Not all dogs who ended up in a shelter are old or mixed breeds.
In fact, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that 25 percent of dogs in shelters are purebred and a good percentage of them are puppies or young dogs. “Sadly, senior dogs are often overlooked in shelters in favor of younger dogs,” says Darcy Matheson, an expert on environmentally-friendly pet care and the author of Greening Your Pet Care.
Part of the reason for that is that many potential owners are afraid of the “baggage” that comes with older dogs. “Just like someone who has gone through a divorce, a shelter dog can certainly suffer some emotional baggage from a previous relationship,” says Matheson. However, she points out that shelters are often a very stressful setting for a dog, and they’re not able to showcase their true personality while there.
And here's something else to consider: The “senior” label can mean different things, depending on the type of dog, so there's no reason to be scared of it. “Dogs are considered seniors at about the age of 6 or 7—sometimes even as young as 5—which is actually very young,” says Matheson “Many small breeds can stay energetic until they are 12 years of age and older.”
Puppies vs. Senior Dogs
While puppies are cute and funny, they are also a lot of work. “After adopting a puppy early in my 20s—and spending many months fighting to house train it, and watching as it destroyed my high heel shoes and even a boxspring for a mattress—I would be loathe to do it again,” says Matheson. “My newest rescue dog is an adult, that came to me already house trained, and understood basic commands and etiquette.”
This is perhaps one of the main reasons older dogs can adapt more easily to a new home and environment: in most cases, adult dogs are already house-trained and understand basic commands. Some may have already gone through various puppy classes and more extensive training, so you can skip all those hours and hours of work,” Matheson says.
One more advantage of adopting a senior dog? Adult and senior dogs already have established personalities—so you know what you’re getting, says Matheson. “If you’re adopting from a rescue organization, they should have a good sense of what that dog is like, whether it comes to getting along with other dogs, cats, children and whether it will treat your home as a chew toy,” Matheson says. “Those factors are all real unknowns when dogs are puppies.”
While it's true that adopting a senior dog can come with increased vet care costs, many rescue groups that will let you permanently adopt their senior dogs and, in return, they will pay that animal’s lifelong vet costs, explains Matheson.
If the senior you've fallen in love with comes from a shelter that doesn't cover costs, don't give up just yet. “Finding out as much history as possible is really important, but often there isn’t much to go on,” says Erin Askeland, training and communication manager for Camp Bow Wow. The solution? Set up a vet appointment within the first week of bringing a senior dog home so the vet can set a baseline for their health and future care, adds Askeland. “Planning ahead for these expenses can help.”
There are also a number of reputable pet insurances out there. Some might not accept dogs over a certain age, but others will. “For a small monthly deductible, the insurance will kick in when those later in life vet bills start rolling in—and can help pay off those larger procedures, including dental work,” Matheson explains.
Senior dogs do come with some added expenses, but the costs usually even out over time. “They might need a ramp or stairs to help them up any steep areas or into a car, and a cushy place to sleep is a plus,” Askeland says. And some older dogs might need special diets to help them maintain a healthy weight. On the other hand, puppies can be just as expensive. “There is also the cost of the many sets of shots, de-wormer, and spay or neuter to consider to consider for a puppy, whereas most senior dogs are up to date on all shots and have already been spayed or neutered,” says Askeland.
Senior Dogs and Senior People
Senior dogs are also a perfect match for senior people, says Matheson. “They are both in the “golden years” of their life and can benefit greatly from the companionship and emotional connection,” she explains. “Plus, senior dogs don’t require the same amount of exercise as their younger counterparts, which suits seniors who are slowing down as well.“
In addition, Askeland adds that senior dogs are less likely to jump and climb all over others (or the owner) and can have better leash skills so they aren’t dragging their owner around or tripping them. “The companionship for a senior citizen is also important and can help them alleviate stress, stay healthier, and encourage socializing with other people,” Askeland says.
One added benefit? Dogs are great conversation starters and can encourage a senior citizen to be more social, according to Askeland. “Seniors that own dogs are also more likely to have positive interactions with their neighbours and people they meet on the street because dogs serve as a great ice breaker,” explains Matheson. “Sometimes people would be hesitant to start a conversation with a senior they see on the street, but they’re a lot more comfortable walking up to their dog and saying hello and start chatting.”
If you're considering adopting a senior dog, have an honest chat with the people at the shelter and ask lots of questions. ”Know that you may have some setbacks when you take in an older dog based on their previous life, but also know that the relationship is going to be so rewarding because you are saving the life of this amazing creature,” Matheson adds.
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at www.dianabocco.com