It’s impossible for me to understand the apathy shown towards old dogs.
These sweet creatures, dumped when they need their people the most, then ignored in shelters because everyone (okay almost everyone) prefers a puppy.
The “old dog” category
People seem to lump dogs of a certain age under the “old dog” category, and assume they are all frail, unable to walk and riddled with illness. Okay, in some cases that’s true, but that is an unfair, and inaccurate assumption.
There are still plenty full of life, energy, and that can run faster than you. They are healthy, happy and great companions.
Does our treatment of the elderly, and our feelings about “old people” translate to senior dogs as well? Is that the problem?
When my love affair started
It feels like I’ve always had a “thing” for old dogs, but I recently became curious as to when my love affair actually started. It was 8 years ago when I first moved to Florida. I went to a shelter to find out about volunteer opportunities and was offered a job, on the spot, in the cat room. I never got a job that easily!
The first couple of days I ate my lunch outside, and read a book. On my way out I would pass the “oldies room” and keep going. Then I thought…how ridiculous to waste my lunch hour, when I could be taking these super cuties for a walk, and that’s how it started.
On my days off I would go and volunteer, walking them, sitting with them on a bench in the sunshine. It wasn’t long before they started coming home with me.
A bad attitude
My heart would ache to see how they were ignored, then I would fume when shelter staff would tell visitors, in a very dismissive tone… “and those are the old dogs.”
Who was promoting senior dog adoption? We, the volunteers, were, with very little success. People would stand outside the gate to their room, gush about how cute they were, then adopt a puppy. Even people who could barely walk themselves would say the oldies were too old.
Is it affordable?
That is a fair and important question to ask, and answer truthfully. If you know you can’t afford vet bills, how about fostering a senior dog? Shelters and rescue groups are always looking for foster parents, and the good thing is they pay the vet bills. Having said that, they’re always in desperate need of funds, so please bear some of the financial responsibility by contributing.
If you can’t afford food and basics, bringing any age dog into your home is probably not the right thing to do.
Keep in mind, just because a dog is old does not mean he has health issues, and youth is no guarantee of perfect health. My 4ish-year-old dog recently became paralysed and that was a $7,000 bill!
Death and disease
If you do an internet search for “old dogs” or “senior dogs” you’ll get article after article about death and disease.
Where are all the articles about the joys of sharing your life with an old dog? Where are all the reasons why senior dogs rock?
The 23 best things about old dogs
They love a good book
When you’re sitting in your favourite chair reading a book, an old dog will be right by your side. Mine are!!
Old dogs have gone through that nipping stage a long time ago and learned better, so you, and your furniture legs, are safe.
No one will be happier to see you
What, you thought only young dogs would be happy to see you? Nonsense…oldies are as happy, if.
Keeper of schedules
Whether an old dog is used to having a schedule or not, in my experience they learn very quickly. They’re happy to eat and go out at specific times, and know that night time is for sleeping, not playing.
Can be trusted when alone
I’m stating the obvious by saying that dogs, of any age, should not be left alone for hours every day. When you do have to leave older dogs alone, they can be trusted longer than younger dogs, meaning your house will look as you left it.
An old dog will likely have had some training, because an untrained and/or badly behaved dog, would not survive long in a shelter. They will have spent years living with a family and learned manners, and commands. A refresher course is probably all that’s required.
Totally devoted to you
Old dogs are just as devoted and eager to please as any aged dog, probably more so if they’ve been rescued from a bad situation and have found, or re-found love.
Keeps you fit
You’ve promised yourself you’d get more exercise, and you still can with an old dog. He has to go out anyway, and if he can’t keep up? No problem, that’s what pet strollers were invented for.
Old dogs are almost always housebroken, or they probably wouldn’t have lasted in a home all those years. Those who have been in a shelter for some time, may have had to “forget” their training out of desperation, because of too few walks.
It doesn’t take them long to remember, certainly nothing like the time and effort needed to train a puppy.
The perfect match for a couch potato
A bit of a couch potato are we? No problem. Find yourself a low energy dog who can’t, or isn’t interested in spending much time walking, then you can channel surf together.
There’s a lot of talk about the importance of showing gratitude daily, and old dogs have got that one down pat. A good lesson for us all.
Perfect match for first time dog parents
If you’ve never shared your life with a dog before, but have been feeling it’s time to change that, an old dog may be the perfect choice. They are lower maintenance, typically require less training, and won’t drain you like a high energy puppy would. Remember, they will still require the same amount of love, attention and sacrifice as a young dog.
Plenty of old dogs have lots of energy, so keep that fact in mind when choosing your new family member.
Excellent therapy dogs
If you’d like to volunteer at a nursing home or centre for special needs for example, old dogs make excellent therapy dogs. They are calmer, more patient, and happy to just sit and be petted. Many senior dogs at the shelter I used to volunteer at were taken to nursing homes, and it made the residents extremely happy.
More relaxation time for you
Picture this scenario. You come home after a long day at work, the puppy has been walked, fed, and calmly relaxing in his crate. It could happen, but it’s more likely he hasn’t been fed or walked, because everyone’s waiting for you to do it. Let’s not even talk about his missed training sessions!
An old dog will be easier for anyone to walk, and no ongoing training needed. If it’s pouring he may be okay with a quick pee and poop in the garden, unlike a young dog that will be bouncing off the walls, trying to work off excess energy.
You may be experiencing some physical limitations that don’t allow you to give a young dog the exercise they need. How about a lower energy old dog that only needs shorter walks? You deserve to enjoy the company of a new best friend?
You’d love to have a dog, but you know in a few years when the kids are all in school you’re going back to work. Or when you retire in X years you’re travelling the world. Perhaps your living situation will change down the track, and you’re unsure how pet friendly your future accommodation will be.
Sounds like the perfect scenarios for a senior dog. The commitment towards his care will be the same as for any age dog, but the time frame will be shorter.
Show some respect
An old dog is long past the “destroy everything I find” phase, so your belongings are pretty safe. They’ll respect your stuff.
An unbreakable bond
Imagine spending your life in a home with a family, then suddenly in your golden years you lose everything. Maybe they spent time on the streets, or chained in a back yard for years? Whatever the circumstances, these old dogs are so thankful for a new loving home, they will develop an unbreakable bond with you, until the end.
Oh, did the backyard breeder you thought was reputable, assure you the puppy wouldn’t be bigger than the 10lb fully grown size you were looking for? You must have been so shocked when he grew into a 30lb dog!
Have your occasional training sessions not produced the well behaved canine you were craving?
When you adopt a senior you already know how big he is, his temperament, his energy level, and whether or not he’s a good match for you, your family and your lifestyle. If the dog is coming from a foster home, you’ll even know how he is with cats, other dogs, kids, men…
Are you a purist?
If you insist on a pure breed, believe me they end up homeless as much as any mix does. Contact your local shelter, breed specific rescue or senior dog rescue. Plenty of old purebreds are looking for homes.
Seniors for seniors
Many older people who still want to share their life with a dog, can find tremendous comfort with an old dog. They are calmer, don’t mind living at a slower pace, and we know how good having a pet is for our health. Some shelters even have a matching program, finding forever homes with seniors for seniors.
You can teach an old dog new tricks
Don’t think just because you adopt an old dog, you won’t be able to teach him anything. Even the most well behaved old dog will have something to learn, to help him adapt to his new life. They are as capable of learning as anyone, and will definitely be more attentive than a puppy.
The most important reason of all…compassion
For me, the most important reason to adopt an old dog is compassion. The epidemic of killing healthy and adoptable animals in shelters continues, so what chance does an old dog have? They don’t deserve to die because they were left homeless during the final years of their lives.
Bringing a senior dog into your home is one of the most compassionate things you can ever do, and best of all – there is very little that will make your soul feel that good.
I truly hope this post on the 23 best things about old dogs, will at least get you to consider rescuing a senior dog, and giving him a loving home at a time when he needs one the most.
Hindy Pearson is a dog trainer and behaviour consultant. She is a long time shelter volunteer, and fosters and adopts senior and special needs dogs and cats. She has a website called Caring For a Senior Dog, and believes the best invention is the pet stroller.