Virtues Of An Older Dog

We at Cocker Spaniel Adoption Center are frequently called to rescue older dogs, and we often find ourselves with a large number of "senior citizens," some more senior than others. Many people tell us they are not interested in adopting senior dogs precisely because they are older. It is no accident that shelters consider animals virtually unadoptable if they are six years old or more. We find these attitudes senseless and unacceptable.

There are so many virtues in older dogs. They are typically calm, gentle and easy-going, and most of the time they cause no trouble in their homes. They are often so grateful to be alive, they would do anything for their humans. It makes their frequent abandonment all the more painful. Most rescuers I know prefer to have older dogs in their foster homes. I cannot tell you how often I have heard: "They are my favorites." I share this viewpoint entirely.

I often think that when the last of my permanent furbabies leaves me for Rainbow Bridge I am going to open my home completely to senior dog fostering. Those who are lucky enough to find love again with new families can go on their way, and make room for the next older dog. Those who do not move on will come to know a loving permanent home with me. Many rescuers at CSAC consistently express similar feelings. This may seem like an altruistic thing to do, but the truth is that we would be the lucky ones to have these dogs in our lives. Older dogs are so special and dear. To know them is to fall completely in love. If only more people would give them a chance.

Many "older" dogs have at least half of their lives ahead of them if they receive good care. These can be priceless, loving years, if human companions wish to make them so. You can't go wrong with the older dogs we have seen come through the doors of CSAC. We have been privileged to care for and know them. They have touched our lives in countless ways. It would take more than an essay to explain this experience. You have to go there to know what I mean. You will never regret it, however long you are blessed by your precious angel.

Please consider that most people want puppies and that puppies can easily find homes. This is not always a good thing for the puppies. In many cases, people don't realize what they are getting into when they get a puppy, and when they find out how much work a puppy takes, many wish they had adopted an older dog that knows the ropes and is comparatively easy to care for. It is also no accident that so many Christmas puppies find themselves in shelters a few months after Christmas. Reality sets in, puppy cuteness wears off, and too many people abandon them. That is the primary reason we do not allow adoptions around the Christmas holidays, except in very special circumstances.

If you adopt an older dog, you would be giving him a precious chance to have the life he truly deserves. Please remember that these poor souls often need homes due to circumstances beyond their control. It is certainly not their fault that they have aged. It happens to everyone -- unless you consider the alternative.

It's true that some older dogs will need special care as they enter their golden years. So will we all -- one day. Some of us are there already. Think about how you would want -- and need -- to be treated when your step slows, your vision isn't as clear, your hearing not as keen, your memory not as sharp. If you fall sick, wouldn't you want loving hands to hold and hearts to care? Can we not do this for the most innocent of God's creatures?

In some cases, special care is not needed. You would be surprised how little age matters when you meet some of these wonderful dogs. In fact, if we didn't tell you how old some of them are, you would probably have a hard time guessing. You might consider that youth is no guarantee of health and longevity. I have held a 12-week-old puppy in my arms and watched him die from seizures that could not be controlled following their onset at nine weeks -- no matter how many specialists tried to save him. Yes, it was unnatural, and yes, it was horrifying. But it happened just the same.

I recall one family who was positively adamant that they would not -- could not -- adopt an "older dog." They wanted a young dog to grow up with their children. They did not want their children to risk the heartbreak of losing their dog too soon. I suggested Mac, a beautiful six-year-old black boy who loves children, loves to play, and is in general the greatest dog. No one told Mac that he is "older." He races around like a puppy. Nevertheless, the family refused him, and I placed him with an active single woman who lives in New York. She takes long walks in Central Park with Mac every day. He runs marathons with her and goes on hiking trips in the Adirondacks. He curls up with her every night on the couch and later in bed. They are the love of each other's lives.

The family who refused Mac was positively thrilled when we took in a beautiful three-year-old buff female named Shasta. She was just young enough, they said. Shasta was indeed a precious baby, and the connection between Shasta and her new family was something. I was pleased that things worked out for everyone. Imagine the shock and pain I felt when Shasta's heartbroken mother called me less than one year after her adoption to tell me that Shasta had just died quite suddenly.

"What on earth happened?" I asked in dismay.

"We thought she had a bad reaction to the new carpet we put down," her adopter sobbed. "You know, the chemicals and stuff? She started throwing up and couldn't stop. We ripped up the carpets, but it didn't help. Nothing seemed to help. We took her to a specialist, and he told us she had stomach cancer. It's rare in young dogs, but it does happen."

She was inconsolable.

"We couldn't do anything for her," she continued to cry. "She was in so much pain, and she was so sick, we couldn't even keep her with us for a little while. We had to let her go. It came on so suddenly. Who would have thought it?"

Who, indeed. What a horror. So young, so alive, gone far too soon, leaving a heartbroken family in her wake. That which they tried to avoid met them head-on, regardless of their efforts to control fate. There are no guarantees; life makes us no promises. It's a terribly painful lesson when it hits you between the eyes, and far worse when it pierces your heart.

Ironically, "old" Mac continues to thrive in his New York home -- many years after his adoption. He is now 15 years old, and though he doesn't run marathons anymore, he still takes his walks around the Park, and he still goes camping in the Adirondacks. He even hikes -- a little. You just never know.

Someone once asked me if I knew how to make God laugh.

I blinked at her and said no.

"Tell Him your plans," she replied.

Isn't that the truth?

No one knows how many breaths are left in any of our bodies, so we need to live for today, and let our animal companions do the same. Accept the gift of each day and each other -- loaned to us only for awhile. Cherish the good times, do your best to meet the bad with strength, courage and grace, and just be. Give an old dog a chance. You cannot imagine all they can teach you and share with you if you let them. And they need your love and understanding so much. Please think about these things, and . . .

Please. . .

Valerie Macys

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