By Sarah Liu & Cindy McGovern
“Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.”-
Sydney Jeanne Seward
While the quote refers to dogs, the same can be said of cats and for that matter, any animal. Who can resist an adorable kitten or puppy? The ball of fur sprinting across the house one minute and curled up asleep, totally spent, the next? But what about the muzzles speckled with gray, the senior citizens who find themselves in shelters across the country? Senior animals comprise the largest population at many shelters and are often at the head of the line for euthanasia as they languish in shelters. Puppies and kittens are cute and adoptable while seniors are stressed, fearful, and overwhelmed by the situation in which they find themselves.
Veterinarians say that dogs start to fall into the category of ‘seniors’ around the age of seven. However, it depends on size. The smaller the dog, the later in life the dog becomes a senior. But a dog in a shelter can be as young as five and still have trouble finding a new home. A ‘senior’ cat is normally considered over the age of seven.
Many assume a shelter animal has a behavioral issue or was a problem pet. Older animals lose their homes for many different reasons and most of them have nothing to do with problems the animals have, but rather with those of the person or family surrendering the animal. The death of a guardian, with no family able or willing to take in the pet, is a common case. Imagine an older pet that just lost their human and home, maybe the only one they’ve known, finding themselves in a shelter. While being in a shelter is stressful for any animal, seniors often become ill after losing their home, a physical side effect caused by depression or the change in their situation. Some even lose their will to live and stop eating. As a result, they are withdrawn and fearful making them even less attractive to potential adopters.
Why adopt an older ‘senior’ pet instead of that cute, younger bundle of fur? The ASPCA (www.aspca.org) created a list of the top 10 reasons to adopt an older dog. Generally speaking, senior dogs are often easier to train than puppies due to their calm demeanor and prior interactions with human companions.
Another reason? What you see is what you get. Once a dog is fully grown, you know their size, personality, and grooming requirements. No surprises when that little bundle of fur grows to 100 lbs.!
Older dogs tend to be calmer and more patient, which means they will likely tolerate a rambunctious toddler or child in the house more than a puppy might. They are also likely to already be housetrained—and even if they’re not, they have the physical and mental abilities to pick it up quickly (unlike puppies). With their teething years behind them, seniors also are much less likely to be destructive chewers.
Petfinder (www.petfinder.com) offers a similar top 10 reasons senior cats rule. Older cats, when adopted, seem to understand that they’ve been rescued, and are all the more thankful for it. Like dogs, a senior cat’s personality has already developed, so you’ll know if he or she is a good fit for your family. Senior cats are often already litter trained and are less likely to “forget” where the box is and will generally already be neutered.
Like older dogs, older cats are less rambunctious than kittens and may be a better choice for small children and seniors. They are generally more mellow and often more patient with young children.
Older pets, cats or dogs, can be great matches for seniors, or those who enjoy a less active lifestyle. For some older citizens, senior pets provide just the right pace to keep them active. Some organizations, such as Best Friends (http://bestfriends.org/), offer a “senior for seniors” program that offers a discounted adoption fee for pets over the age of 6.
Senior pets can come with their own set of challenges. Some will have health problems or will be on the cusp of developing arthritis or other long-term senior health concerns. There are medical treatments and alternative methods available to help manage long-term health issues for seniors. Before adopting any animal, learn as much as you can about the animal’s history and what you can expect in terms of medical care.
But the best reason to adopt an older pet is that you will be saving a life and making way for another to win a home. Saving an animal’s life offers an unparalleled emotional return on your investment, and you’ll feel the rewards every day you spend together.
The Alexandria Animal Welfare League (http://alexandriaanimals.org/) offers reduced adoption fees for animal over 8 years of age. For dogs, the normal fee is $150; ages over 8, the fee is $75. For cats, the normal fee is $120 and those over 8, are $60. The adopt it forward program allows individuals to pay the adoption fee on any animal, and can be used to waive the adoption fee of an older pet. The shelter also conducts an expanded health assessment of older animals to ensure they are in good health before being considered for adoption. The League created Rosemary’s Seniors Fund which finances diagnostic screening for older dogs or cats which may need additional care.
King Street Cats, a no-kill cat shelter (http://www.kingstreetcats.org/), sponsors the “What about Me”® campaign, which shines a light on older, shy and special, needs cats. While the shelter doesn’t offer a similar discount for all senior cats, it does offer a discounted adoption fee for senior citizens adopting senior cats. The standard adoption fee is $125, $65 for seniors.
Oldies But Goodies Cocker Rescue highlights senior and special needs pets on their website at: http://www.cockerspanielrescue.com/