When it comes to adoption, older dogs are in!

January 14, 2020

It's a sad fact: Many older dogs are abandoned by their owners and end up in animal shelters. But there's hope because adoptions of “seniors” are on the rise.

Foxy was almost 15 years old when she entered our lives. The Shepherd-Dalmatian cross had been left in the streets by her previous owners and brought to a shelter. She was deaf as a doorknob and half blind but that didn't stop my boyfriend and me from adopting her. And, in three short days, she knew the ropes: where to eat, sleep and do her business in the backyard. Heartened by the attention we gave her, she started to frolic like a spring lamb. Foxy was an “old soul” whose joy for life amazed us until her very last day.

When you ask those who've adopted older dogs, the response is unanimous. They'd all do it again."

For one thing, an older dog isn't as demanding as a puppy. And, because they've been around the proverbial block, they know how to behave at home.

“When we adopted Kate, a Rottweiler-Doberman cross, she was 8 years old,” says Marilyn Gelfand, a volunteer at both the SPCA and Gerdy's Rescues and Adoptions in Montreal. She was like a crazed animal when she was in her cage at the shelter but when we got her back to our place, she rolled up in a ball on a cushion, sighed—as if to say: ‘home at last!'—and snored all day long.”

A long list of advantages
Obviously, dogs that are poorly socialized or whose lives have been complicated require expertise and patience but, normally, “with an older dog, you can leave home without fearing that they'll rip the place the shreds,” says Helen Lacroix, founder of Animatch, a dog adoption service in L'Île Perrot, west of Montreal. “While some older dogs are in good shape they don't need to run 5 kilometres a day. And it's wrong to assume that because they're older you can't teach them anything new.” In fact, in an experiment that was part of a study at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, all dogs—whatever their age—learned to touch an onscreen target in order to receive a treat.

In the United States, even though adoption rates of mature dogs are less impressive than those for puppies, there's a trend that favours the older canines, according to a 2017 report in the Washington Post. Suzie's Senior Dogs, a non-profit organization with over 500,000 likes on Facebook, exemplifies this new tendency. As does Animal Planet which, last February, alongside its popular “Puppy Bowl,” aired its second “Dog Bowl” in 15 years of existence—a dog-themed, fun football match showcasing senior dogs.

It all adds up
According to Johanne Tassé, the founder of Companion Animal Adoption Centres of Quebec, the top reasons why dogs are abandoned include: the death of the owner, divorce or the owner moving to a new residence which doesn't allow animals. “And exorbitant veterinarian bills,” she adds. “Many people no longer have the means to pay for their animal's medical treatments.”

Animatch's Lacroix agrees that it's easier to find homes for veteran dogs than it used to be. She places some 50 of them a year, compared to 5 or 6 a decade ago. Fees for adopting an older dog are usually less than for a puppy or junior dog. It also helps that several shelters take care of older dogs' medical needs before offering them for adoption.

“People who chose an older dog are big-hearted and want to do the right thing,” affirms Judy Smith, the founder of Before the Ridge animal shelter in Stony Mountain, Manitoba. Sometimes where people are in their lives will guide their decisions. “I had a student who wanted to adopt a mature dog because she had 6 solid years of studies ahead of her. That was the amount of time she had to dedicate to her dog,” she adds. “The lucky dog had an amazing later life, spending many happy moments asleep at her owner's feet while she studied.”

Mature dogs want nothing more than to be fed, stroked and loved. And those whose lives haven't always been a bed of roses tend to live longer than expected,” says Gelfand, who shares her life with a 13-year-old Bichon Frisé as well as Kate, who's now 9 years old.

“I adopted my Dachshunds, Buddy and Wilson, when they were 9 and 11 years old,” says Virginia Lauzon, a practitioner in neurolinguistic programming. “When they died, they were both almost 17 years old! I learned from them that it's not the quantity but the quality of life—and love—that counts.”

And Foxy? She showed us that life isn't over when you start to age. In fact, it's only just beginning.

Buddy was 9 years old and Wilson was 11 when Virginia adopted them from a shelter.
Photos: personal collection


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