I am considered the resident "animal person" where I work. I am known to be outspoken in my advocacy and that means people come to me for advice on a host of issues like re-homing a pet due to a death in the family, finding a lost pet, where to get the best prices for spay and neuter, which local rescue groups are the best, "what do we do about the bat hanging on the outside of the building," etc. I'm no expert on any of these topics, but I do try to steer people in the right direction while perhaps teaching them something in the process. I had an inquiry from a co-worker recently about getting a new-to-him dog in the wake of the passing of a beloved dog. My response was immediate: get a senior.
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.
What You See is What You Get. All puppies are cute, but it can often be difficult to tell how large they will grow and what kind of personalities they will have as adults. The same is true for kittens. When you adopt a senior pet, you know exactly what you are getting in terms of size, color and general physical condition. Some senior pets require a period of time to decompress from the circumstances which led them to you, but good shelters and rescues can tell you a lot about the animal's behavior and temperament so you know more about what to expect. Many animals adopted from rescue groups have been in foster homes so the group can tell you a lot about their personalities. The vast majority of animals adopted from shelters and rescues are also fully vetted so you know about their health and they come to you spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.
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.
Older Dogs (and Cats) Can Learn New Tricks. Training a puppy or a young dog can take a lot of time, effort and repetition. You have to be consistent and help the dog learn what behaviors are expected and which are not appropriate. This includes involving all members of your family, including your children. Adult dogs and cats are simply more focused and learn fast. If your senior dog needs to learn about how to function in your family, you can enroll him or her in an obedience class or consult with a behaviorist so you can learn how to read your dogs' behavior and how you can be a good pack leader. Although people perceive that cats cannot be trained due to their independent nature, most can be trained to follow basic instructions.
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.
Older Pets are Great for Seniors. A lot of older people don't get new pets because they worry about their ability to care for them for the entire life span of the pet. A dog or cat can live from 10 years to 20 years and some older people are worried that their pets may outlive them. When seniors adopt seniors, it can be a perfect fit. The older person gets an animal who is more mellow and who is more content to just spend time together and the animal gets a new life in a more mellow household where companionship is the focus of the relationship. Many animal shelters have Seniors for Seniors Programs in which adoption fees are either waived or greatly reduced and with programs in place to re-home an adopted pet if something happens to their adoptive family.
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.
(images courtesy of Dana Kay Mattox Deutsch)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson