Giving older dogs a second chance at life

  • Animals
  • Sunday, 01 Aug 2021

Older pets may be a bit greyer or not romp as much, but they can still add a lot to their owner's life. Photo: TNS/Dreamstime

Jolie Gallagher and her husband were not looking to expand their pack when they spotted the black dog on an animal welfare organisation's Instagram page in March.

The friendly Australian Shepherd mix, later renamed Cricket, was found as a stray and brought to the shelter.

Because of her age, eight years old, Cricket would most likely not land at the top of many people's list for adoption.

Rescue groups and shelters say older cats and dogs are usually the hardest to place because most people want younger pets. Older pets may be a bit greyer or not romp as much, but they can still add a lot to their owner's life.

"When I found out she was a senior, there was no way I could leave her at the shelter," said Gallagher, a pharmacist. Cricket was later diagnosed with arthritis, but is doing well on medication. "The biggest thing I love about her is she is so calm and doesn't require as much attention and training as a puppy. She was a ready-to-go dog. Senior dogs are so easy to incorporate into your lives, and you are giving them a safe place in their older years to be comfortable."

Karen Hirsch, public relations director for LifeLine Animal Project (in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States) said people who open their homes to older pets "just have a special place in their hearts".

Sometimes the older pets come in as strays. Perhaps they escaped, the owners felt they were too big, or they were dumped by their owners because of the expense of keeping them. Some are dropped off at the shelter because the owner has died or the owner has to move to a nursing home or assisted living facility that doesn't allow animals.

A home in their old age

"You have to look at it as a mission that you're giving that dog a home and a second chance," said Becky Cross, director of Atlanta Lab Rescue. The rescue takes in 450 to 500 dogs annually, of which 10% to 15% would be considered seniors.ALR reduces the US$375 (RM1,588) adoption fee by US$125 (RM530) for a dog at least seven years old and waives the fee for dogs 10 and older. If there's a significant medical condition at the time of an adoption, the nonprofit will consider the dog a permanent foster and continue to pay its medical bills, said Cross.

Charlie Kleman, a retired corporate executive, is chairman of ALR's board and a volunteer who often logs hundreds of miles a day ferrying homeless dogs to the vet, kennels and foster or forever homes.

Sometimes, his passengers are older dogs.

"By the time they're eight or 10 years old, they're used to being around somebody," he said. When they're abandoned or strays or surrendered, "they're so confused."

They're happy to get out of the shelters. "Half of the older ones will want to put their paws on my lap and they can't stop wagging their tails," Kleman said.

Just like humans

Older cats and dogs can live full, healthy lives. Others, like people, experience health issues as they age.

LifeLine has some older cats from time to time, and they are also harder to place than younger ones.

There is some debate about how old is elderly for cats, Hirsch wrote in an email. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners' Senior Care Guidelines, older cats are classified as mature or middle-aged at seven to 10 years old, as senior cats at 11 to 14 years old, and geriatric from 15 to 25 years old.

Hirsch said her last three cats lived to be 17, 18 and 20.

Like their human counterparts, older pets are more likely to develop age-related health issues such as arthritis, heart, kidney and liver disease, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans, while cats typically have a lower rate.

Atlanta artist Lawson Thomas Chambers had a roommate who had older dogs.

In 2018 when Chambers, who prefers using a gender-neutral pronoun, decided to foster, they specifically looked for an elderly dog. Chambers "fell in love" with Akira, an older dog who had terminal cancer.

Chambers shared drawings on their social media accounts to show the "gift" that Akira brought to their world and the lessons Chambers learned.

"I wanted to learn discipline and how to take care of a dog without necessarily caring for a puppy," Chambers said.

A 'puppy' till the end

When Chambers first visited the LifeLine shelter, they noticed Akira because while other dogs were barking, she remained quiet.It was a 180° turnaround once Chambers got her home.

"She had too much life for an eight-year-old pitbull with cancer," they said. "She had a lot of personality. She was a loud, bold, stubborn woman."

Although she was ill, they noticed that when Akira went for a walk, she had boundless energy. "She was a puppy until the day she died."

Several times a month, Linda Hunt, founder of Act2Pups, sets up shop outside the Top Dogs Pet Boutique locations in Kennesaw or Canton.

Her nonprofit specialises in older dogs and those with special needs and sometimes takes "pups", as she likes to call them, from area shelters, but she's also found at least two from garbage cans.

Her rescue does careful screening of prospective adopters, and before a dog leaves her care, it has been treated at a vet for any ailments and routine screenings.

An older dog is not for everyone and she knows that. Some people open their hearts and home with the intention of giving the senior dog "all my love for the few years it has left. You can't save them all, but the one you do save makes all the difference in the world."

All senior rescues

Tim Gulley can't look away when he sees a pet in need, particularly an older dog or cat.Several years ago, Gulley went past a ramshackle house in Gwinnett County when he spotted a dead dog in the driveway. Other larger dogs were milling about, but a small Chihuahua stopped him cold.

"She looked pitiful out there," said Gulley, who has volunteered with a number of animal rescue groups. The owner planned to have her put down because she was old and sick.

Gulley asked if he could have her instead.

As best the vet could tell, she was between 12 and 14 years old. Her spine was severely damaged. Part of her jaw was missing, so her tongue protruded from her mouth. She was anaemic, dehydrated, blind, and her tiny body was battling an infection.

She was less than 1kg, which is low even for that small breed.

Today, the dog, named Nola, although still feeble, has outlived predictions. She shares a Dacula home with Gulley, a regional sales manager for a garage door opener company, his wife, Vickie, four other dogs and a cat. The pets are all senior rescues, ranging in age from eight to perhaps 14.

"The majority of people just want a pet," said Gulley. "I didn't want them as pets. I wanted to take care of them. Seniors are the most neglected, and a lot of people don't want to deal with them."

During a recent outing to their vacation home on Lake Hartwell, Gulley filled a pill organiser for Nola, who takes five medications daily.

"My heart just goes out to them," Gulley said. "If we can get one dog adopted who needs it, wow, that would make a difference. They've brought me so much joy."

Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, said that due to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, pets are living longer now than ever before.

"It's important to remember that age is not a disease. Good care allows our pets to live happy, healthy and active lives in their senior years." – TNS/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Shelia Poole

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Pets , older pet , old dogs , senior dogs , pet adoption


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