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The Old Dogs
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I’ve always had a soft spot for old dogs. The gray muzzles and cloudy eyes get to me every time. One of my own dogs, Rocky, a rescued Pug/Chihuahua mix, is quite elderly at around 14 years of age. He recently had a couple of major seizures and became completely paralyzed from the neck down. A day of intensive care at the vet gave a poor prognosis. He did not seem to be in pain so I made the sad decision to bring him home for the family to say good-bye and then have the vet come to our home the next day.

Strangely, Rocky was coherent and did not seem upset about his predicament. I turned him every few hours and offered water which he lapped with help. The next morning I propped him up and offered a little breakfast which he managed to eat. I then took him out and held him up by his favorite bush where he peed before I settled him back on his cushy bed. I held off on calling the vet since he seemed comfortable. To my great joy, over the next several weeks he regained most of his function and returned to his previous frisky, happy self, even racing on the beach again.

Each day with Rocky is a blessing but I see many elderly dogs, in the course of my work as an animal control officer, who are not so lucky. They sit in shelters, unwanted and unloved. It’s heartbreaking to see these old souls peering through the chain link at the world or sleeping the day away alone.

Old dogs deserve to spend their last days snug in a cozy bed, getting their ears scratched and having walks and playtime with someone who loves them. I often foster shelter dogs who need some care before going to a forever home. Usually these are moms with litters, orphaned pups or dogs needing some behavior modification. I recently fostered two darling seniors who were left behind in a foreclosed home. Maggie the Beagle and McKenzie the Chihuahua sat forlornly at the shelter, day after day. They had a heated floor, cushy blankets and good food but they were depressed and overlooked on the adoption floor.

Maggie at maybe 10 years old, was overweight and grouchy with dogs other than McKenzie.  Little McKenzie, who was probably closer to 15 years old, was tiny, underweight and very frail. She was also prone to nip if startled. The volunteers and staff adored them and I promoted them shamelessly to my friends and on Facebook but still no takers.

Finally I packed up the two old girls and took them home to foster. I have four dogs of my own so it was a challenge with Maggie’s dog issues and I worried about fragile McKenzie in my busy household. One wrong footstep from my Great Dane would probably kill her. Still, I made it work.

I fell in love with the two sweet old girls and the judicious use of X-pens and separate dog yards kept everyone safe and happy. Maggie’s issues improved as she settled in and tiny McKenzie especially stole my heart. Had it just been her, I would have kept her in a heartbeat. The two were incredibly bonded though and after all they had been through I couldn’t bear to split them up. They were actually pretty easy and after a month or so I found a delightful home for them with a sweet woman who had seen them on the web. I dripped sappy tears of joy as I watched them drive away.

A month or two later I ran into them at the beach. Maggie and her adopter had both lost a few pounds and looked fabulous, while little McKenzie had gained muscle and was stronger. All three looked incredibly happy which made my day.

It’s on my life’s list to adopt an old dog someday, after Rocky passes and my younger dogs settle down. I want to bring in some old, neglected dog and pamper them for whatever time they have left. Sure they aren’t going to be around as long but people are starting to understand how much easier they can be and the rewards of adopting them. For some people who can’t make a 10 or 15 year commitment, it’s a perfect fit to give a dog the life they deserve for a few months to a few years.

I would love to hear from readers who have fostered and adopted old dogs. Share with us the joys and difficulties of bringing a senior pet into your home.






Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.

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Submitted by Susan Pugh | June 10 2013 |

Since I've been reading Shirley's stories about older dogs I've thought I might try to adopt one at some point. Shirley's patience and understanding are awesome and an inspiration to me and others. Once again, good article!! Thank you!

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 12 2013 |

So glad to hear that you might consider a senior dog at some point. The rewards can be amazing.

Submitted by lily flanagan | June 11 2013 |

I've adopted senior dogs twice. The first was a senior dog listed on Petfinder. We didn't really know Starry's age at the time but estimated she was between 10-12. We had a wonderful 2 yrs with her.
The other senior dog belonged to a client (I'm a Vet Tech.) Buddy was 16 when his owner died. She had no friends or relatives to take him. I took him home figuring he wouldn't live long so I would give him the best I could for the time he had left. He had lived a very sheltered life with his original owner.If he wasn't in the house he was tied outside. She didn't take him for walks and the only time he went anywhere was when she brought him to the clinic for regular toe nail trims and his yearly exams.
Well dear old Buddy bounced through the next couple years! I like to think that our visits to the dog park, the beach and his free run of a fenced in yard was like giving him a second childhood!

I wouldn't hesitate to adopt a senior dog again.

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 12 2013 |

It thrills me to think of Buddy getting to live his final wonderful years with you! Bless you for giving him the life he deserved.

Submitted by Donna | June 12 2013 |

I've adopted 3 older dogs. The last one was a 14 yr old yellow lab who had been a backyard dog all his life and his family was moving to an apartment without a yard. He wasn't house trained but he learned quickly. He had a joyful last 11 months of his life. We got out for walks and met other dogs. His super nose could sniff out a dead animal from a 1/4 mile away. He had soft beds to sleep on all around the house. When he'd get a bone to chew, he'd prance out to the yard and plop down on the grass and gloat. He was such a big, huggable, teddy bear of a dog. Every day we had with him was a gift.

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 12 2013 |

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. I love it!

Submitted by Melissa | June 12 2013 |

My husband and I have rescued three senior dogs over the past 10 years. 11, 12 and one at 16 years old! We adored them and find it very rewarding. The only bad thing I can say is that each one eventually had to be put down due to age related illnesses. It's the worst. We went a little younger this time. We recently adopted a 7 year old and a 5 year old. We will definitely adopt a senior again in the future. They need a final resting place. There is nothing better than giving them a soft place to lay their tired head. Xoxoxo

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 12 2013 |

I'm really enjoying hearing how many people adopt seniors. What a blessing for an old dog to have a loving place to live out their lives.

Submitted by celine | June 12 2013 |

senior dogs rule! seriously, who really has the time and energy to satisfy younger dogs' needs for exercise? if you're in the city and have a job, probably not. senior dogs are so loving, easy, and chill. try one! :)

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 12 2013 |

Its true that for many people a senior makes much more sense. Thanks for the reminder.

Submitted by Linda Nozicka | June 12 2013 |

I love seniors and have adopted a few 7 and up. I recently adopted 10 year old beagle Dorothy. She was incredibly shy at first and tended to sit with her head held down and if I didn't watch her closely she would pee in an unused room. Her teeth are so worn down I don't know how she eats although she quickly learned where the treat jar is. She loves when I sing softly to her. With the help of my other 2 dogs most of her issues have gone. She is healthy and her coat is now shiny. I couldn't imagine life without this beautiful girl. Seniors have so much love to give I highly recommend giving one (or two) a chance.

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 12 2013 |

This just goes to show that even the seniors can get past a rough start. Thanks for giving them a chance and spreading the word.

Submitted by Barbara | June 12 2013 |

Great article! I live with a senior dog, who has been with me for 16 of his 17 years. I have also adopted a senior dog several years ago and she was with us for almost 2 years, before we lost her to illness. They may not be with you for a very long time, but whether it's a few months or a few years, at least that dog didn't die alone in a shelter. It's so good to know that there are many rescues and sanctuaries that are saving these sweet old grey muzzles and giving them a chance. It's also good to see that so many people are giving these wonderful dogs a loving home.

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 12 2013 |

17 is such a tremendous old age. Lucky, lucky dogs to have found you.

Submitted by Brisa | June 12 2013 |

All I can say is, "Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog." Have adopted 4 'senior wieners', fostered several & I am lucky enough to have been truly blessed!
Highly recommend adopting a senior; you will be very glad & thankful that you did!

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 12 2013 |

Thanks for helping spread the word about those wonderful seniors and for being there for so many of them.

Submitted by JulieV | June 12 2013 |

We only adopt those dogs 6 yrs ++ for those very reasons you write: Overlooked at the shelter; something is not working quite right on them; a grey muzzle. They are usually first on the euth list just because of age.

We appreciate senior dogs because I don't like all my things chewed; 90% of the time they're house broken, have excellent manners, understand basic instructions and just want a nice bed to lay on all day. They are not especially needy.

So many people pass up these active seniors for fear that they won't have this dog for very long. Dogs are in our lives for such a short amount of time. No one ever has their dog long enough.

Sure, they need special food, medicine, comfy & cushy beds for their older bodies, & frequent vet visits. My retirement fund isn't quite what it should be. But the joy of having my dogs everyday is a blessing. No matter their condition.

My seniors have chased squirrels today, went on a long walk, rolled in deer poop, ran in the yard and are now snoring after a belly full of dinner. We'll do this again tomorrow.

We may not have our dogs forever, but we do have our dogs Every Day.

Submitted by shirley zindler | June 14 2013 |

Beautifully said Julie! Your dogs are lucky to have you.

Submitted by Beth Ugoretz | June 14 2013 |

We fostered, and then adopted, an 8 year old yellow lab who was rescued from a shelter on her last day by a lab rescue group. She had terrible allergies and looked horrible as she had rubbed all the skin off from around her eyes and was about 20 pounds overweight. Well, with love, medical attention, exercise and diet she is now a beautiful, happy 11 year old girl, who rules the roost consisting of not only her, but a 6year old and 8 year old dog. We all walk about 2 miles every morning and she is the first one to initiate a playful game of chase around the yard. We all love that Dolly girl.

Submitted by Denise | June 15 2013 |

Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing and inspiring!!

Submitted by Sherra | June 26 2013 |

I love my oldies, but goodies! I lost my 10-11yr old lab mix to a heart tumor, but 1 yr before he passed away I adopted a 8-9 yr old Golden mix. Which is now 11-12yrs old and I adopted in May 2013 a 9 yr Golden. Dogs have always been the light of my life. I do emphasize with people I meet the oldies are fantastic & are seasoned which makes me look good. They catch on to new things and learn your habits & speak fast. They watch you intently and love you like no other.

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