Any writer here at Dogtime will tell you how much senior dogs rock. We are thrilled that November is Adopt A Senior Pet month, and if you are considering adopting a four legged friend, you should be, too! Puppies with too-big-of-feet and tons of energy may seem like the logical choice when deciding on a dog to bring home from a shelter or rescue – after all, they are young and you get to shape their lives! While we cannot deny the sheer joy that puppies bring, we also want to point out the infinite amount of happiness, snuggles, and content a senior dog can bring into your life. I should know, because I just adopted a senior dog kind of out of the blue.
I was looking through the adoptable dogs here on Dogtime to see which dog we should feature for our weekly newsletter. I like to choose less adoptable pets to feature, and one week I stumbled upon a 12-year-old chihuahua named Candy. She looked terrified in her intake photo: her eyes wide, her stance clearly showing she does not want to be taken into this foreign place. Her owners had dropped her off after having her for seven years, claiming that she was highly aggressive and not housebroken. I looked further into her profile and saw she was in Chatsworth, California, only a half hour drive away from my Hollywood apartment.
Something about her just clicked with me. Her intake photo reminded me of when I first met my dog Betty, a shy chihuahua mix that will shower you with love once she gets to know you. I felt that Candy was similar, somehow. Call it a Doggy Sixth Sense. I told myself that if no one had adopted Candy by the end of the week, at the very least I would take her out of the shelter and foster her.
I called the shelter daily to check in on Candy. Every day for a week, she was still there. On my seventh day of calling, I asked if she was on an alert list to be euthanized, and they said within a couple of days time she would be. I argued with myself as to why I shouldn’t go get this dog. Senior dogs are hard to take care of! What if she has a slew of health issues? What if she is highly aggressive? And how am I going to make time to potty train an adult dog? These all seemed like good reasons not to foster, let alone adopt, a senior dog like Candy. After all, I lead a busy enough life and already have one small dog and a sassy calico cat, I can’t add more to the mix.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Without really knowing what I was doing, I drove through rush hour traffic on a Friday with the intention of fostering her. I talked to one of the West Valley Animal Shelter employees to see if I could meet her. They brought her out wrapped in a blanket, shaking violently. I held her in my lap and she burrowed into my chest, breaking my heart into a million pieces.
“I am going to foster her,” I told the employee.
“Why don’t you just adopt her?”
I don’t know how the words came out of my mouth, but they did. I filled out the paperwork as they took her in to get her rabies shot. Several staff members thanked me for opening my home to a senior dog.
I walked out of the shelter in a daze, holding this still shaking senior chihuahua. I had been listening to a lot of David Bowie on the way to the shelter and found myself singing Jean Genie to her. “That’s your name now,” I said. “Genie.”
Almost two months later, I cannot imagine my life without Genie. I don’t want to think about what would have happened to Genie had I not been possessed by some force to go get her. I want to dispel some of the misconceptions about adopting a senior pet so you can have a magical Genie of your own.
1. They were dumped at the shelter for a reason
Genie was left at a kill shelter because the owners who surrendered her said she was highly aggressive and didn’t like being picked up. Genie is anything but. The kids I babysit request her presence all the time because she is such a sweetie to them. The only thing she is highly aggressive towards is her pufferfish toy. And I don’t know how her previous owners were trying to pick her up, but Genie LOVES being picked up by me and others to be cuddled. The point is, when people are surrendering senior dogs, they have to give a “reason” as to why they are. Some people may just make things up to lessen the guilt of dumping a perfectly content, sociable dog into a kill shelter.
2. They are a lot of work
Any dog is going to require responsibility and work. There is no arguing that senior dogs are the same. I used to believe that for whatever reason, senior dogs are more work than younger dogs. The fact is, more often than not, they are so much easier to care for than a puppy or younger dog. Senior dogs for the most part are already housebroken. Genie has had an accident here or there, but her bladder stamina has increased since I introduced crate training and lots of positive reinforcement.
Senior dogs often do not need as much exercise or stimulation as a puppy or younger dog does. Genie is great on two to three walks a day as long as she gets to snuggle on her giant bed with her sister Betty. She is currently sleeping at my feet as I type.
3. They don’t have a lot of time left
This one is a tricky one. Any time I look at Genie and think that I may only have a few more years with her, my heart breaks…but then I remind myself that I saved this dog from an unnecessary euthanization. She is giving me so much joy and laughter now, so why start future-tripping? I saved this dog’s LIFE. She is so high spirited and silly and I cannot imagine her being forced out of this world because a shelter does not have enough room for a dog deemed “less adoptable.”
Another thing to consider is that with senior dogs, it may be hard to calculate their exact age. A lot of senior dogs that are brought into shelters have been, unfortunately, not taken care of properly. Genie had to have almost 20 teeth removed when she was brought into the shelter because of tooth decay and infection. It was her terrible teeth that led the vet at the shelter to believe she was 12 years old.
After adopting her, I brought her to my local vet to have her checked out. After her examination, my vet told me there was no way this dog was 12. Her eyes are too clear, her energy too high. She told me at most, Genie is 9 years old. Many shelters are understaffed and overcrowded, so it isn’t possible to dig deep into every dog’s past to see exactly how old they are. A shelter may be listing a dog as an older age than they actually are, so the “sticker price” of a 12-year-old dog shouldn’t be as scary as it is.
I cannot stress enough how wonderful, loving, sweet, silly, and loyal senior dogs can be. Unfortunately, so many senior dogs do not get to see a forever home once they have been taken to a shelter. If you’re feeling inspired to bring home an older pet, know that you are saving a life, and that dog will spend the rest of it loving you. Check out rescues like Susie’s Senior Rescue, A Purposeful Rescue, and House With A Heart that scoop up senior dogs from shelters and help prepare them for their new forever home with you. You can always look under “seniors” on our adoption page as well to find a lovable senior dog in your area.