Several dogs ago, my husband and I decided to commit to adopting older dogs. It wasn't so much a conscious decision as it was a decision of conscience; older dogs need champions. We thought, "If not us, who?" We're dog lovers, after all, what we like to call REAL dog lovers, the kind who don't much care about size and shape and certainly not about breed. So we figured why not throw out age as a criteria, too.
Our first senior adoption was a big, square-headed, black Labrador named Connie. She was brought in as a stray so the shelter gave her that name. But all she had to her name was her name, so we kept it. We only had Connie for 18 months. It took us no time at all to fall in love with her, but bone cancer left us little time and took her away. As devastating as the loss was, though, we agreed that we would not have traded our time with her to avoid the grief.
Next came Monk, a frosty-muzzled, muscular mongrel. People who saw Monk and me together thought, "Awww, he thinks you're his mom." "Nah," I'd say, shaking my head. "He thinks I'm his wife." We had Monk for six plus years and for every one of them he would growl at my husband every time he got near me and especially when he got into bed. That boy was out-of-his-mind obsessed with me. If I was out of town, though, Monk and my husband got along just fine. Monk would happily follow him everywhere - to the kitchen, to the bathroom. And not in a, "I've counted the silverware so don't even think about it" way but more like a, "Hey, you're not so bad" way. So, clearly, I was the problem.
When Monk died, even my husband grieved.
Who says an old dog can't teach new tricks?
Two plus years ago, we adopted Olive from I Stand with My Pack Rescue. She was pulled by an amazing rescue on our behalf because we'd told them we were looking for an older dog. She came to us as a "10+ year old Pit bull" who the shelter had named Jane. I liked the name Jane but as soon as she crossed our threshold I said, "You're an Olive if I've ever seen one." Turns out it didn't much matter what we called Olive because she's 100% deaf. The shelter didn't know that. Neither did the rescue. And I can see why; it took us a night and a half to figure it out for ourselves, a little longer to realize she's actually an American Bulldog.
Every dog has a tale and I plan to tell Olive's in a future blog, at least as much of it as we know. More than any dog I have ever known and loved, Olive has taught me so many valuable life lessons. Who says an old dog can't teach new tricks? I'll share Olive's in a series I'm going to call "ILOVE OLIVE". It's an anagram, ma'am.
The need is great…the rewards are greater.
Wonderful older dogs are sadly all too available at shelters and rescues throughout the U.S. If you're not quite sure you're quite ready to adopt one, or concerned about potential medical costs, check into the possibilities of fostering an older dog. Many rescues have special programs for senior dogs that includes help with medical costs. Even if you don't ultimately adopt the dog, a short-term bunking with you could very well help the dog eventually land in their forever home. A great fostering respite can give a senior dog the time they need to recover from who knows what: a previously rough life, the loss of their person, their time on the street, their stay at a shelter. You may be able to give them the one thing they need most, a chance. It may be all they need to come out of their shell and attract a forever person or family. Or you could become one of our favorite kinds of fosters, a failed one. Those are the ones who had every intention of only fostering but wound up falling in love, adopting and "failing" as a foster.
If you think you might be built for adopting older dogs, by which I mean able to meet some of their special needs and accepting that their stay may be shorter than long, I do not think you will regret it. There are a great many things you won't miss about having a younger dog companion - the furniture rearranging, the chewing of your favorite shoes, the missing snooze button when you just want a little more sleep; older pups are often far more willing to get up and go on your schedule than insist on their own. Yes, the inevitable end will be nearer. But until it comes, the days will be no less dear. That I can promise you.
“I can't think of anything that brings me closer to tears than when my old dog - completely exhausted after a hard day in the field - limps away from her nice spot in front of the fire and comes over to where I'm sitting and puts her head in my lap, a paw over my knee, and closes her eyes, and goes back to sleep. I don't know what I've done to deserve that kind of friend.”