Somewhere There’s an Old Dog Waiting to Be Your Forever Friend

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“Older dogs are by far the best dogs to adopt,” said Josh Caldwell, who took home a 14-year old dog named Ed. “Senior dogs know that you’re helping them and appreciate what you’re doing for them. Ed was the best dog I have ever known. I wish I’d had more time with him, but the time I had will be with me forever.”

Senior dogs often end up in sanctuaries through no fault of their own. Often when old dogs are surrendered to shelters, it is because their owners died, their families are facing a job loss, a divorce, a foreclosure, a deployment or a serious illness.

When it comes to adopting a dog, many think “puppy.” People can be hesitant about bringing home older dogs, concerned about this short time these dogs may have to share with new owners or worried about medical expenses. Once in shelters, they’re the least likely to be adopted and the most likely to be euthanized. Surveys of animal shelters found that senior dogs were the hardest to place, sometimes spending four times longer waiting than puppies.

But as more people discover how special older dogs can be, attitudes toward adopting them are changing. Around the country, the senior dogs fan base is growing.

There are many reasons an older dog is a great choice for those looking to welcome a dog into their lives. Older dogs are already housebroken. Their teething days are long over so fewer shoes and remote controls will be lost to puppy teeth. Senior dogs are easygoing and they need less exercise. An older dog can become your instant best friend. They’re the perfect fit for someone with a relaxed lifestyle. And adopting an old dog from many shelters means you’ll be saving its life.

A growing number of shelters and organizations are focusing on meeting the needs of these special dogs, from senior-only shelters and groups rescuing older dogs from high-kill dog pounds to groups providing grant funding to other senior dog organizations. Even local shelters have an older dog waiting for a home, no matter where you live.

Forever Loved Pet Sanctuary in Scottsdale, Arizona, matches rescued senior dogs with families. They find dogs at shelters, where their chance of adoption is low, and give them temporary care and housing until a home can be found.

Young at Heart Pet Rescue near Chicago has a similar mission, finding senior dogs (and cats) forever homes. They accept pets only from open-door municipal shelters that have a time constraint and a high euthanasia rate, relying on foster families to give temporary shelter. They also help families facing financial difficulties, providing pet food to low-income pantries so that owners don’t have to give up otherwise loved dogs.

Elder Paws Senior Dog Foundation, based in Fresno, California, focuses on helping people keep their senior dogs. “Our area has a high poverty level,” said Cathie Garner, executive director of Elder Paws. “People have to give up their senior dogs because they can’t afford the special meds and foods. Many people love their pets and we keep the people and their dogs together.”

Grey Muzzle Organization’s mission is to improve the lives of at-risk senior dogs, during the last ten years giving more than a million dollars to organizations that help feed, give medical care to and find homes for elderly dogs. Lisa Lunghofer, executive director of Grey Muzzle, said that people adopted older dogs because they wanted to give back and that once they adopted, they had a special sense of satisfaction.

Thulani Senior German Shepherd Rescue is one of several groups finding loving hospice homes for dogs who have less than a year to live. “We tell people that the dog will have a year but to that dog that’s the equivalent of seven human years,” said Thulani’s director, Bob Jachens. “You’re offering that dog something priceless—a good-quality life. You can’t give a more selfless gift.”

Cathy Holley of Augusta, Georgia, adopted a senior dog after the dog’s owner had died. “He was trained and well behaved,” she said. “We thought we’d have him for a couple of years but were fortunate to have him for four and a half years,” she said.

“I think the biggest reason we choose older dogs is that everyone wants the young ones,” said Cindy Maxon, who works with Detroit Bulldog Rescue. “When we adopted our first bulldog we thought it would okay if we had her for two years because at least she’d have a good life. She’s currently going on with us for four years and she’s as sassy as day one.”

Are you interested in a senior dog? One’s waiting for you. Check local organizations specializing in rehoming older dogs and be prepared to fall in love. ■

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