Adopting a Senior Dog
They might be a bit out of shape
and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well."
-- Bonnie Wilcox, "Old Dogs, Old Friends"
Senior retrievers make up a growing portion of our owner surrender population. The healthier diets, advancing veterinarian care, and attention to exercise have created dogs who live 12,13, even 15 years! As a result, people are realizing they might not be able to care for a dog they assumed would be gone after 7 or 8 years.
The good news is often these dogs have been well cared for, have lived in a single home, and make wonderful pets.
Who Should Adopt a Senior Dog?
Why Adopt a Senior Dog?
Senior Dog Links
How to Care for an Older Dog (from the Senior Dog Project)
NEARR Member's Senior Testimonials
Hi, I used to be a foster but I moved to Oregon. This is a
pic of Berry (formerly Strawberry) who I adopted from the MSPCA through
your site. He was 9 when I adopted him. He's 11 going on 12 now, is
having the time of his life and can still clear a 3 foot fence, if a
pretty girl dog is on the other side :-). Anyway, I took this nice
pic of him and I thought you might like it. I am glad I adopted a
senior, he's got so much puppy left in him still. I assume he will
go to 15. My vet here was shocked when I told her his age! He a little
crabby, but that can be expected from any New England male, canine or
We heard of Rocky's plight through NEARR and after weeks of deliberation, we went to see him. He was living a life of terrible neglect and loneliness. Although I knew that he was in pretty bad shape and had difficulty walking, I just couldn't bear the thought of this sweet old soul living his last years like this. No one was interested in him. I had to see for myself if there was some way that we could manage him. He would have to somehow negotiate the six stairs from our porch to the street to potty. That was our biggest concern.
My husband was very much opposed to this, but agreed to come with me. As soon as we entered the yard and this dog struggled to stand and greet us, my husband looked at me, nodded his head and I knew in that instant that he would be coming home with us. It was that fast. We agreed to pick him up the following week. The owner tied him up in the back yard on his way to a two week vacation.
We were told that he would never be able to negotiate stairs, but he managed to wobble down the ones from his yard. We were elated and started to have some hope that this would be doable. He was a good boy in the car and when I looked in the rearview mirror to see that beautiful face, so trusting of strangers taking him who knows where, I knew it would be worth anything we were about to face with him.
He needed a lot of work - two baths to get him clean of the filth that had accumulated, two teeth cleanings, two ear cleanings and a full vet check and shots. He seemed to know that all these people were helping him and bore it all with total serenity and dignity. Rocky was a huge favorite with everyone, not only for his handsome good looks :), but for the sweet nature with which he dealt with vets and groomers, without fuss or complaint. He bore all the attention with lordly insouciance, not the bouncing looniness of his little sister. He does have his pride, you know!
One of the great joys of having Rocky is that he is constantly surprising us. Roma, like all vigorous and intelligent young dogs, requires a great deal of stimulation and exercise. As a counterpoint to her, it is nice to have a dog that is more laid back, one that only requires walks and to be close to you for naps and cuddles. It is equally wonderful to see him get a flash of his still-present puppy hood. When we go to the park, I have to smile when, with his unsteady, wobbly gate, still manages to rev up some speed and play, "Chase Me!" He actually smiles when he pauses to look over his shoulder to be sure that one of us is in hot pursuit. Rocky has also appointed himself captain of the Park Play Police, and if he deems that any youthful canine offender is playing too rough, he gives a soft, but deep warning woof. He then sits back on his haunches and proceeds to look in charge. A word to the wise, you might say.
Having a senior dog has been a wonderful experience, with many rewards. I cannot imagine life without him. He is patient and mellow in a way that I can only hope Roma will grow into one day. If Rocky comes around for some love and attention while we are busy, he will give one soft little kiss and wait, looking hopeful. If none is forthcoming, he will try back later, knowing that success will surely be his. With the wisdom of age, he knows that good things come to those who wait.
I have always said that the dogs give far more to us than we give to them. The depths of love and loyalty that they are able to reach, especially after going through whatever bad times they have had at the hands of humans is more inspirational to me than any lesson I have ever learned from another person. There is no doubt in my mind that he knows that he has been given a fresh chance at a happy life and says thank you every time he struggles up from his bed to meet us at the door, every time he tackles the brick stairs to potty (sometimes nicking himself in the process as his legs drag a bit), every time he "holds it" until we can take him out and then drags himself up the stairs again. None of these things are easy for him, but he gives it all he has without complaint.
Rocky does all that is within his power to do. It is his way of saying thank you. We are his pack. He is grateful and so are we.
Sadie has made incredible progress since I took her home and most of you have been kept abreast of the changes in her physical and emotional condition. Well, last night she did something new - again.
I think I told you all that 4-5 weeks ago she got on my bed for the first time. Since then, she's been making up for lost time in a snuggly place by spending 22 hours on the bed! (She DOES have free reign of the house, but the bed is so nice!) Last night I got into bed and Sadie immediately came up, snuggled against me, put her head on my shoulder, and went to sleep. She stayed there all night. She has never done that before. This is really new and trusting behavior for Sadie.
Of course, she learned this from Nigel, as she took HIS favorite spot last night. He's pretty flexible, though, and didn't mind losing his perch, as long as he could sleep on my feet.
Sadie has demonstrated the depths of pain that some of the NEARR dogs bring to their forever homes. She's also a great example of how love, good food, more love, encouragement, fish oil, and more love can change the trust and behavior of wonderful labbies. There isn't much left for her to try out in terms of new behavior, though I would like it if she would not eat the bird food in the neighbor's yard!
Seniors are so rewarding. they just want to be loved for themselves, after their lives have been disrupted (or worse).
One of the things I've noted is that they are reliable. their personalities are developed and when you get a senior dog, often they are at their worst. they just get better with love.
We were told he was a lab mix and 10 years old but nothing could have prepared us for our first impressions!
You see Benson had the look of an old worn out sailor, one who had been floating around on the sea of life and having a very tough time keeping his head up!.
He was shaggy, grayed, overweight, and could just about amble off the back of the car he was in. My husband and I (who by the way had just driven 50 miles in a downpour, and waited 30 anxious minutes for his arrival) looked at each other and, shaking our heads, said "well he will stay with us forever!"
Driving home we talked about how dumb we were to be doing this knowing that Benson ((Old Ben) (as he lovingly came to be called)), would probably just lie around have no interest and most likely soil in the house and, because of my need to be needed, we would have to put up with this for who knew how long! But we had committed ourselves so we did not back out.
Well let me tell you- WHAT a surprise we got! Benson turned out to be the most lovable dog; he also was well mannered and quite agile for an old fella. Benson taught us that no matter what the age or what they look like, we should give them a chance, and I do not hesitate to tell this to others. he is the reason we continued to foster.
I have a habit of spoiling the dogs and Benson was no exception. He was spoiled with just as much love (and treats :0)) as my Tessa was, and it proved a good thing. He was only with me a couple of weeks.
Underneath all that shaggy coat was a fine specimen of what a lab is all about and Benson was too soon adopted by the right person. I hope Benson is still with him!
PS: I will take a senior over a young one any day!
FYI, when Sam was 6 months old I was told she'd be crippled by five with severe hip displaysia. To date we have no problems other than occasional stiffness! I like to think that good diet and lots of exercise is the reason but the fact is, life is what you make of it and Sam knows this better than her humans!