Frankie at 77 -- still surfin'!

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.)

6.  Mellowness

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.

7. Gratitude

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.

31 thoughts on “Eight reasons to adopt a senior dog”

  1. I just LOVE your list. Adapted or otherwise, it makes perfect sense. I too have found relief in not having to train puppies, although I have fostered one exhausting little fellow who I am so happy to have known. And yes, learning the habits of a fairly established personality is tough enough!

    I also understand your “cluelessness” and reveled in it myself for many years. Just about every animal that has ever come into my life was adopted (aside from 2-3 purchased birds who, after finding no adoptable options, were necessary to provide mates for depressed widowed birds.)

    I never thought about why not to adopt various members of my animal family. Some were older, some destructive, some had bad attitudes, whatever. All have had a positive impact on my life because none were ever worthless or deserving of my neglect.

    It wasn’t until I married a rescuer that I learned all the grounds people assign for adopting one dog over another or for giving these dependent and powerless beings away. The lies humans tell themselves to reason away a life astounds me, but this Petfinder campaign is a magical event and I’m so appreciative for all the people taking part on behalf of the animals.

    Thanks for your valuable post, Edie. As always, you tell it like it is with great finesse.

    1. Thank *you,* Kim. I guess cluelessness is not a bad thing if your heart is in the right place and the idea of discriminating just never occurs to you. And I’ve got to say, the idea of purchasing birds to provide mates for “depressed widowed birds” is very sweet.

      The Petfinder campaign is wonderful and your role in it is, as always, inspiring I commented on your post, but I’ll reiterate here that the there’s a terrific film on a very adoptable dog on ThisOneWildLife. Just link to the site after the “Kim recently posted…” prompt in her comment.

  2. Excellent post, Edie. Although Archie (at about age 16) no longer has the stamina to hike, he also no longer has the stamina to boss me around quite so much. If I’d met him at age 9 instead of age 1 or 2, I would have fallen for him just as hard. All of this is to say that you’ve persuaded me that I will definitely seek a pre-improved, middle aged dog, should the time for adoption arrive again. Thanks!

    1. As you know, Archie was quite a hiker even at age 9; it’s only in the last couple of years that he’s slowed down. I’m glad I’ve inspired you to consider a mature pup.

  3. I love this post. I especially appreciated, and even got a little misty, when you wondered out loud what it must be like for a dog who lived most all of her or his life with a family only to surrendered to a shelter. How sad and confusing for the dog.

    You list is lovely too. There’s no such thing as too much good karma!


    1. Deborah – I too got weepy at that. I have had dogs try and drag me away from the shelter in the direction of home and I’ve had some look at every car or person who comes out the shelter doors, looking for their mom or dad. It breaks my heart every time.

  4. Giving older dogs a home is indeed a mitzvah. They really can be instant pets for all the reasons you mention. Puppies are cute but there’s something about old dogs that plays all my heartstrings.

  5. Great post, Edie! Sometimes I’m awed by how my little one has grown up and become so compliant….Other times I’m reminded that there’s still a little puppy swirling around in there, and he ocassionally pees inappropriately! Hurray for the senior spokesdog: Frankie!

    1. I would have to second this comment. Senior dogs need more our attention ever, just as we do with our senior parents.

  6. Edie, glad you mentioned the parts about not having to house-train or go thru teething, which certainly are a huge plus, but the gratitude is definitely the biggest reward, and it’s not anthropomorphizing.

    My dog Teddy, who I rescued from certain death by starvation in the mountains – abandoned or lost from a sheep camp – will not simply bolt out the door in the mornings with the other two – he must first give me a kiss and refuses to go out until he does.

    Diane Schmidt recently posted at The Albuquerque Judaism Examiner at about xenophobia
    (I still don’t know how to use the blogpost button:)

  7. That is such a cute picture of Frankie 🙂

    I like to point out to people that puppies stay puppies for 8 months. Then they are considered “dogs.” So if people are just going in for the puppy factor, it really doesn’t last long!

    Love your list 🙂

  8. Frankie thanks you all for appreciating his gravitas. He has small shoulders for assuming the senior spokesdog mantle, but he wears it gracefully.

    Thanks, Diane, for confirming that gratitude is a real phenomenon. I love that Teddy has to kiss you before going out… so sweet.

    I love all the blog posts for less adoptable dogs that have turned up since I posted this, and hope you’ll browse through them. Have some tissues on hand…

  9. I heart Stump. What a happy surprise to find that reference in your most excellent list. I have friends who ONLY and ALWAYS adopt older dogs (quite old, actually). They have 5-6 dogs at any one time, so their veterinary bills and frequent grief would strain both my budget and my heart, but I’m glad there are people out there who happily home those pets who are well past the puppy stage.

    And, you are right … when we adopted Ginko at 10 weeks old, we had NO idea how he would turn out. And, he kept growing, and growing, and growing. It’s all fine, but it did come as a bit of a shock.

    Lilly, on the other hand, only gained another 10 pounds and grew just a bit from her “original” size at 6 months old.

  10. Terrific post. And it made me a bit weepy thinking about my last dog, Shadow who we adopted at 9 years old. After losing two dogs in the past 2 years, I really wanted a younger dog. I didn’t think I could face another illness or death anytime soon.

    But as soon as I met Shadow I knew she was the one for us. Although we only had 2 years together, I wouldn’t trade a minute of our time together for a younger dog.

    I’d have to say 3 of the 6 dogs I’ve had in my life would be considered less adoptable. And each one of them brought their own special gifts into my life. I guess it’s all about being open to the furry blessings life has in store for us–even when we’re not looking for them.

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and confirming the gifts that older dogs can bring. I’m so sorry for the loss of Shadow, but how wonderful that you provided her with a loving home for her final years.

    2. Pamela – I can so relate to Shadow’s story. I adopted my Aspen at age 9 and only had one year with her. Best year of my life.

  11. A great list Edie and so right on.

    I have always gravitated to the older dogs. I don’t know if it’s they’re sad eyes, from having lived in a loving home and suddenly losing it, or their dignity despite the circumstances they find themselves in, but either way, everything you listed above is so true. They are truly the best dogs at the shelter – it’s a shame people don’t realize what a steal they are. They give so much more back in return than we can ever give them. I should know. I have had two senior dogs and don’t regret my time with them one bit.

  12. Great post, Edie! I love the older dogs too – so many shelters won’t take them, which ticks me off – age is just a number (sometimes a vet charge for arthritis-related pains) and I happen to think the older dogs should be re-homed first if possible.

    All the years of love and service they provide, and people drop them off because they don’t want to go through the messy endings. It is the worst kind of heartbreak to watch.

    We had a Corgi come in who was grieving for the loss of her person who died – inconsolable, facing a corner, refusing to engage with anyone for days and days. She ended up in a happy home with another Corgi – a home obviously accustomed to this bossy breed! Her dog guardians were looking after her.

    Based on the principle that says “give them what they want” for people who want a dog to “fit in” in 7 seven days, an older dog is definitely the way the go:)

  13. I’m an older dog and I, too, love older dogs. I hope to always have one in my life.

    Senior canines rock!

    I got Lily greyhound at 2 yrs 3 mos which to me was still puppy-ish by greyhound standards. She acted like a puppy until around 10.

    Although she never stopped chewing stuff. She chewed with vigor almost until the day she died at 12 yrs 9 mos.

    Great post. I hope it influences some people to adopt them older.

  14. Great post! You are so right that an older dog appreciates being adopted. You can tell that my Sunshine appreciates her new life – actually I think she was in disbelief when it finally dawned on her that this is permanent, not just some fun vacation!

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