The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a 250% increase in global searches for pet adoption, and 23 million American households adopted a so-called “pandemic pet.” Shelters have reported a surge of homeless animals in 2022, which is thought to result from owners returning to work and shirking responsibility.
The data to support this link is inconclusive, but there may be a good reason why. Cindy Ott-Bales, rescue director at Throw Me a Bone Dog Rescue in California, believes many pandemic pets are being returned this year.
“…you may find it hard to prove from records at a shelter as a lot of people claim they “found” an animal to avoid being judged and not to pay the surrender fee. So, a lot of shelter records will state “stray” when they surrendered had the owners been honest. We, as a rescue, are contacted several times a week by owners asking us to take their dogs they no longer have the time for, so that is definitely pandemic related.”
Mature Dogs Are in Dire Need
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 3.1 million dogs enter animal shelters in the U.S per year. Around 390 thousand dogs are euthanized in shelters that don’t have the room or staffing to care for them.
Dogs that have been at shelters the longest usually get euthanized first, a considerable percentage of which are elderly or mature dogs.
Mature dogs get overlooked because people perceive them as less novel, or carrying emotional baggage. They may not exhibit their personalities as readily as younger dogs and are thus picked less frequently. People are attracted to new and shiny things by nature, but older dogs possess many favorable qualities for those willing to see them.
Dogs are pack animals and consider their family as a cohesive unit to be protected and served. Ott-Bales believes that when dogs are abandoned or surrendered, they are quite aware that they have been rejected from their pack.
It takes an emotional and physical toll for a dog to know their pack has left them. This huge void in their evolutionary needs propels them to be more appreciative and willing to please new owners.
Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks
In her experience fostering thousands of dogs, Ott-Bales sees older dogs as some of the most loyal and grateful companions one can have. She regards this as a reason that older dogs are not nearly as hard to train as the old adage suggests.
“Most likely you won’t have to put much effort into training them other than during the first few weeks while you and the dog get to know each other and you teach it the rules of the house. Even if there are some challenges, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, and they are pretty quick learners… Its human pack kicked it out, and by some miracle, in this dog’s eyes, you took it into your pack! The amount of gratitude they have for their new pack leader is greater exponentially by far than most dogs,” said Ott-Bales.
Older dogs in shelters have likely accumulated some type of training, even if it is absorbed incidentally. Many mature dogs are already potty-trained and have developed manners amongst humans and other dogs over a lifetime of experience.
Having already been exposed to a submissive relationship with humans, whether by shelter volunteers or past owners, older dogs can be more receptive to new commands.
A huge necessity when adopting a dog is assessing how their energy level might work with your schedule. Adopting a high-energy dog or puppy can be difficult and expensive, depending on your work life.
High energy dogs rarely get as much exercise and stimulation as they need, and an overflow of pent-up energy can result in anxiety, aggression, and hell on your furniture. In addition, if you commute or work long hours away from home, dog walking fees or daycare can add up quickly.
Senior dogs can be excellent companions for workaholics, remote workers, or those with long commutes. Many senior dogs are pretty comfortable with a short walk and a long nap while you’re away. Although expert couch potatoes, you’re likely to find a senior dog ready to provide you with the same amount of love as any dog.
Who’s Rescuing Who?
Providing care and quality of life for a dog in its last years is as rewarding as it gets. Every dog deserves a long and happy lifespan, and the number of euthanized dogs is sickening to any animal lover. Consider opening up your home to a calm and faithful companion, and you might find that you need them more than they need you.
“Whether due to time, space, or medical condition, these babies are more likely than many to not get out of the shelter alive… You may not have as many years with a senior dog as you would with a younger dog or puppy, but in this case, you definitely get quality over quantity. And hey, you get to save a very deserving life too,” said Ott-Bales.
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