Why Senior Dogs Are Left at Animal Shelters

Most older pets in shelters ended up there through no fault of their own.

In truth, senior dogs can bring a lot of joy to families looking to adopt. By: woozie2010

Recently, a photo of a timid-looking, gray-muzzled dog appeared in my Facebook news feed. The elderly dog was at a nearby shelter and looking for her forever home.

I was struck immediately by how sad she looked and wondered what series of events could have made her suddenly homeless. She’d clearly been in a home not too long ago.

And though this one particular case struck a chord in me, I know that senior pets are dropped off at shelters regularly.

Why Elderly Pets Are Surrendered

In her article on DogTime, Vicki Clinebell explains, “A lot of people think that if they drop their older dog off at the shelter it will get adopted and have a great life with someone else. This just isn’t so. Many of these animals become depressed and are overlooked for younger, cuter dogs.”

People surrender their elderly pets to shelters for a number of reasons. Since senior pets have often been with a single family their entire lives, the reasons for surrender tend to be more serious, such as:

  • Relocation or death. The human may be moving to a senior living center or have passed away.
  • Financial difficulties. Drastic increases in a pet’s medical costs due to age-related health problems may produce bills that are impossible to pay.
  • Lifestyle change. Sudden disruptions, such as divorce or job loss, can lead many to give up their senior pets.

Sadly, some elderly animals are given up because they are an inconvenience in their old age, such as Finley, a senior dog taken in by the rescue Izzy’s Place. “When he aged [and] lost his sight the family gave him away, saying he bumped into the kids [and] he didn’t seem happy.”

The Fate of Senior Shelter Pets

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, based in Tennessee, gives the grim truth: “Senior dogs, especially those with medical problems or disabilities, face a much greater chance of euthanasia at shelters than younger dogs because it is difficult to find adopters for them due to their shorter additional life expectancy and unknown veterinary costs.”

Open-access shelters are responsible for accepting all pets — friendly, aggressive, healthy, sick, young and old. But faced with limited space and a finite number of adopters, shelters have to decide to humanely euthanize some of their pets.

Senior dogs are usually well socialized and calmer than pups. By: pmarkham

Senior dogs and cats face a higher chance of being euthanized than their healthy, young counterparts. That’s not because senior pets don’t make phenomenal pets (because they do!) but because the average adopter wants a young dog or cat.

No-kill shelters and rescues might seem like a solution to the homeless senior pet, but most of these organizations have strict regulations for admitting animals and may not accept pets over a certain age.

Senior-Only Shelters and “Retirement” Homes

Just like there are special rescues for certain breeds, there are rescues that specialize in rehoming senior pets, like Lionel’s Legacy, a California-based rescue with a network of foster homes for the elderly pets they rescue.

These rescues are all over the country. There, senior pets are given the care and attention they deserve in their golden years, staying in “retirement” foster homes while they wait for a new and final home. If an adopter doesn’t step forward, the seniors at least get to live out their lives with doting foster parents.

The Benefits of Adopting Seniors

Photographer Lori Fusaro never planned to adopt a senior dog — that is, until Sunny was dropped off at a shelter because she had cancer.

Fusaro, who volunteered at the shelter, took Sunny home and “Sunny rewired Fusaro’s view of older dogs so completely that she decided to launch a photography project called ‘Silver Hearts’ to show how much senior pets have to offer.”

These wonderful people adopted senior pets — and they’re loving it:

Fusaro is not the only adopter whose perception of senior pets has been completely changed. Many senior-only organizations have originated from one special senior cat or dog who made enough of an impact to inspire an entire team to create a rescue.

Adopting a senior pet is a rewarding experience. Older dogs are typically more well-behaved and even-keeled. Senior cats are often already socialized and calm compared to kittens.

When you see a senior pet in a shelter or rescue, 9 times out of 10 they ended up homeless through no fault of their own. Giving them a second chance at a forever home is a wonderful decision.

Allison Gray

View posts by Allison Gray
Allison Gray gained a wealth of knowledge about animal welfare issues and responsible pet care during her nearly 5 years of work for an animal shelter. She is a writer, photographer, artist, runner and tattooed remedial knitter. Allison also has been researching, testing out and perfecting nutritious pet treat recipes in her kitchen for Petful since spring 2017.

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