2010-08-18 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Why is it, sir, as we grow older and wiser, we become LESS valued?”

….an astute question asked in a book about the late German Shepherd, Nannie Millie.

With countless invisible, aged pets cast away in our society, destined to die alone, lessons learned from Nannie Millie, this 14-year-old dog found wandering the streets of Rhode Island, inspire us to reexamine our attitudes toward life, death and all senior citizens. In her extraordinary new book, Nannie Millie, author Donna Joseph, oncology nurse and Shepherd savior, chronicles the memories she and her young niece Melissa gathered while nurturing Nannie during the last 18 months of the dog’s life. Amazingly, Nannie isn’t Donna Joseph’s first ancient Shepherd rescue. In 2005, she adopted Chewbacca, a weathered Shepherd at Babylon Shelter. Ultimately, Chewie helped save a place for Nannie.

Nannie Millie      Nannie Millie Donna is the volunteer photographer and a fabulous foster Mom for German Shepherd Rescue of New England (GSRNE). When she came to LI from Boston for Chewbacca, she began posting his joyous journey on Shepherd forums. Chewie had such a cheering squad of dog lovers from everywhere (including a rocket scientist at John Hopkins), that fans kept asking Donna to turn his story into a book. After a muchdeserved retirement, Chewie died just short of his first anniversary with Donna. You can read his “Pets” eulogy archived online at Beacon 7/20/06. (I originally featured him as “Sam Shepard”- an aging hunk).

Later the same “please write a book” request held true for his sweet successor, Nannie; so Donna embarked on a self-published book project, not as a business venture, but instead as a visual vehicle to spread the word about the value of rescue dogs, especially forgotten seniors. She wants Nannie to become an agent of change to help transform the treatment of all pets during their twilight years.

In Nannie Millie, Joseph’s book, stirring photos and moving commentary depict Nannie’s indomitable spirit, though gradually paralyzed from degenerative myelopathy, an affliction common to her breed. Without resorting to heroics, Donna explored ways to keep Nannie safe, comfy and mobile as her disease progressed. She notes: “We focused on possibilities, instead of disabilities.”

Nancy Wimmer of New Jersey, one of Nannie’s internet followers who never met Nannie yet became her official buddy sponsoring the old gal’s “Milliemobiles” including her rickshaw bike, wagon and custom wheelchair. We aren’t talking Chihuahua-size. Up until the very end, Nannie was on the go. She romped in the river with her rescued Shepherd siblings and flourished as Melissa’s four-legged grandma, demonstrating joie de vivre canine-style. Dogs live in the moment. They don’t dwell on the past or worry about catastrophes looming around the bend. Instead Donna bears the burden for her grizzled foster friends.

The author sprinkles short essays between captioned Nannie family photos. Each chapter eloquently conveys a message. Although some shun the old because they can’t face their own mortality, Donna says Nannie was “never more beautiful than in the evening of

her life.” Her unique perspective and medical skills as a cancer nurse sharpened her lens. Her photos grasp how precious each day is. Nannie came home to hospice not to die, but briefly to live anew. Pals who embraced her also acknowledged her “golden years as a blessing rather than a curse.” Nannie reciprocated their devotion.

And in the end when Nannie’s eyes beseeched Donna telling her it was time to let her go, the unthinkable happened at the vet’s office. The euthanasia did not go as expected, and Nannie was still alive after the doctor pronounced her dead and left. Her caretakers’ desperate pleas were ignored. If her guardian had not been a medical professional, would this terrible mishap gone unnoticed? Why Nannie, why this dog who had served as a life coach to so many, why this dog whose every heartbeat had been followed by a legion of admirers?

On some level, if this awful mistake had to happen, it had to happen to Nannie, the wise grandmother dog. Rather than blame or attack, Donna Joseph set out to educate. She addressed her local veterinary community about revising euthanasia protocol so that this mistake would never happen again. In Nannie’s memory, she wanted to insure that all pets no matter how old or ill are treated with respect, dignity and professionalism, and to guarantee that more support be provided for grieving owners, no matter how busy the staff. This final lesson is Nannie’s epilogue and her legacy.

Nannie Millie, soft or hard cover, can be purchased online from Xlibris, Amazon or Borders. It will also be linked to the GSRNE website. Donna Joseph is offering her books to all rescue organizations and shelters at a huge discount, if bought in batches of 100. Thisway the group can use the book as a fundraiser. For more information, contact Donna at donnajo3gsd@ comcast.net. Once you read Nannie Millie, you will never look at an old dog the same way again.

For Adoption at Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset: “Cynthia” #430 is a sweet, quiet Pit mix rescued during Hurricane Katrina by North Shore Animal League. Her owner was forced to move. Interesting. There wasn’t any room at North Shore for a Katrina dog, especially during their latest high profile weekend. Couldn’t she squeeze in alongside the 100+ tiny puppy mill dogs publicized on every news outlet? Meanwhile “Tripod” # 367 is a Pit mix who was most likely hit by a car. Oyster Bay arranged to have his mangled front leg amputated. Tripod is a happy guy who needs to recuperate with that special someone.

Cats: “Barnum & Bailey” #288/287; “Thumper” #345 extroverted tuxedo; “Patches” #190-calico kitten.

More Dogs: “Boo Boo” black Sharpei mix; “Kelly” senior Borzoi mix; dark brown female Chihuahua #452; “Balto” #441-Shepherd /Lab.

Return to top