A new puppy! They are pretty irresistible – they have that puppy breath, which is why thousands of people visit animal shelters every day, and leave with a brand new, cuddly best buddy. There is no sweeter happy ending.
Puppies who find fur-ever homes are often born to dogs that fall into the “less adoptable” category. You may think that means their mothers must have behavioral issues, or maybe they’re vicious. In some cases, that may be so.
The hard truth is, dozens of these mother dogs are also older dogs. Some dog food labels classify canines over the age of seven as “senior.” If you subscribe to the whole “one year equals seven dog years” notion, that makes these four-legged oldsters 49 years old. Maybe that is why the AARP has already started sending me info packets.
In the animal shelter world, dogs more than five years old are among the most infrequently adopted. I’ve heard some people’s rationale; primarily centered around the fear of becoming emotionally attached to a furry friend they might not have much time with. There is also the notion that older dogs are “set in their ways,” or that it will be harder to form a true bond with such a pet.
But, after scouring statistics generated by every source from the Humane Society of the United States, to senior dog-specific rescues, to veterinarians, I have reached one very clear conclusion: there is no dog like an old dog.
An older dog is usually full-grown, so what you see is what you get – unless you get a little too treat-happy with it, and that’s kind of on you.
Most older dogs that are surrendered to shelters by their owners are potty-trained, know a few tricks, and want nothing more than to feel a connection … to anyone. I don’t want to judge everyone who has to re-home a pet. But, I can tell you that for as homey as most animal shelters strive to be, they can be overwhelming and frightening, especially to dogs that suddenly find themselves in a dog run, surrounded by strange people and by strange, barking, and equally confused fellow canines.
The harsh reality is that many a homeless senior dog will live out their last days in a shelter, because they are overlooked over and over again. Yes, they are loved by volunteers, walked, petted, treated well, but it is still not home.
Each time I visit the Humane Society of Genesee County, I read the “cage cards” describing the history of the older dogs residing in the shelter. Nothing hurts my heart more than to see a sweet, graying face, sad eyes and look of utter despair and confusion on the face of a dog who has no idea how or why they are in this strange, loud place.
Maybe it is better that they don’t understand. Imagine how heartbreaking it would be to learn that you’ve been abandoned because you “got too big,” were “too hard to train” or got sick. This would be devastating for a creature whose sole purpose is to be part of a pack – a family – and to love.
If you open your home to a homeless senior dog, you will be their hero. In return, it will open its heart to you for life and, no matter how long or short that life may be, you will receive the kind of love that will stay with you forever.