Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Focusing on the oldsters

by Steve Fabian | Nov 17, 2014

November is adopt a senior pet month. It's sad we have to have a month to promote this when so many people should just be doing it all the time, no matter what month it is. The most often response I get from people when I ask them why they chose to adopt a senior dog is that the dog “spoke to them” or something about that dog just tugged at their heart strings. Faced with a dog who has spent their whole life as a family pet and then been left to die in a shelter was enough to convince me to save a senior. Even if I could only bring them home for a few days, knowing they wouldn’t die alone was worth my heartbreak.  But whatever the reason for rescuing their first senior dog, it just takes one. Once you open your heart to a senior, you’ll never be the same.

Veterinarians will tell you that a dog is a senior around 7 years of age, however, dogs who arrive at a shelter or rescue that are 5 years old become difficult to place and are often the first to be slated for euthanasia.  They are often the calmest and easiest pets but they are not usually adopted.  Why is it that everyone wants a two year old?  Not a one year old, not a three year old, but a two year old?  A one year old is still a puppy and somehow two years old has become society’s accepted age for adoption. It somehow guarantees a long life ahead without the headache of puppy antics.  Not so fast. In case you haven’t figured it out already, for both humans and animals, there are no guarantees. Just because you get a 6 month old puppy doesn’t mean you’ll get 10, 12 or even 14 more years.  For me, mastering the world of dogdom came when I brought home a senior pet for the first time.  It was a wonderful calm homecoming and that dog became my instant companion following me everywhere, hanging on my every word and not eating my shoes. The meaningful glances and the deep appreciation for the human-animal bond because they’ve had it before and then lost it and are so grateful to have it again. Isn’t that what we admire so much about dogs, that no matter how awful humans are to them, they love us anyway….with unconditional dedication and loyalty.

We have a preconceived notion about older dogs that they just sleep all the time and can’t enjoy life.  Once you realize that’s just a perception and open your heart, you find yourself smiling and laughing watching them play with their toys, chew on their bones, run on the beach and walk alongside you with an ever-wagging tail.

We can’t have this conversation without talking about grief.  It’s a very personal thing and usually the reason I get from people not wanting to adopt an older dog.  “I just can’t go thru that again so soon”.  It’s true, it is hard and having an older pet sometimes forces you to make tough decisions, but we love them and that’s why we do it. Think about it, whether you have a dog for five days or five years, it doesn’t make those decisions any easier. If you make the most of your time and focus on the quality, that’s what matters. Lori Fusaro, a photographer who launched Silver Hearts, a project to publish great photos of senior dogs to help get them adopted said, “the idea of adopting an older dog made her squirm with uneasiness.” But after adopting Sunny, a 17-year old dog who just spoke to her, her view changed.  “When I look back at my unwillingness to adopt an older dog, it was more about my own selfishness — about not wanting to feel that pain, not wanting to make hard decisions. But every dog is important. Every dog deserves a home. I finally just boiled it down to love. That’s the most important thing.”

I leave you with some quotes from my fellow rescuers.  They too had their reservations about adopting an older dog and like me, have become some of their biggest advocates.

“Seniors are the best, you know exactly what you are getting with a senior dog....they fit me perfectly”

“Older dogs know that "no" means "no."  Counter tops are safe, shoes stay in place, walks are a pleasure, and life is contemplated (I had a senior who would watch with wonder the leaves fall every November).  Most importantly, you can see in their eyes that they love you and that you are their person, you are their reason for living.”

“I couldn't imagine life without my senior guys! There's something about the calmness & laid back demeanor of an older dog. When you look deep into their eyes, you realize that there's so much history & wisdom in that ball of fur....... Doesn't matter the hell that they might have been through in their  prior life, you bring them home and it's as if they hit the "reset" button, and love you as if pain & suffering never existed.  This might sound kind of "selfish" but, you want to be the lucky one having the honor of giving them a home for the last few years of their life :)”

Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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