Our attachments to animals are emotional and involve chemistry, so a lot of people gravitate to animals based on appearance or based on assumptions about future behavior. The reality of our culture is that people often get pets from breeders, stores or websites because they equate cost with value or worth and they believe animals from sources other than shelters and rescues are somehow superior. The flip side of that negative bias is that people assume that since animals die in shelters in all but our most progressive communities, they must somehow be damaged or broken. Neither or those assumptions is true. Animals in shelters are there due to no fault of their own and many may very well have been someone's beloved pet. When it comes to animals adopted from shelters, our other reality is that people tend to gravitate toward younger, cuter animals while overlooking animals who are older.
In honor of Adopt a Senior Pet Month, here's my pitch for why you should adopt a senior animal. My personal hope is that some day after I retire, I'll adopt only senior pets and work to give them the best years of their lives. They deserve nothing less.
Seniors are more mellow and predictable. As cute as a puppy may be, the reality is that they take a lot of work. They need structure and boundaries. We are responsible not only for teaching them our language, but learning how to understand the body language they use to communicate with us. Puppies can be destructive when bored and can be mouthy when playing. Even young cats can have a destructive side and can keep you up at night with nocturnal play. A senior dog or cat has been there done that and is simply going to be a more mellow addition to your household. Many senior animals have spent years living with a family and are socialized to people. Senior dogs may know basic commands and may very well be house trained. Even if an older dog is not house trained, many are very easily trained in a short period of time. All dogs and cats need exercise and mental stimulation but your senior pet just needs less to keep him or her entertained. Most senior pets don't require the same level of monitoring or training that younger animals require so they're a good choice for busy families with young children, for older people or for people with disabilities.
You Still Have Plenty of Time With Them. Whether or not a dog is a senior is based on breed and size. In general, the larger the breed or size of the dog, the shorter the life span. Many large breeds are considered "senior" by the age of 6. Many smaller breeds are considered senior by the age of 10. Most cats are considered senior between the ages of 7 and 10. Regardless of the age of the senior, older pets still have plenty of great years left. If you get a medium sized dog who is 6 years old, he or she may have 10 good years left. If you get an 7 year old cat, he or she may have more than 10 years with you. You can talk to your veterinarian about ways to keep your senior dog or cat happy and healthy for many years after your lives together begin.
Be a Hero, Save a Life. Older dogs and cats are often overlooked in shelters and end up being destroyed in all but the most progressive communities even though they are perfectly healthy. When you adopt a senior animal, you are quite literally saving that animal's life. If you have ever loved a animal into their old age, think about what a tragedy it would have been if that animal had never been given an opportunity to live out their last years in comfort. Although you may have fewer years together than with a puppy or kitten, your rescued senior may enhance your life in ways you never imagined. The health benefits of pets is well documented - they lower our blood pressure, reduce our stress levels and provide us with unconditional love that we rarely provide each other as humans. Older pets somehow just seem to know that you have done a good thing to help them and you may find yourself bonding with a senior much faster than you would with a younger animal.