DEAR JOAN: I read with a great deal of emotion the letter you published recently from the woman who found a badly abused stray whose owners would not take responsibility for it. I agree wholeheartedly with you that taking care of that little dog, even for a short time, was the right thing to do.

Three years ago I adopted a senior dog from an organization called Muttville, which specializes in finding caring homes for older dogs. Madison -- or Maddie, as I called her -- was a loving, perfectly behaved, adorable 10-year-old dog.

I was told when I adopted her that she had a fairly serious heart murmur, but not only was I in love when I met her, I figured if she'd made it to 10 years old, the heart murmur was not going to separate us. I took her to the vet and they ran some tests on her, and scheduled her for some more.

Maddie, a 10-year-old dog, snoozes in her bed. Although Maddie was an older dog with medical problems, Emily Harrison of San Jose took her into her heart
Maddie, a 10-year-old dog, snoozes in her bed. Although Maddie was an older dog with medical problems, Emily Harrison of San Jose took her into her heart and her home. They had one month together before Maddie died, but Harrison cherishes every moment. Courtesy of Emily Harrison ( Emily Harrison )

I had a wonderful month with her. She loved to walk at a very quick pace for miles. After a little hesitation, she took easily to sleeping on the bed. When she wanted to go outside, she quickly learned to bark, and to bark when she wanted to come in. She was so perfect.

A month after I got her I returned from work and found her on the floor in the laundry room, clearly waiting for me to enter by that door to come home. I don't know how long she'd been lying there, but she was going to make sure that she was able to see me one last time.

I bundled her up in a blanket and raced to the vet, but she really had only been waiting for me before she let go. I held her closely as the needle went in to put her to sleep, and I watched her gently breathe and then stop.

I firmly, firmly believe that it was my job to give her that month, the best month of her life, before her time was up, and I am so glad I did my job. I have two rescue dogs now and I love them like crazy but Maddie will never be replaced in my heart.

Emily H.

San Jose

DEAR EMILY: I understand why most people want a kitten or a puppy. Not only are they incredibly cute, funny and sweet, but having them from "the start" gives us more time with them.

Yet what about the older pet who is in need of a loving home?

Thanks so much for sharing your memories of Maddie and reminding us that older and special-needs pets need homes, too. We may not have them for long, but whether it's a month or 15 years, it never is long enough. The important thing is to make the most of the time we do have, and keep them in our hearts forever.

DEAR JOAN: I live in the hills above Aptos. I just discovered some type of nest surrounding the base of my semi-deciduous shrub.

It appears as if something dropped a pile of leaves through the branches into a careful pile at the base of the plant. The pile is about 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide with an access hole on top that's about 10 inches in diameter.

I don't want to investigate any further until I know what it is -- hopefully a desirable critter.

Henry V.

Aptos

DEAR HENRY: Desire is in the eye of the beholder. What you've got there is the nest of a dusky-footed wood rat, also known as a pack rat or trade rat. They are fairly harmless and quite clever. Their nests can get quite large, even though they are solitary animals (except at mating season). The nests are rather like mansions with various living chambers and rooms for storing nuts and leaves.

They also often scatter California bay leaves around their nests to control fleas and other parasites. That's genius.

Contact Joan Morris at 925-977-8479.