Fortunately, many of us (me included!) take on dogs that have traumatic backgrounds or unknown backgrounds and work for often long periods of time to create a happy animal. Whether a stray, a surrender from an acquaintance, or from a shelter, the older animals are often (usually?) overlooked. They are not as cute as the puppies, they may have emotional issues from the past, and possibly have or may develop health issues. Nearly 3 million senior dogs are put down every year in overcrowded shelters around the country. Yet for me, adopting a senior dog is one of the most rewarding things I do.
There are a number of very good reasons to adopt an older dog.
- They may not show it right away, but they are really, really happy that you picked them. They may show it is subtle ways or they may want to be with you constantly. But they will always be grateful.
- An older dog has more life experience and may already be trained in many ways younger animals are not. From hunting skills to playing ball to already knowing about house training, part of the fun of taking in a senior dog is uncovering what he already knows. The first time I said “Sit” to try to train Sally to focus and Jax’s hindquarters dropped, I was ridiculously thrilled.
- No matter their age, all dogs are entitled to the best possible life they can have. As a senior person myself, I have so much to offer and want every day to be filled with experiences. Senior dogs do, too.
- Many shelters will offer discounted adoption fees or even will give away a senior dog with neutering, microchip, and shots! Some organizations like Old Dog Haven in Washington state rescues senior furbabies from shelters that are in danger of death and takes care of their vet needs. On top of that, when people “permanently foster” them, their vet bills are covered for life.
- You don’t have to wonder what he/she will look like when fully grown. Sally’s previous owners through she was a mastiff and would get about 150 pounds. She’s actually a mix between a Corgi and some sort of Shepherd and weighs about 40 pounds. But she still rules the roost in my place as the only girl.
- That “chewing puppy” phase is a thing of the past. I quit keeping track of the electrical cords, shoes, articles of clothing, computer mousepads, pillows, and more that have met their end at the hands of Sally. I sure hope she grows out of this soon. My house have everything put up at least three feet to try to Sally-proof my home. Not one of my senior babies chewed on things.
There are also some real potential problems with taking an older dog into your home and your heart.
- They probably will not live as long as you would expect a younger pet to be with you. But animals that are not older may also have accidents or illnesses that will strip them from your lives. Whether old, young, or inbetween, savor each day and experience you have with your pet.
- They will need to be retrained. Why would they? All my adopted dogs were already housetrained. The worst was and still is Sally The Destructor and she’s just over one year old. Older dogs can actually be easier to train because they can focus and really want to please you.
- Senior dogs aren’t playful. Baloney! If they are healthy, they will remain active their entire life. Watching Buddy play tug-of-war with a toy with puppy Sally never failed to make me laugh.
- You’ll inherit someone else’s problems. Senior dogs are usually given up because their original owner couldn’t take care of them anymore. If they had any serious problems, they would probably not been looking for a new home at their age. On that note, read the paragraph below about my Hondo, who had PTSD. He never got over his terror of gunshots or fireworks, but he was a really wonderful boy.
If a senior dog is healthy, it will remain active its entire life.
My first senior adoption was my beloved Buddy. I adored him from the first minute he walked to my car and got in. His single male owner had him and then got married with kids and the mom was afraid Buddy was too aggressive. How his owner was able to give up this wonderful boy after seven years, I will never know. I lived with The Budster for almost three years practically 24 hours a day and once on a walk in the park in the dark, he hurled himself at a man who was going to attack me before I even knew the creep was there. When Buddy turned ten years old, his big old body just gave out. I thought I was going to die with him. Buddy will always be my “heart dog” and I miss him every day.
I’ve mentioned in another article about my rescue Lady. She was in the Houston flood and was brought to Amarillo. I went to the shelter looking for a senior as company for my old Buddy, and was told she was about six; however, my vet thought she closer to nine! When a small dog reaches the age of 7, he’s considered a senior and a larger dog gets the label when he’s only 5 years old. Lady only had four back teeth because the others were all rotten and removed. Her original Lab-type ears are thick and deformed from a lifetime of untreated ear infections. She was almost completely deaf, and never got excited about anything – never played, never cared about other pets, didn’t cuddle up with Buddy. After eight whole months, I realized she had been in a sort of depression. Suddenly, she would bark for feedings and walks and constantly begged for pets. I suppose she finally realized she had a loving forever home. When I had Lady for ten months, she suddenly couldn’t get up. I rushed her to the vet ER and was told she had burst an internal tumor and was bleeding out. I quickly gave them permission to put her down. It was heartbreaking, but I knew I had given her ten good months and a loving home.
When I went back to the same shelter to replace that big hole Lady left in my household, I was told Hondo had come in on the same truck from Houston, but after a year, he was still there. I know now how hard that must have been for him. A stray for seven years, he was picked up and placed in a concrete place with noise and people he was afraid of. They didn’t expect me to take him because he wasn’t friendly at all, but I did. It took six months for him to come in the house (initially from thunderstorms and fireworks), but by June 2019 he was part of the pack. He would come for brushing and playing and as the oldster, the other dogs respected him. The first time he looked into my eyes, I did a victory dance!
Then one day, as he was lying beside my chair while I worked, he arched his back and gave a cry. I looked down and he did it again. Before I could even reach down to comfort him, he was gone. Although we only had eight months together, of all my dogs, I will remember Hondo as The PTSD Boy that was Changed By Love.
If you are needing help in learning about taking in a senior dog, get a copy of Laura T. Coffey’s book, ‘My Old Dog’: How to Lend a Senior Pooch a Helping Paw. Even if you are not in a position to adopt an older canine, consider putting one of the many organizations that help them by putting them on your list of charitable contributions. Animal Defense League of San Antonio, the no-kill shelter where I met Lady and Hondo, automatically drafts my account every month for my donation and I get a “Thank you!” email each time.
What are some of the organizations that work to find homes for senior dogs that I can call about adoption or to give a donation to help?
How can you get over the grief of losing a dog, no matter how long you had them?
Seriously consider getting a replacement pet. Give any other animals a period of adjusting to their loss (she was their family, too!). As for me, I ran out as quickly as possible because I couldn’t stand the empty space in my home where I saw him or her every time I looked. Also, getting another dog will give honor to your baby that has passed by giving the animal a chance at the home you offered before. Don’t expect the new pet to act like the other one – each of us is our own person. You may even consider fostering, which is taking in a pet until someone wants to adopt it. If insurmountable problems are revealed, like Hondo thinking a chihuahua was a toy, you can return the dog to the shelter. If you decide to adopt it, you become what is known as a “Foster Fail”, loving your foster dog enough to never let it go to someone else.
In conclusion . . .
Several years ago, my daughter Cassandra lost her cat Hunter to accidentally poisoning. She got him just out of high school, got married, and even named her son after him! She denies this, but I know the truth. When he passed, she was beside herself. She asked me why we have pets when it hurts so much to lose them. I told her, as I tell you now about adopting a senior dog, that it isn’t the pain of the loss that you should remember, but all the love and companionship and good times you had together. Please consider the literally millions of senior dogs waiting for their second chapter of life, offering themselves to you. I can almost guarantee that you won’t be sorry.