By Katie Walsh
Are you following Marnie the dog on Instagram? If not, you should be. Check it out at Instagram.com/marniethedog. She’s a pint-sized NYC socialite whose momma dresses her up in costumes and takes her out hobnobbing with celebrities. This goofy little shih tzu is a total hoot.
But before Marnie became an Instagram celebrity (seriously, she has 2 million followers, which is approximately 1,999,900 followers more than I have), she was doing time in an animal shelter. And statistically, she shouldn’t have made it out alive -- at the time of her adoption, Marnie was nearly 10 years old, which for many dogs would have been an automatic death sentence. Typically, older dogs don’t generate much adoption interest and have to spend their twilight years in the confusing din of a shelter instead of curled up on their person’s lap.
As someone who gets some real chuckles out of Marnie’s floppy tongue and tilted noggin, my life would certainly be a little less bright without her Instagram posts. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the joy that a would-be pet owner can get out of adopting a senior dog.
November is Adopt a Senior Pet month, and there are a ton of reasons why you should consider taking home a dog who has been around for a few presidential administrations. I’d like to tell you some of those reasons today, as well as to dispel a few myths.
Reason 1: Ease of ownership. In our house, we adopted one of our dogs as a puppy and the other as an adult. Guess which one spent the first six months peeing on literally everything we owned, including IN OUR BED on a $300 comforter we had just bought from Restoration Hardware?!? Hint: It wasn’t the older dog. One of the major benefits of adopting an older dog is that since the dogs have previously lived with people, they tend to already be housebroken. More than that, a lot of the time they know commands and are calmer than dogs half their age. Yes, puppies are cute, but the puppy havoc-wreaking stage is anything but. You’ll be happy you adopted an older dog when your stuff is still in tact at the end of the day.
Reason 2: Their personality is set. When you adopt a younger dog, you have no idea what you’re getting into. Will they be sweet and social, or totally neurotic? Will they like playing with other dogs or view approaching pups as the biggest threat this country has ever known? You can make some guesses based on breed, and you can put in the work for training, but ultimately a puppy is a bit of a wild card. With an older dog, what you get is what you get. That doesn’t necessarily mean the dog will be perfect, but it does mean you are fully aware of their quirks.
Reason 3: You get to save a life! As I mentioned above, in high kill shelters, older dogs are usually the first to be put to sleep for lack of space. When you rescue an older pup, you are definitely doing a little bit of good in the world, especially since that dog likely had a home until very recently.
And now, let’s talk about the myths.
Myth 1: When an older dog is in a shelter, it’s because they’re badly behaved. I will concede that that is occasionally true… BUT, most times these older pups end up homeless through no real fault of their own.
Far too often, humans do NOT do right by the animals they’ve brought into their homes. Dogs will end up in shelters because they’ve been removed from their homes due to neglect or abuse. Families will decide that they weren’t up to the task of taking care of a dog and send it on its way. Hardships like divorces, illnesses or deaths in the family often result in a dog being given up. It’s really sad all around, and it breaks my heart when I think of how confusing this must be for an older pup who is losing the only life it has ever known.
Myth 2: A senior dog is going to die soon. This was one of the discussions I had with my husband when we were adopting our first dog. I was in favor of getting a senior; he wanted a much younger dog. “I just don’t want us to get attached to it and then be sad soon,” he said.
It’s the terrible truth of pet ownership that dogs just don’t live as long as we do. I’ve now lived through the passings of two family dogs; every once in awhile I think about losing the dogs I have now and I get totally choked up.
But here’s the thing: The “senior” designation actually has a lot of wiggle room. Dogs are generally considered seniors somewhere between age 7 and 9 -- it varies by the breed. At those ages, they can still have a lot of livin’ to do!
Smaller dogs live an average of 15-16 years; larger dogs live somewhere between 10-13. Note also that that’s the AVERAGE. My family’s 80-pound golden retriever defied all odds and lived to be nearly 16! Had we adopted him at age 7, say, that would have still been eight solid years of companionship. That’s 5,840 cups of dog food. It’s 1,460 hours of walking. It’s 2,290 poops picked up!!! That’s some serious dog ownership, my friend.
But honestly, you don’t have to take my word for it. My friend/co-worker Tina has made it a mission to adopt senior greyhounds, so I asked her about it for this blog. She confirmed everything I’ve written is true... and she gave me something else, something entirely special that I hadn’t considered before:
“The best part of adopting a senior dog is that they are so happy to be in a house where they get lots of love,” Tina said. “That may sound cheesy. They just seem to sense immediately that they're home -- that they're loved.”
The love -- that’s what life is about, right? Hearing about her experiences, my heart was full.
So, the next time you’re considering an adoption, don’t automatically skip over the dog who is a few years older than you’d like. It will all be worth it when you feel the love.