an evening stroll around the backyard and settles down once again in the polka dot bed for an evening snooze. And when we're all settled in the living room watching TV, listening to music or reading, she'll wake up, come over to me and ask to join me in my chair where she settles down next to me and takes a before-bed nap with her head resting on my thigh.

She doesn't ask for much. She never has.

But she gives so much. When Petunia asks to be picked up — and she doesn't very often — you know it's because she really wants to be with you. And when she cleans her plate so that not a crumb is left on it you know it's because she really appreciates her food.

She's an old girl. Her time is limited.

But her love isn't.

So many people avoid giving their love to an elderly dog. They're not willing to take the chance to lose their heart to a creature whom they know won't be around for many years. But how do they know for sure that the puppy they want to adopt will be there so much longer?

They're missing out on so much: love, appreciation, loyalty. Anything you do for a rescued dog is always appreciated. But when you do it for a creature that has lacked love and kindness for so many years, — or who has been discarded because he or she is no longer cute — the gratefulness is more than apparent.

I love puppy breath — what dog lover doesn't?

But give me the breath of an oldster any time ... I know I'll shed many tears when the day comes that I wake up to find that Petunia and her morning mouth are just a memory.

But her memory — and her spirit — will live on in the next senior who takes over my house — and my heart.