When Jill Johnson-Young and her wife, Stacie, of Riverside, California, came across a photo of a ten-year-old poodle on a high-kill shelter’s website four years ago, they had a feeling she was the dog for them.
A breeder had surrendered the poodle named “Dog” to the shelter because she could no longer have puppies. The little dog’s matted fur was dirty, and her nails were overgrown. Nonetheless, Jill and Stacie saw beneath the mess to the soul inside.
The couple dolled up their 14-year-old poodle, Fuzzy, and made an appointment for a meet-and-greet at the shelter. The abandoned poodle was scheduled to be put down in two days if she didn’t get adopted. At the introduction, the little poodle “jumped and wagged her tail and wanted to be held,” says Jill. “We spent twenty minutes playing with her.”
Stacie and Jill set the adoption in motion, renaming their new dog Adell and scheduling a grooming appointment. They also called their veterinarian to schedule an exam. “You two are at it again, aren’t you?” a staffer joked.
The couple’s soft spot for underdogs was no secret. They’d adopted Fuzzy when she was only one month old from a neglectful breeder’s estate. For 14 years, Fuzzy had nuzzled and cuddled Jill’s clients at her grief therapy practice. Now Adell would do the same.
When the family arrived home, Adell sniffed the place out. She settled into her new bed with the sleepy relief of a dog that instinctively knew two things: This would be her first real home — and her last.
Senior Pets Often Overlooked
While Adell has a sad past, that’s not always the case with senior pets. Many have loving homes for years until an owner passes away, a couple divorces or a new baby arrives. As a result of these events, the longtime pets need to be re-homed.
Unfortunately, senior cats and dogs are typically overlooked by potential adopters. This is true especially at shelters, says Kelly Smíšek. In 2014, she and her husband, Andy, Smíšek co-founded Frosted Faces Foundation. The organization, located near San Diego, California, finds adoptive homes for senior pets and offers programs to assist with care.
Generally, dogs and cats eight years or older are considered seniors, says Smíšek. Younger seniors usually still have their vision and hearing, and senior dogs can often still go for walks. Senior pets can be playful but are usually mellower than their younger counterparts, says Smíšek.
Five Reasons to Consider Adopting a Senior Pet
Want to give an older dog or cat a happy home for its retirement years? Here are five reasons to consider adopting a senior pet.
1. Adoption Could Save the Animal’s Life
Not every shelter is a no-kill facility. Most public shelters regularly euthanize cats and dogs that are considered “unadoptable,” which typically means pets that don’t get adopted quickly.
“I was always taking home senior dogs lingering in kennels because no one adopted them,” says Smíšek, who worked at a shelter before founding Frosted Faces Foundation. “I always rescue from the shelter system.”
2. Older Pets Are Mellower
If you’ve ever been yanked down the sidewalk while walking a young dog or had to retrieve a kitten that clawed its way to the top of your draperies, you know that young pets are full of energy and mischief. On the other hand, senior pets are generally calmer and may already know some tricks or walk nicely on a leash.
Monika Lain-Shaw of North Fork, California, who adopted an 11-year-old German Shepherd named Nolla last year, enjoys that Nolla isn’t as high energy or destructive as younger dogs. “But she still plays like crazy with her stuffed animals,” says Monika.
3. Fewer Personality Surprises
Monika doesn’t anticipate any unknown neuroses emerging in her 15-year-old black cat, Cleopatra, adopted last year after the owner had a stroke. She knows how the senior kitty likes to be pet and doesn’t mind that Cleopatra likes to drink from the toilet.
Any adopted pet may come with habits you may want to change, and most need time to blossom, but with an older pet, the basic personality — playful, affectionate, good (or not) with kids, strangers, and other pets, for example — is usually evident upfront.
4. Older Animals Can Be Better with Other Pets
An older dog or cat probably won’t jump or pounce all over another senior pet like a kitten, pup, or adolescent, so current pets may be more accommodating. The rescue organization or shelter might even be able to tell you before adoption whether the pet gets along with other animals or has lived in a home with other pets.
5. Older Pets Can Be Good for Senior Adults
Research shows that interacting with pets lowers levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure, decreases loneliness and boosts mood. An older, calmer pet is easier for a senior to keep up with, too. That’s why Frosted Faces Foundation offers a Seniors for Seniors program to remove common obstacles to people 65 and older looking to adopt a senior pet.
The Seniors for Seniors program includes lifelong veterinary expenses, volunteers to check in monthly, transport to veterinary and grooming appointments, and free boarding if the owner needs to be in the hospital. “With these services, one more person who couldn’t adopt before can adopt now,” says Smíšek.
Read more: Benefits of Pet Therapy
Giving Senior Pets the Home They Deserve
Senior pets don’t end up at the shelter because they’re bad dogs, says Smíšek: “It’s usually not their fault. They just need someone to make a renewed commitment to them.”
Today, Jill takes Adell and another adopted senior — Walter, an eight-year-old poodle — to work with her daily. “Older dogs are just as deserving of a home,” says Jill. “I enjoy giving a creature who desperately wants to be loved the care they should have had but probably didn’t receive and putting as much love in their lives as I can for their remaining years.”
If you’d like to adopt a senior pet, you can start by searching websites of animal rescues and local shelters. Better yet, visit the facilities in person, since photos of all animals may not be on the website, especially at crowded public city shelters.
Have you adopted a senior pet? Share your story with other readers in the comments.