“I could never adopt a senior pet. I can’t go through loss again so soon.” “Old dogs cost more to take care of.” "There must be something wrong with that dog if her owner gave her up after 8 years.” These are common comments heard at shelters across the nation. I’m letting you all in on a big secret: if you are lucky enough to adopt a senior shelter pet, it will change your life.
My family was not looking for a dog when Rocky entered our lives. He was originally adopted as a 3 month old puppy and returned to the shelter at 7 years old. When asked about return reason, Rocky’s owner said “There’s nothing wrong with him, we just don’t have time for him anymore.” When they left, one of his kids said “Bye, Rocky, I’ll miss you.” Heartbreaking…
Oftentimes, dogs living in a home for many years have a harder time adjusting to shelter life than strays or those from other shelters. I’ll never forget how Rocky wouldn’t lay down in his run at the shelter, and he whined pitifully and was inconsolable. I was asked to bring him home as a foster to determine his true personality. Little did we know how deeply this old shepherd would embed himself in our hearts. Rocky was ours for seven years. He was the best behaved dog we ever had. He was already housebroken, never chewed anything, did not beg at the table; not even once, and was fine with other animals (even annoying foster puppies who came and went over time). He was my shadow; my constant companion, following me everywhere. It was as if he was so grateful to be back in a home, he wanted us to know. He was such a loyal, loving guy. When Rocky left us, he took a piece of our hearts with him. He was so special and we couldn’t imagine not having had the chance to be in his life.
When you visit a shelter, don’t overlook the seniors thinking you will be heartbroken if they die too soon. Small breed dogs can live to 20, so at 10, they are only middle-aged! Love is love and it comes with loss at some point. Senior dogs are an open book, what you see is what you get. Most seniors are potty trained and have already learned their manners. I always suggest a senior for busy families with younger children because they don’t require as much training and tend to accommodate their family instead of the family accommodating them. The idea that senior dog care costs more is just not true…Puppies need more vaccines, more check-ups, and they get into things they shouldn’t and cost you a trip to the emergency vet. A dog of any age can become ill or injured.
Rocky was not a anomaly. Fantastic dogs of all ages and breeds are given up every day through no fault of their own. People’s lives change. They find they can’t afford their pet. They may have to move to assisted living or take in a family member who is allergic. Maybe they changed jobs and travel more. Shelter dogs are not damaged goods. Senior shelter dogs have such amazing hearts, they are the best kept secret in sheltering. Next time you visit your local rescue organization, take special notice of and seriously consider a senior dog. You will never regret it, I promise!
Sarah Stromberg (Animal Care Manager, WSHS)