I adopted my Chiweenie Lucy nine years ago when she was a puppy. She sunbathes in the garden while my kids swim, she relaxes next to me in her bed while I write, and she loves to mix bacon into her nibbles. In other words, she lives the good life.
If we moved and couldn’t bring her with us, or if the medical costs got too high, I couldn’t stand the thought that she would live in an animal shelter for the rest of her life – where statistics show a dog her age doesn’t fit have a great chance of adoption – when she was part of our family in her earlier years.
Fortunately, there are organizations across the country looking for dogs like Lucy. These groups ensure that older dogs or dogs from 7 years of age are looked after in their golden years.
Grooming or adopting an older dog has its advantages: They have predictable personalities, they are trained, and they are usually more reluctant than energetic pups. Also, depending on the breed, these dogs can have as many years ahead of them as they have already experienced.
Three organizations showed me how they can improve the lives of seniors.
A network of nursing homes
In western Washington state, the nonprofit Old Dog Haven (olddoghaven.org) currently has 320 families on their voluntary care network on call to host senior citizens from animal shelters, animal controls, or families experiencing a life changing event.
“We take in dogs that we believe would not otherwise be adopted,” said Joe Myers, marketing and art director. Joe and his wife have been caring for years – they once had six dogs – and are excited to see the dogs blossom in their new home. Sometimes the dogs are adopted or sometimes the foster home is the dog’s last refuge. Either way, he says: “It’s not only good for the dogs, but also for the people.”
Old Dog Haven uses a large network of foster homes to provide a safe, loving place for abandoned older dogs who have little chance of adoption. (Pictured: Albert and Kizzy) © Courtesy Carly Ruacho
Partnership with animal shelters
All senior dogs entering the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary (ofsds.org) in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee are from local animal controls, shelters, and rescues within a 100 mile radius.
“If Animal Control gets an older dog and they know it’s not doing well (at an animal shelter), they’ll call us,” says Noel Kiswiney, Marketing Manager.
Aside from its network of foster families, Old Friends has a 20,000 square foot facility called PAWvillions. The facility was built specifically for the dogs with easy-to-clean epoxy floors, access to the yard from each dog room, special feed boxes and a full-service hospital wing.
“Many of these dogs will become lifelong residents,” explains Noel, and will spend the rest of their days in the sanctuary.
Many of the dogs in the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary spend their lives comfortably in the sanctuary. © photo courtesy Devi Sanford
Assumption of medical costs
Medical and dental services are expensive for emergency shelter and rescue. The Gray Muzzle Organization (greymuzzle.org) funds these services and all other programs aimed at the welfare of older dogs.
“We offer accommodation and save trust so that they can meet their health needs and adopt them,” says Lisa Lunghofer, managing director.
That year, Gray Muzzle awarded a record $ 616,000 focusing on organizations that can keep their programs going.
“We really want to provide start-up capital for organizations that are committed to caring for older dogs over the long term,” says Lisa.
Gray Muzzle offers free webinars on its website about advances in veterinary medicine and other resources on common senior health issues and care tips. The goal is to keep dogs in their homes.
Last year Lisa conducted the first nationwide study on increasing the adoption rate of older dogs.
One of the lessons learned was improving communication with the public about the joys of senior adoption. “We need to think more broadly about older dogs,” she explains. “A dog that is 7 years old likely has many different characteristics and needs than a dog that is 14.”
Mama T. © Courtesy Julia Allen
What can you do?
- Join an elderly dog grooming network near you.
- Spread awareness of problems with older dogs and adoptable dogs on social media. Via the website, sponsor an Old Dog Haven senior by paying for their food or entrance exam.
- Make your skills available on a voluntary basis. Gray Muzzle seeks help with graphic design and virtual storytelling.