Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Sept. 27, 2022

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‘She was a ready-to-go dog’: The advantages of older pets

For senior animals, it’s more difficult to find a forever home

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ATLANTA — Jolie Gallagher and her husband were not looking to expand their pack when they spotted the black dog on an animal welfare organization’s Instagram page in March.

The friendly Australian shepherd mix, later renamed Cricket, was found as a stray and brought to the shelter.

Because of her age, 8 years, Cricket would most likely not land at the top of many people’s list for adoption.

Rescue groups and shelters say older cats and dogs are usually the hardest to place because most people want younger pets. Older pets may be a bit grayer or not romp as much, but they can still add a lot to their owners’ lives.

“When I found out she was a senior, there was no way I could leave her at the shelter,” said Gallagher, a pharmacist. Cricket was later diagnosed with arthritis but is doing well on medication. “The biggest thing I love about her is she is so calm and doesn’t require as much attention and training as a puppy. She was a ready-to-go dog. Senior dogs are so easy to incorporate into your lives, and you are giving them a safe place in their older years to be comfortable.”

Karen Hirsch, public relations director for LifeLine Animal Project, said people who open their homes to older pets “just have a special place in their hearts.”

Sometimes the older pets come in as strays. Perhaps they escaped, the owners felt they were too big, or they were dumped by their owners because of the expense of keeping them. Some are dropped off at the shelter because the owner has died or the owner has to move to a nursing home or assisted-living facility that doesn’t allow animals.

“You have to look at it as a mission that you’re giving that dog a home and a second chance,” said Becky Cross, director of Atlanta Lab Rescue. The rescue takes in 450 to 500 dogs annually, of which 10 percent to 15 percent would be considered seniors.

ALR reduces the $375 adoption fee by $125 for a dog at least 7 years old and waives the fee for dogs 10 and older. If there’s a significant medical condition at the time of an adoption, the nonprofit will consider the dog a permanent foster and continue to pay its medical bills, said Cross.

Charlie Kleman, a retired corporate executive, is chairman of ALR’s board and a volunteer who often logs hundreds of miles a day ferrying homeless dogs to the vet, kennels, and foster or forever homes.

Sometimes, his passengers are older dogs.

“By the time they’re 8 or 10 years old, they’re used to being around somebody,” he said. When they’re abandoned or strays or surrendered, “they’re so confused.”

They’re happy to get out of the shelters. “Half of the older ones will want to put their paws on my lap, and they can’t stop wagging their tails,” Kleman said.

Older cats and dogs can live full, healthy lives. Others, like people, experience health issues as they age.

LifeLine has some older cats from time to time, and they are also harder to place than younger ones.

There is some debate about how old is elderly for cats, Hirsch wrote in an email. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Senior Care Guidelines, older cats are classified as mature or middle-aged at 7 to 10 years old, as senior cats at 11 to 14 years old, and geriatric from 15 to 25 years old.

Hirsch said her last three cats lived to be 17, 18 and 20.

Like their human counterparts, older pets are more likely to develop age-related health issues such as arthritis and liver disease, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans, while cats typically have a lower rate.

Atlanta artist Lawson Thomas Chambers had a roommate who had older dogs.

In 2018, when Chambers — who prefers using a gender-neutral pronoun — decided to foster, they specifically looked for an elderly dog. Chambers “fell in love” with Akira, an older dog who had terminal cancer.

Chambers shared drawings on their social media accounts to show the “gift” that Akira brought to their world and the lessons Chambers learned.

“I wanted to learn discipline and learn how to take care of a dog without necessarily caring for a puppy,” Chambers said. When Chambers first visited the LifeLine shelter, they noticed Akira because while other dogs were barking, she remained quiet.

It was a 180-degree turnaround once Chambers got her home.

“She had too much life for an 8-year-old pitbull with cancer,” they said. “She had a lot of personality. She was a loud, bold, stubborn woman.”

Although she was ill, Chambers noticed that when Akira went for a walk, she had boundless energy. “She was a puppy until the day she died.”

Several times a month, Linda Hunt, founder of Act2Pups, sets up shop outside the Top Dogs Pet Boutique locations in Kennesaw or Canton.

Her nonprofit specializes in older dogs and those with special needs and sometimes takes “pups,” as she likes to call them, from area shelters, but she’s also found at least two from garbage cans.

Hunt’s rescue does careful screening of prospective adopters, and before a dog leaves her care, it is treated at a vet for any ailments and routine screenings.

An older dog is not for everyone, and Hunt knows that. Some people open their hearts and home with the intention of giving the senior dog “all my love for the few years it has left. You can’t save them all, but the one you do save makes all the difference in the world.”

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