For an old dog, the cruelest fate is dying in an animal shelter, without love, comfort or warmth.
For years, he gave his human his love and devotion, only to be left alone in a cold, noisy place. Perhaps his human died, or maybe he just couldn’t pay the vet bills anymore. Whatever happened, the dog is confused and often depressed.
Senior Shelter Dogs
The brutal reality is that most senior dogs don’t survive the shelter. If they’re lucky enough to become a shelter favorite, they might have more time, but most older pets are euthanized right away, simply for lack of space. After all, who wants to adopt an old dog? Well, I do.
For the past 7 years, I’ve specialized in senior shelter dogs, pulling them from the shelters, getting them the medical attention they need and finding them homes. During this time, I’ve come to realize that the best dog is an old dog.
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All canines love unconditionally, but older ones love more deeply. They’ve been around the block a few times, and they’ve seen the best and worst of humanity. They know when they’ve found a good thing, and they’ll spend their remaining years thanking you.
Old dogs aren’t obnoxious or high-maintenance, and they’re usually house-trained. They seldom dig or chew. They prefer to lie in the sun or curl up next to your feet. They’ll enjoy walks or trips to the park, but they’d just as soon chew a nice, meaty bone in front of the fireplace.
But older pets aren’t without problems, especially those who have spent time in an animal shelter. When you bring home an older dog, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind.
The First Few Days
The shelter is a lonely, depressing place to live, whether it’s for a few days or a few months, so your new old friend will need time to recuperate. Give him a soft bed, a warm blanket and lots of love.
If he sleeps for 3 days straight, don’t be alarmed. He may not eat or drink, and he might not even want to go to the bathroom. Try to entice him to eat, and show him the water bowl. Give him time to acclimate.
Potential Health Problems
Depending on the breed, your new old pet could be prone to a few common age-related health conditions, such as:
- Vision or hearing loss
- Heart murmurs
Hypothyroidism, or low-functioning thyroid, is extremely common in aging canines and can be easily managed with an inexpensive twice-daily medication. If your senior pet has arthritis, his medications will be a little more expensive, but exercise and a high-quality diet can help reduce pain and swelling by building up healthy muscle. The medication for heart murmurs is also not too expensive.
Of course, there’s always a chance your new family member may have something more serious, such as diabetes, kidney failure, cancer or another condition. What you do at that point depends upon the quality of life, your personal belief system and your bank account.
Aging dogs can be expensive, so expect that your buddy will rack up a hefty bill the first time you take him to the vet.
Cover the basics during his first visit:
- Senior blood panel (which includes a thyroid test)
- Fecal test
- Rectal exam
Depending on your veterinarian, expect to spend $150 to $400 on this initial visit.
Many city and county animal control facilities work with local vets to provide a free checkup within 3 to 5 days after you adopt your pet, which will save you the cost of a vet visit. Some veterinarians even give a discount for shelter animals.
“Old” is a relative term and depends significantly on the breed. In general, the larger the breed, the shorter the lifespan.
Given that, consider the age of the old dog you adopt and set your expectations accordingly. You may only have a few months together, perhaps as long as a few years, but it will be time you treasure.
Given the potential health problems, expenses and expectations of a short time together, why on Earth would anyone want to adopt a senior dog?
Two words: joy and gratitude.
You’ll see gratitude in your dog’s eyes and joy in his wagging tail, but you will also feel joy and gratitude yourself every time you look at the sweet old pooch you rescued — joy because your dog will love you so much, and gratitude that you are worthy of that love.
No love is deeper and more meaningful than the love of a dog for the human who saves him. Sharing that love, even if it’s only for a short time, will change you forever.
A Happy Ending
Here’s a video a few dedicated shelter volunteers made of Yoda, an elderly pit bull mix who was brought into a Los Angeles shelter as a stray. He had spent almost 2 months in the shelter, and the volunteers knew he didn’t have much more time. The video is good — good enough that we adopted Yoda the day after we saw it.