Whenever we visit an animal rescue centre, my husband heads straight for the puppies and younger dogs, immediately wanting to adopt all the adorable bundles of boisterous energy.
I, however, go directly to the enclosures where the older dogs sit more quietly and patiently, all too accustomed to waiting their turn, and often in vain. The dogs whose eyes are haunted with sadness, silently pleading for a warm bed to call their own, in a new home with a loving family.
Unfortunately, it’s a scenario that shelters are far too accustomed to seeing. Senior dogs can often be left unadopted for months, even years, with many passing their final moments in the gentle hands of rescue centre workers. Of the 28 dogs waiting to be adopted from the Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary in Lancashire, 17 are aged seven and over. Karen Weed of Bleakholt agrees that even though adoptions vary by breed, “larger, older dogs take a lot longer to find a good home.”
The last two dogs we’ve adopted have been “seniors”, both nine years of age, and they have brought our family endless joy and happiness. Older dogs can be a fantastic choice if you’re planning to head to a rescue centre to find your newest canine family member.
So, when is a dog classed as “senior”? Much like humans, it all depends on lifestyle, health and attitude! In general, for very large breeds, the senior years begin at around 6-7 years old; for large breeds, at approximately 8 years old; medium-sized dogs start to get old from 10 years old; and finally, for smaller breeds, it’s a little later still, at around 11-12 years old.
It’s a well-known fact that many puppies and younger dogs can wreak havoc in a home if their energy is not channelled in the right way. Furniture, cushions… anything is fair game for a younger dog to use as a toy or for chewing. They can become bored far too easily and they will then look for anything to hand which can amuse them, whether it’s your favourite CD or your most expensive sofa throw!
Older dogs, on the other hand, tend to be much calmer once they’ve adapted to their new surroundings. This can be an important factor to consider if you have young children in your home, or if you work from home and are looking for a low-maintenance dog who will sleep quietly beside you whilst you’re on phone or video calls. Senior dogs also sleep much longer than younger, energetic canines, so they’re an ideal choice for busy families, especially for those who work outside of the home. You can head off to work relatively safe in the knowledge that your furry friend will be dozing for most of your absence instead of tearing your tablecloths and duvets to shreds!
For the most part, older dogs require less exercise than their younger counterparts, which can be ideal for people with reduced mobility or those with limited time to spend on long walks several times a day. Elderly dogs often thrive on shorter walks or with several short bursts of exercise throughout the day rather than longer hikes and treks; the less rigorous the exercise is, the better it is for those ageing bones and joints!
After the initial rehoming period, you will probably find that your dog settles into their new home and routine relatively quickly, which isn’t always the case with younger dogs. The old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is just a myth as, with time and patience, it is just as easy to train a senior dog as it is a younger one. Studies have consistently shown that older dogs actually have more self-control and are less easily distracted than their younger counterparts.
Financial matters are often a source of concern for many when deciding whether to adopt an older dog. There is often the misconception that an older dog will cost a small fortune in vet’s fees and medications. However, this is not always the case and, unfortunately, any dog can fall ill at any stage of life and incur high, unplanned medical costs.
Several pet insurance companies now provide coverage for older dogs, so you can protect yourself against the cost of unexpected medical fees. There are also many charities and associations which can help dog owners with unexpected financial costs arriving from a decline in your dog’s health. The RSPCA may also offer low-cost vet care in your area. If not, you can ask to be considered for financial assistance. See www.rspca.org.uk for more information.
On the positive side, the initial outlay for an older dog is substantially less than for puppies and younger dogs. Many rescue centres also waive their adoption fees partially or completely for senior dogs, which can initially save up to several hundred pounds.
Love is all around
The unconditional love and loyalty you’ll get from your new best friend, when adopting any dog, regardless of age or breed, is second to none… even more so, when that dog has spent months, possibly years, in a rescue centre just waiting for someone to give them a forever home. As Debbie Hughes of Freshfields Animal Rescue states, “Our older dogs often stay with us from three to five years, and sometimes more. It’s a ‘vicious circle’, as people see the dog is older, pass on to looking at another dog, and so the cycle continues!” Once they’re settled into their new bed and comfortable surroundings, their gratitude and unwavering love is quite possibly one of the most fulfilling rewards you’ll ever receive in your life.
Watching a timid, abandoned dog bloom and develop into a confident, loving member of your family will have a positive effect on everyone in your household. The unequivocal sense of wellbeing which comes from the nurture and love you give an older dog means that it isn’t just the dog that benefits, but everyone in your family.
So the next time you visit a rescue centre to find your newest canine family member, please pause for a moment and take the time to look at those sorrowful eyes in the seniors’ cages. Why not be the one to make an old dog’s day and offer them a forever home? “Older dogs often have fantastic personalities and are looking for a comfortable home, where they can spend their golden years, with love and care – still keeping active and healthy, but perhaps ready for a slower pace of life and a warm fireside to curl up beside,” explains Debbie Hughes. Don’t all dogs, irrespective of age, deserve to live out their lives in such comfortable bliss?