While October was Adopt a Shelter Pet month, November has a more specific focus: Adopt a Senior Pet.
Mostly people pass over the oldsters in the shelter in search of a young dog. Unfortunately “senior” labels are applied in some shelters to pets as young as six years old! Six is not senior unless you’re looking at a giant breed dog. Six is often the prime of life! And especially for cats.
I understand the idea of wanting to get a pet who will be with you for a very long time. But depending on what you’re looking for in a companion, an older pet might be better suited for your lifestyle. Many of the young dogs in the shelter are large and unruly, with minimal self-control and nearly no manners. Many of them are nice! dogs. They’re happy and they want to play play play. But they require a LOT of effort on your part. Training, enough exercise to tire them out so they’re not over the top in the house. Dealing with the things they’ve chewed up. Not that young shelter dogs aren’t great! But you need to know what you’re getting into if it is going to work.
An older dog presents a different set of issues. Often they’re mellower, housebroken, and they crazy edge of youth has worn off. They’re not into everything ALL THE TIME. Their physical exercise needs are often more easily met and put less strain on the relationship.BUT you are also looking at getting into the time of life where more physical problems start to crop up. Joint problems in bigger dogs which can require Joint Supplements or pain medication. Dental issues. All of the older dog diseases like hypothyroidism. So before you jump into adopting an older dog, it is good to make sure that you’re financially able to deal with what you have ahead of you.
The truly senior pets languishing in shelters are what truly break my heart. They often wind up there through no fault of their own. Their owners die. They’re victims of divorce. They just aren’t that interesting anymore. It’s sad. It’s world-rocking to any pet, but especially to an older pet, to end up in a shelter environment. And it makes me terribly sad to think of them living out their last days without someone who truly loves them.
It takes a special person to bring home a truly elderly pet. It’s not something everyone can do, and it’s not something everyone should do. I have done it twice now. My first old dog was a 15 year old Miniature Poodle whose owner had to go into a nursing home. She was a high maintenance little dog with a slew of health problems, but after a lot of long hard soul-searching, I took her on as my very first dog. It was hard sometimes, but it was also wonderful. She was senile and silly and delightful. She was extremely attached to me. (That myth that a dog adopted at an older age won’t bond with you is sooooooooo not true.) I had her for about 18 months before she passed away. It was hard to see her go, but I knew that I had given her what she deserved for that time, and I felt good about that.
So good, in fact, that several years later I went out and brought home an old pit bull mix from a shelter. He’d been in and out of the shelter several times, had lived there for a year, and nobody ever even looked at him. It’s really amazing he lived long enough for me to meet him and save him– an old black bully breed is often tops of the euthansia list. But the people at that shelter saw something in him. And I saw it too.
Harvey was a hilarious dog. He was so sweet and eager to please but he was senile and kind of dumb as a stump. I took him to beginner obedience class. He learned to sit and to shake hands and that is all. But it was great fun anyway. He was very much an old man, but he’d still get the puppy zoomies at meal times and made me laugh and laugh. He was a sweet, gentle, placid dog. Not until after he passed away did I learn he had been a cruelty seizure years ago. I never would have guessed that from the way he acted. He loved everybody. Amazing how these dogs can trust when they have every reason not to.
Loss hurts whether it comes after only a year or it comes after 14 years. I do think it is a different kind of loss. When you get a pup, you’re looking at having that dog for years and years. If that is cut short prematurely, it’s a true tragedy. And if you come to the end of those golden years, you have so much to look back on. But when you go into a shelter or a rescue mentally prepared that you’re going to bring home a pet that you will likely not have for a long time, you develop a different kind of relationship. No less close. No less affectionate. But you know. You know what you’re doing, you know what you’re facing, and you know that it is so worth it to that life you’ve provided, finally, with his forever home.
I would love to see more people even consider adopting older pets. Sometimes you’re the right person for it, the right family for it, and sometimes you’re not. But I would love to have more people at least think about it realistically and maybe they will find out as I did, as so many others have, that providing a cushy retirement home for an old guy in need could be a very rewarding part of life.