Senior Shelter Animals Need a Helping Paw
Photo courtesy of Lori Fusaro
Senior dogs are wonderful. They’re calm, mellow and loveable, and they’re usually already housetrained. All of these traits make them so much easier than puppies. And yet, as fabulous as animals over the age of 7 may be, they often represent the highest-risk population at shelters across the United States, where nearly 4 million dogs and cats are put down each year.
This happens to most senior dogs by no fault of their own. Confronted with financial pressures, illness or another life upheaval, animal owners suddenly may be unable to care for their pets. Then, once older animals land in shelters, they can get overlooked because people think it will be too sad to bring them home.
A new book, My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts, provides overwhelming evidence that adopting a senior can be even more rewarding than choosing a younger dog. In fact, seekers of true wealth should take note—this is a move that is likely to go down in history as one of the best things we’ve ever done.
Just ask Lori Fusaro, the photographer for My Old Dog. She once thought it would be too sad to adopt a senior, until the day she welcomed a sweet-natured, 16-year-old dog named Sunny into her family. Sunny transformed almost immediately from a sad shelter dog to a happy, beaming family member, and she thrived for more than two-and-a-half years in Lori’s care. “Sunny showed her love for me every single time I came into the room,” Lori says. “She knew I rescued her. It’s like these dogs want to let you know how grateful they are to you.”
To see a dog feel so relieved and grateful and content is the best thing ever, and taking this step doesn’t have to cost as much money as we might expect. While it’s true that many older shelter dogs need veterinary care such as dental work, people on a budget really don’t have to be apprehensive, because there are a variety of ways to solve it. My Old Dog includes a comprehensive resource guide with contact information for senior dog rescue groups all over North America and overseas. These groups spring older dogs from shelters and handle all of their major veterinary work before putting them up for adoption.
Some organizations, such as Old Dog Haven, in Washington, and Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, in Tennessee, do something that is quite amazing: They pull older dogs from shelters and take care of any urgent veterinary needs, and then they place the dogs in permanent foster homes and continue to cover all veterinary costs for the rest of the dogs’ lives. In such situations, people that open their homes to these “final refuge” foster dogs never have to worry about a single vet bill.
Of course, not everyone’s circumstances allow them to adopt or foster a senior dog. But that’s OK, too. There’s still so much we can do to help a senior. Shelters and rescue groups always need volunteers in areas like animal caregiving, professional grooming, high-quality photography, marketing, fundraising and administrative assistance like filing, paperwork and document design. If someone has a special talent, they may wish to throw one of these hardworking groups a bone.
These organizations also are very grateful for financial support to help defray vet bills and other expenses for the animals in their care. We can donate to specific, local senior dog rescue efforts highlighted in the resource guide in the back of My Old Dog or opt to help to a nationwide program that provides grant money to effective senior dog programs such as The Grey Muzzle Organization and the White Muzzle Fund. Helping a senior dog is a great thing to do, and there are so many ways to do it.
Information based on the book My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts, written by Laura T. Coffey with photographs by Lori Fusaro. Published by New World Library, NewWorldLibrary.com. For more information, visit MyOldDogBook.com.
Laura T. Coffey is a writer, editor and producer for Today.com., the website of NBC’s TODAY show. An award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience, Laura has written and edited hundreds of high-profile human-interest stories. She lives in Seattle.
Lori Fusaro is staff photographer at Best Friends Animal Society, in Los Angeles, and owner of Fusaro Photography, whose clients include BAD RAP, Guide Dogs for the Blind, k9 connection, Angel City Pit Bull, and other animal rescue organizations. She lives in Los Angeles.