My dear, sweet Spike. Photo: me.
November is "Adopt A Senior Pet Month"...I've done that several times and wanted to pass on why I feel it's important to not overlook elderly animals when considering adoptions...there are lots of advantages!
I wrote this article a few years ago for the group I volunteer for, Northern Virginia Sheltie Rescue, and our newsletter, "The Sheltie Spin"...
I have a reputation with the Sheltie rescue folks …as having ”a softie for the seniors.” My first older Sheltie was Buddy, a fella who was taken in as a stray – so we never knew his exact age. My vet guessed him to be around 9. Sadly, I shared only a few short years with Buddy before kidney failure sent him to the Rainbow Bridge. But in those years, I developed an intense love for senior dogs. (More on why they’re so amazing below.) After Buddy, I fostered several Shelties in their “Golden Years.” I figured each time that the dog would be with me for a while, as most people overlook older dogs – they don’t want to deal with #1: potential health problems, and #2: the fact that their time with the dog may be brief. Those two issues have never concerned me. Seniors deserve the same happy, loving homes as younger dogs. When Northern Virginia Sheltie Rescue dog Spike was returned to our group in 2014 at the age of 13 ½ because his owner was “moving and couldn’t take him along,” I said to myself, “couldn’t” – or “wouldn’t”? Through no fault of his own, a sweet, loving Sheltie was abandoned, perhaps because of his age. I took one look at Spike and felt an instant connection. I knew he was destined to be ours. So we gladly added him to our family. From the beginning, Spike had difficulty getting around. His hips were weak, and his toes were splayed from years of not having his nails cut. He hobbled from room to room. Steps weren’t an option – neither was jumping up on the couch (allowed at our house). But it didn’t matter to Spike or to us… we were just happy to know that he would be with us for the rest of his days. Despite his mobility issues, there were wonderful highlights…like the time we saw him run a bit, trying to play with our other pooches. And the day we put him in our pool with us…he swam like he was in the Olympics – what a fast little guy in the water, if not on land! Spike had spirit…but that spirit couldn’t stop the hands of time. He began to have more serious health issues - with his kidneys, pancreas and gall bladder, and at one point he lost almost all mobility. We were able to restore that, then received a promising ultrasound result. Naturally, we began to have hope that he would remain with us longer. But a few weeks later came the day I wasn’t prepared for: the morning when we woke up…but Spike did not. He had passed during the night. My vet suspected a heart attack or stroke and assured me that Spike didn’t suffer. But I did…because I wasn’t able to say goodbye, to hold and kiss him, and whisper words of love and gratitude into his ear as he began his journey to the Bridge. We lost Spike on July 17, 2015…exactly one year to the day we adopted him. It’s as if he knew the significance of that day and fought to give us one full year with him. He would often gaze at me so intently, as if trying to say with his eyes, “Thank you for taking a chance on me.” Spike, the pleasure and joy was ours. There is something so special about loving a senior Sheltie (or senior dog of any breed). They still have so much to offer – and ask for so little in return. With a senior, what you see is what you get: a mature animal who’s housetrained and has long since mastered the basics. (Contrary to popular belief, you CAN teach old dogs new tricks. They are just as smart as younger ones, with a greater attention span, making them that much easier to train.) Seniors demand less attention than younger dogs, so they are content with their own company for longer periods. With a lower energy level, senior dogs are easier to care for and make wonderful companions for the elderly. And they’re also friendly and gentle playmates for children. The benefits are many, for you and the senior dog. Every senior deserves a “best friend until the end” who can see past possible health issues and limited life span. Won’t you be a friend for an older dog who just wants to be loved? Open your heart and home to a senior dog…he or she will show you such devotion…and you’ll be able to take comfort in the fact that you’ve made a senior’s final months or years the very best of that dog's life.