dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a bit out of shape and a
little worn around the edges, but they fit well.
Many senior dogs wind up in shelters because they have outlived their "usefulness" - hard as that may be to imagine. The kids have grown up and either moved out or lost interest. Worse yet, they may just be tired of the old dog and want to trade her in on a new puppy.
Others outlive their guardians, or wander away from home and aren't able to find their way back. I guess if you're searching through a shelter, looking for your perfect dog or cat, a senior isn't likely to be your first choice for a new four pawed soul mate. What if he has a lot of expensive health problems? How long is he going to be around before you'll have to make "the decision"? The grey in his muzzle and those cloudy eyes make it so much easier to walk past him than it is to walk past those cute little puppies - the ones with so many years ahead of them...
I love puppies, but adopting an older dog is a unique and especially heartworming experience. (Plus there's no potty training!)
Don't listen when anyone says older dogs or cats have trouble adapting to a new home - I've heard of many people who put their seniors to sleep rather than up for adoption for this reason. Not only have the seniors we've adopted learned to love even our outrageous household pretty much over night, but the seniors who have come to live with us for short periods in our "Bed and Biscuit" catch on pretty quickly to their "new life," and really enjoy their time with us.
So don't be afraid to give a senior a chance. There are lots of Radars out there just waiting for you!
Old Dogs and New Tricks
A dog was standing in the yard across the street from my house. He was old, very scrawny, and covered with scars. I parked my car and walked toward him, not quite registering what I was seeing. He looked like a small greyhound, or maybe a big whippet, but it was hard to tell what he was because he was so skinny. He turned and went behind the house as I walked toward him, but we came face to face as he rounded the back corner. I swear I heard him gasp when he looked into my eyes. He had a look of surprise, then recognition, on his sweet face. I put my fingers through his collar, and we went home.
Ten years ago, I'd taken another "senior" home with me. She was a 15 year old deaf black lab in a rural Virginia shelter. I had no intention of adopting another dog that day - I already had three. But she was literally moments away from being killed, and I had to plead with the shelter staff to let me take her. They thought killing her was the best thing - why didn't I just take a puppy? I didn't know how much time I'd have with Jane, but it didn't matter. I couldn't let her life end like that. We wound up having two pretty wonderful years together. Of course the day I had to make the decision to put her to sleep came far too soon, but I never regretted having her come to live with me.
Since then, there have been several older cats and dogs who have joined my life, so bringing Radar home didn't seem like such a big deal. I knew that I would love him and give him the best life I could, but that I would always protect a small part of my heart. I knew that I had to keep myself from getting too close to him so that I could accept his eventual passing with some degree of acceptence, since "I knew what I was getting myself into" when I brought him home.
I really did think I knew exactly what I was getting myself into when Radar became part of our family. But it turns out that I didn't know the half of it. I was totally unprepared for just how quickly this dog was going to win my entire heart. I had no idea how looking into his eyes would melt me, how we would laugh at his funny little Radar ways. Our other whippet, Wyllow, has taken to him, too. She is generally impatient and unforgiving with the other dogs, but she's very lenient - tender, even - with Radar. We are amazed at how strong and alive he's become, how he wolfs down his meals, hangs with the big dogs, and barks insistently in his little hoarse voice when he wants to go out. Since it's getting cold, we bought him a cute fleece "jogging suit," and he stands a bit impatiently when we get him dressed to go outside, tolerant of our foolishness. Then he bursts through the door with the rest of the dogs, excited to breathe in that cold, crisp air and smell what the day has to offer. It seems like he's been with us forever.
When I think about it, it's almost like he gives my husband and I the shared history we wish we had, erasing all the years we spent married to "those other people." We joke about "remember when Radar was a puppy?," and can imagine how he would have looked at eight weeks old, how quickly he would have been potty trained, and how handsome he must have been when he was in his prime.
Radar spends part of each day watching over the puppies we have in day care here at Pawsitive Energy, and I think it's really good for him. I know he enjoys it. The puppies don't realize it, but they're in the presence of a very special creature. (I hope he rubs off on them!) His new life definitely suits him. Radar has "adjusted" just fine to being able to sleep in bed with the humans, to having special meals prepared for him while the other 12 dogs all get the plain stuff, and to wearing a beautiful, expensive collar with an ID tag that says "My parents are Lowell and Lori Price..."
We don't think of him as an old dog; we just think of him as Radar. Our sweet Radar.
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