By Katie Schaefer
Having a pet means committing to a living, breathing, animal for the entirety of his or her life, right? In a perfect world, yes. As animal advocates, we would love for this to be the case 100% of the time, but sometimes pets find their way back to shelters. Sometimes they find their way back when they are old and grey. Let’s call these pets “experienced”.
Many times, these “experienced” pets were cherished companions of elderly people who passed away or were no longer able to care for them properly. There are a million other reasons that 10-year-old Fido could find himself back in an animal shelter; including divorce, economic hardship, the birth of a child, health problems in Fido himself, or his family could just be trading him in for a new puppy.
Regardless the reason, a shelter is the last place a senior pet should be. Fido deserves a loving home just as much as any puppy or kitten. Fido is still capable of love and loyalty; not to mention adopting him may save his life. MEHS is a no-kill shelter, but there are kill shelters out there that will euthanize pets they deem “non-adoptable” such as seniors.
Adopting an older dog or cat has benefits that potential adopters may not realize. First of all, seniors have manners. They are less destructive than young pets. Most of the time, “experienced” dogs and cats are already potty/litter box trained as well. Destroyed carpet and 3 a.m. wake up calls may be the most frustrating parts of adopting a young pet. Seniors may take a few days to get used to a bathroom routine in their new home, but constant accidents are much less likely.
For pet loving working professionals and busy families, a senior pet may be the best fit! They are usually content lounging around and taking a walk around the block rather than being stimulated with hours of exercise. Also, their behaviors are already established, and contrary to the old belief “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” senior pets are actually able to learn new habits and commands. Older pets can be just as attentive and eager to please as their younger counterparts.
Despite all of these reasons to adopt a senior, some adopters may say that a few years with their new pet just isn’t enough. This is completely understandable. The only time a pet is capable of breaking our hearts is when it’s his/her time to go. However, doesn’t Fido deserve to live out his golden years in a loving home instead of a loud and stressful kennel at the shelter? When you adopt a senior, you are ensuring that one of the dogs or cats least likely to find a home now has the companionship and love he/she deserves.
Cara Elsas recently adopted her fourth dog with MEHS – senior and staff favorite, George Bailey. Elsas has the following advice for potential adopters, “My advice for potential adopters on the fence about taking in an older pet would be to ask themselves what's holding them back…If they are worried about not having the "full dog experience" or falling in love with a dog who will only be around a short time, then my advice is to take the leap.”
Although this post has discussed the reasons why senior pets are awesome, they still require care like any other pet. Regular veterinary check-ups are a must for seniors. You may have to watch for things like dental disease and arthritis. Pets with arthritis may benefit from softer bedding or carpeting/rugs rather than hard-wood floors. Some older pets also may require a special diet to control certain diseases and keep them at an idea body weight.
The most important thing to remember about senior pet care, however, is to focus on their quality of life and the fact that you have already welcomed a senior into your home speaks volumes! Elsas says, “Whether you have your dog for three months or three years, each day will be filled with gratitude and love. These senior pets KNOW they have been given a second chance, and to witness the transformation that happens when a despondent shelter dog turns into a happy family dog... well, it's hard to not smile.”