I was so clueless about dogs when I first adopted Frankie that I didn’t realize he was pushing geriatric status — and that this was considered a bad thing. I’m very glad I didn’t know, and not only because I would have missed out on making the acquaintance of my Zen master, muse and constant companion.
In retrospect, I don’t think I could have coped with the irrational exuberance of a puppy or with all the shape and personality shifting that growing dogs go through. I had enough trouble trying to unravel the mysteries of one small, shy dog who was pretty much set in his ways.
A lot of different circumstances under which dogs end up in shelters make me misty — dogs left behind when a family moves or surrendered when a person can no longer afford the care — but nothing seems as sad to me as the plight of an older dog who has had the experience of a good home, only to have it taken away unceremoniously. How confusing it must be to have your world turned upside down when you’ve long been accustomed to human company — and to serving as a companion. How distressing to be faced with sudden forced retirement and incarceration when you haven’t done anything wrong.
It’s true that you can expect an older dog to be with you for less time than a younger dog — but, really, it’s impossible to predict when illness or an accident will take a young pup. And when an older dog dies, sad as it is, it feels more like a natural part of the universal order than a shock to the system.
But the best reasons to consider adopting a senior are selfish ones, as I can attest. Many of the following are adapted from the website of the Senior Dogs Project, devoted to finding homes for older dogs.
1. WYSIWYG: What you see is what you get
Size, shape, personality, even activity levels — they’re all right there before you in an older dog. You won’t be surprised when that cute mystery mix turns into a huge chowhound. Not every senior dog is going to be perfect for you, just as not every young dog will be. But you’ll know right off if you’re a good fit.
2. Lower expectations = higher achievement
Everything your dog does after a certain age gets more praise than it would if your dog was younger. For example, the big news about the 2009 Westminster winner was the fact that Stump was 10:
3. House savvy
Dogs that have lived in a house for a long time know the rules: The bathroom is outside; no begging at the table… and maybe even some extras.
4. Less temptation to transgress
Older dogs don’t need to teeth on your shoes, furniture and other puppy objects of desire.
5. Better focus
While an older dog’s size and personality are pretty much established, the ability to learn is not, old dog/new tricks cliche notwithstanding. Older dogs are not as easily distracted by smells and sounds and can therefore focus on the lessons you’re trying to teach them. (That’s not to suggest they’re going to get any smarter with age, but the breed-specific drives won’t be quite as strong.)
Older dogs have learned to play well with others and tend to go with the flow more than young ‘uns. They don’t make the kinds of demands on your time and attention that puppies and young dogs do — including in the middle of the night.
Anthropomorphism? Maybe. But given the fact that most dogs that need adopting spent a little time in a shelter or with a rescue group, it seems logical to assume that any senior dog you adopt knows she caught a break when she landed back in a real home.
8. Good karma
Call it a mitzvah, a good deed, or karmic credit: It’s a really nice thing to do and the universe will thank you.
Note: This post is part of the Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet Week/ Be the Change drive, part awareness campaign, part fundraiser. Half of the money collected will go to The Grey Muzzle Organization. If this post or the Grey Muzzle site inspired you to adopt a senior dog this week, please let us know.