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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

The Unique Joy of Adopting Senior Animals

Oct 02, 2014 03:41AM ● By Donna Gleason

Sweet Pea was an elderly dog who came to the New Fairfield/Sherman Animal Welfare Society (NFSAWS) with medical issues. Her owner had her since she was a puppy, but decided he could no longer care for her and dropped her off at the shelter. Sweet Pea greeted the staff with big sloppy kisses and they immediately fell in love with her. It was decided - whether she was adoptable or not - everyone would come together and personally take care of this dog if that was needed. Their intention was for Sweet Pea to live out the rest of her days happy. 

Shortly after arriving at the shelter she made a visit to the veterinarian. She had a very hard time walking and had no motor function in her hind legs. The vet identified that she had spinal degeneration, a urinary tract infection and thyroid issues. She was given the necessary medication and medical equipment. Everyone noticed with each day that passed she was becoming stronger and happier. 

Sweet Pea became the official greeter at the NFSAWS. She learned if she flashed her big brown eyes at a visitor or shelter volunteer, a treat or new toy would miraculously appear. At night, Sweet Pea would either go home with a volunteer or sleep quietly in the shelter’s foyer on her new memory foam bed.

Sadly Sweet Pea passed away due to health issues two months after coming to the shelter. 

Meghan Rhodes, NFSAWS Shelter Manager, sums it up, “I would give anything to have another two months with Sweet Pea. She changed all of us. My advice for those looking to adopt - don’t forget our senior pets. You will be glad you did.”

Why do many senior dogs and cats end up in shelters?

Family relocation: Sometimes a family moves to a new home and that new location cannot accommodate the family pet(s), according to the Grey Muzzle Organization. This can also include owners moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home where pets may not be allowed.

Pet medical issues: Sometimes owners do not want to address some of the medical issues that their senior pet may be facing and give their pet to a shelter as opposed to helping them transition through their senior years.

Caregiver health issuesSometimes a medical situation arises for the caregiver and they are in a position where they become unable to care for their pet.

Financial hardship: Some owners have financial constraints in which they simply do not have the funds to pay for the medical care their senior pet may need. For some people caring for their senior pet with medical issues means they will not be able provide for themselves.  

Other: This includes those senior dogs and cats who enter the shelter as strays.

What can you do to help? 

Consider adopting a senior shelter dog or cat. Carol VanDerese, a shelter volunteer, has been adopting senior pets for over 20 years. According to VanDerese, the dogs in this age group are loving, loyal, easy to train and have lower energy levels, which may be desirable for some adopters.

The truth about adopting a senior pet: 

No surprises: There are few surprises in terms of size or temperament… “what you see is what you get.”

Easy to train: Old dogs and cats can be taught new tricks. Both tend to be calmer and less distracted, putting more focused control on the owner.

CalmerIf you are more of a couch potato than a jogger, a senior pet may be for you.

Saving a life: According to National Geographic magazine, senior pets and black dogs are the hardest pets to adopt. Typically they are the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized. When you adopt a senior pet, you are truly saving a life.

Recognizing that the unique qualities of senior pets make them a good potential match for older people who would like to have a companion animal but don’t want to take on an energetic young animal, Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue (ROAR) in Ridgefield has instituted a “Seniors for Seniors” program. ROAR Shelter Director Allyson Dotson says the program allows approved senior humans to adopt a senior pet without paying an adoption fee. The program has been successful so far and she would like to see it grow, believing it serves an important function for both the animals and people.

Donate equipment or set-up a senior pet medical fund at your favorite shelter or rescue organization

The annual cost of raising a pet averages well over $1,000, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Senior pets tend to cost more due to increased medical bills and equipment that might be needed to maintain their quality of life. By donating and/or setting up a medical fund with your favorite shelter/rescue organization, you are assuring that funds will be available to help their senior animals live with dignity for the rest of their life.  

Support a shelter or rescue group that has a foster program for senior pets

There are special rewards one gets from living with a senior dog. Volunteers from Havanese Rescue offer these testimonials from their experiences:

“I have a senior foster here – she is going on 15. Having her has taught me to slow down and take each day as it comes. Taking naps each day is completely acceptable and, according to her, a necessity. She has taught me to take time to ‘stop & smell the roses’ and to enjoy each day as if it was your last. I feel everyone should at some point foster a senior dog – the rewards far outweigh the problems you might encounter,” says Pat Potter from Sherman. 

Amy Blankenship, another volunteer who lives in New Milford, says, “My foster came to me at 14 years old! He was a diamond in the rough. It has been thrilling to watch his recovery over this past year. He has given me more blessings than I could have ever imagined. He is a dear little old man and I can’t imagine my life without him. I highly recommend the seniors. They are special treasures.”

  “Rescues and shelters are always in need of foster and adoptive homes, especially for our senior pups,” says Sally Cotumaccio, another volunteer in northern Fairfield County.

Senior pets living in shelters can use assistance to help them live the days they have left stress-free, with the respect and dignity they deserve. 

Donna Gleason, owner of TLC Dog Trainer, resides in Sherman. She is a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA) and IAABC certified dog behavior consultant (CDBC) with a master’s degree in behavior modification. She offers professional in-home dog training and group puppy/basic obedience classes. For more information, call 203-241-4449 or visit See ad, page 53.