I adopted my Chiweenie, Lucy, nine years ago when she was a puppy. She sunbathes in the backyard while my kids swim, she relaxes next to me in her bed while I write, and she loves bacon mixed into her kibble. In other words, she’s living the good life.
If we moved and couldn’t bring her, or if medical expenses got too high, I couldn’t bear the thought of her living in a shelter for the rest of her life — where, statistics show, a dog her age doesn’t have a great shot at adoption — when she was a part of our family during her former years.
Thankfully, there are organizations around the country who look out for dogs like Lucy. These groups ensure that senior dogs, or dogs 7 years and older, are cared for during their golden years.
Caring for or adopting a senior dog has its benefits: They have predictable personalities, they’re trained and they’re typically more low-key than energetic puppies. Plus, depending on the breed, these dogs may have as many years ahead of them as they’ve already experienced.
Three organizations walked me through how they’re improving life for seniors.
A Network of Foster Homes
In western Washington state, nonprofit Old Dog Haven (olddoghaven.org) currently has 320 families in its volunteer foster network on call to take in seniors from shelters, animal control or families experiencing a life-changing event.
“We take in dogs we don’t think would otherwise be adoptable,” says Joe Myers, marketing and art director. Joe and his wife have been fostering for years —at one point, they had six dogs — and get joy from watching the dogs blossom in their new home. Sometimes the dogs do get adopted or sometimes the foster ends up being the final refuge for the dog. Either way, he says, “it’s not only good for the dogs, it’s good for the people, too.”
Partnering With Shelters
All the senior dogs that come into Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary (ofsds.org) in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, come from local animal control, shelters and rescues within 100 miles.
“If animal control gets a senior dog and they can tell it won’t do well (in a shelter), they will call us,” says Noel Kiswiney, marketing manager.
Aside from its network of foster homes, Old Friends has a 20,000-square-foot facility called the PAWvillions. The facility was custom built for the dogs with easy-to-clean epoxy flooring, access to the yard from each dog room, special feeding crates and a full-service medical wing.
“Many of these dogs become lifetime residents,’” Noel explains, and will live the rest of their days at the sanctuary.
Covering Medical Costs
Medical and dental services are expensive for shelters and rescues. The Grey Muzzle Organization (greymuzzle.org) funds these services and any other programs geared toward the well-being of senior dogs.
“We provide shelters and rescues the confidence so they can meet their health needs and get them adopted,” says Lisa Lunghofer, executive director.
This year, Grey Muzzle awarded a record $616,000, focusing on organizations that can sustain their programs.
“We really want to provide seed money for organizations that are committed for the long term for care for senior dogs,” Lisa says.
Educating the Public
On its website, Grey Muzzle offers free webinars about the advances in veterinary medicine and other resources about common health issues in seniors and care tips. The goal is to keep dogs in their homes.
Last year, Lisa conducted the first nationwide study on how to increase the adoption rate of older dogs.
One of the takeaways was improving communication to the public about the joys of adopting seniors. “We need to think about senior dogs more broadly,” she explains. “A dog who’s 7 probably has a lot of different characteristics and needs than a dog who is 14.”
What can YOU do?
- Join a senior dog foster network in your area.
- Spread awareness of senior dog issues and adoptable dogs on social media. Through the website, sponsor an Old Dog Haven senior by paying for her food or intake exam.
- Volunteer your skill set. Grey Muzzle is looking for help with graphic design and virtual storytelling.