Thinking about adopting a cat or dog from your local animal shelter? While you might be drawn to cuddly kitties and adorable puppies, they require a lot of work. From potty-training and socializing to dealing with their high energy and teething phase, it’s like bringing home a newborn.
The solution? Adopt a senior pet, roughly defined as age seven or older. With an estimated 1.5 million shelter animals euthanized each year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, older cats and dogs often top the list of high-risk shelter populations. Animals that are sick and/or old are the first to be put-down.
Why adopt a senior pet?
For starters, they’re already house-trained, which means good-bye potty-training phase and the messy accidents that come with it. No need to worry about dogs chewing on furniture either—the teething phase is long gone. Plus, because they’re already socialized, older pets might be a good fit for families with kids and/or other pets. Another bonus? “What you see is what you get” in terms of a pet’s size, personality, and behavior. No more wondering, “How big will my dog be when he’s fully grown?” Finally, when you adopt a senior pet, he comes with a known health history—giving you a heads-up on what to expect in the future.
Elizabeth Berliner, director of shelter medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, points out that just because an animal is older doesn’t necessarily mean he has health issues. On the flip side, Berliner says, “I’m amazed how many families will adopt senior pets in spite of medical conditions. They make it their mission to rescue these animals.”
While many older pets are healthy, some might have illnesses or diseases that require medicine, special diets, or other accommodations, says Lisa Lunghofer, executive director of The Grey Muzzle Organization, a nonprofit that focuses on improving the lives of at-risk senior dogs. For example, if an older animal struggles with mobility issues, you might need to add a ramp, so he can easily maneuver up and down stairs.
Picking a pet
Okay, you’re convinced—adopting a senior pet is the way to go. But how do you pick the perfect older cat or dog for your family? Like adopting any new furry family member, you’ve got to match up your family’s preferences and lifestyle with the prospective pet’s behavior, needs, and personality.
Laura Coffey, dog-lover and author of My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts, offers another good idea. Talk with the shelter volunteers who have an up-close-and-personal understanding of an animal’s quirks, social skills, health issues, and any special needs. They might know, for instance, that a certain cat prefers to spend a lot of quiet time alone, perhaps making him a bad fit for a large family with rambunctious kids.
Coffey calls older dogs “the most grateful dogs on Earth.” Why? Because often, they’ve gone through some major life upheaval through no fault of their own, such as a family that had to move and couldn’t take their pet with them or an older owner who has died, leaving the pet without a home. “These dogs end up in a shelter where it’s loud, chaotic, disorienting, and they don’t know why they’re there,” points out Coffey. “To bring a dog home is like rescuing them from doggie jail. They blossom once they get out of that scary setting. It’s so meaningful to see how happy and relieved they are.”
And the gratitude goes both ways. You just can’t beat the warm-fuzzies knowing you took in a pet that ran out of options and showered him with love during his golden years.
Thinking of adopting a senior pet? Contact your local animal shelter or rescue organization, or check out these resources:
· Abandoned Animal Rescue (Texas), www.aartomball.org
· The Grey Muzzle Organization (funds and provides info on U.S. senior dog programs), greymuzzle.org
· Muttville Senior Dog Rescue (California), www.muttville.org
· Fairy Tail Endings (Florida), www.fairytailendings.org
· Forever Loved Pet Sanctuary (Arizona), http://www.foreverlovedpets.org
· Senior Animals in Need Today Society (Canada), www.saintsrescue.ca
· Senior Dogs Project (clearinghouse ofinformation to help older dogs), srdogs.com
· Susie’s Senior Dogs (facilitatessenior-dog adoptions across the U.S.), www.susiesseniordogs.com
· Young at Heart Pet Rescue (Illinois), www.adoptaseniorpet.com