The Joys of Adopting Senior Dogs


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“Age is a privilege,” says Susie’s Senior Dogs’ Facebook page.

Since launching in January 2014, the page promoting the adoption of senior dogs from shelters begun by New Yorker Erin O’Sullivan has earned more than 188,000 likes. In just two days, the first dog featured, a 13-year-old named “Nina,” was adopted.  “Bullet McCoy,” a 10-year-old retired Greyhound, and “Bear Bear,” a 7-year-old Pomeranian mix, are among nearly 50 dogs that have found loving homes since then.   

The Facebook page celebrating senior dogs is named for “Susie,” a 13-year-old mixed-breed Chihuahua with a wiry mohawk, adopted by O’Sullivan’s boyfriend, Brandon Stanton, a photographer and creator of the popular Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page and book. O’Sullivan, who has a full-time job, surfs the Internet in the evenings to find adoptable dogs at risk of being put down due to shelter overcrowding. After contacting shelter employees to learn about the dogs, she writes Facebook posts to woo the attention of families who might give them new homes.   

The page went viral after Stanton wrote a post about it on his HONY page, which has more than 9 million followers. Although Stanton had never owned a dog, he adopted Susie at age 11. Her owner offered her to him after Stanton snapped her picture sitting on a stoop on a Brooklyn street and posted it on Facebook, noting she was the “coolest dog he had ever seen.”  

“The idea for Susie’s Senior Dogs came from the happy, silly bond between Brandon and Susie and thinking how hard it is for older dogs to find homes,” O’Sullivan explains. “When most people think about getting a dog, they think about a cute puppy. But if you bring up the idea of an older dog and touch their hearts, they think, ‘Oh.’ Sometimes it’s just a matter of putting that option in front of them.”

Overcrowded shelters are a reality across the country. Aging dogs make up a good portion of those needing homes. They are displaced due to aging owners who cannot care for them or owners who don’t understand the changing behavioral and health needs of an older dog or simply want a younger, more playful dog.

Twenty-five percent of shelter dogs are purebreds like “Sassy,” a 10-year-old Golden Retriever whose second owner turned her into the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in Cortland, New York, because of her grandchildren’s allergies. Carol Allen, president of Golden Retriever Rescue of Central New York, recalls arriving at the shelter and finding “a stressed, vocal, apparently well-bred Golden.”

Besides being 25 pounds overweight, Sassy had a yeast infection in her thick coat that took more than a year to treat with frequent medicated baths and oral medications. Allen, who fostered Sassy and then adopted her, was surprised to find the dog’s sales contract and photos of the sire and dam in the shelter paperwork.

Allen put a CGC (Canine Good Citizen) title on Sassy and completed her basic obedience training. Sassy’s loving, sweet personality quickly came out, making her a natural attraction to any puppies that Allen fostered. Tracking Sassy’s breeder from the information, Allen learned that the breeder had been looking for the dog for many years. A co-ownership sales contract with show and breeding rights went by the wayside when the original owner died shortly after buying Sassy.

Overwhelmed with joy to learn that Sassy was safe, the breeder paid for her veterinary care and helped Allen get a new registration certified so Sassy could be entered in dog shows. At age 13, Sassy competed in her first dog show, the 2009 Yankee Golden Retriever Club Specialty, taking second in the Veteran Sweepstakes and Veterans 12+ classes.

Sassy wiggled her way into Allen’s heart. In January 2010, just shy of her 14th birthday, Sassy unexpectedly passed away. “No amount of time would have been long enough with this very special Golden Retriever,” Allen says.

 Beautiful, intelligent and friendly, the Golden Retriever is a versatile companion and hunting dog, as well as the third most popular breed in the country, based on American Kennel Club (AKC) registrations. Likewise, a high number of Goldens are placed in shelters each year: 12,140 Goldens were rescued in 2008, and 8,439 in 2013.

“About 12 percent of rescued Goldens are dogs age 9 and over,” says Allen, chair of the Golden Retriever Club of America’s National Rescue Committee, which supports 98 local independent breed rescues. Collectively, these organizations have about 9,000 volunteers. Allen herself has adopted 20 rescued Golden Retrievers over the years.  

Co-founder of the largest foster-based rescue organization in St. Louis, Ellen Ellick realized the need for helping give senior dogs a second chance through her work as public information officer for the St. Louis Health Department. In 2002, Ellick and her sister, Norma Glodas, began the St. Louis Senior Dog Project with a focus on finding homes for dogs 5 years of age and older. St. Louis Senior Dog Project has from 50 to 60 dogs in foster care at a time and adopts out about 400 dogs of all ages annually.

“I saw baby boomers aging and figured there was a growing population out there who might actually prefer older dogs,” Ellick says. “As for adopters, I found that many young people liked older dogs, too. Sometimes, they just want to do a good thing.

“I often tell people it’s unfair to overlook a dog just because you won’t have as many years with it. Those years might be wonderful, the best ever. The best part of this work is seeing all the second chances and lives turn around. I love hearing stories of how special a dog was to someone.”

About six years ago, Ellick began a blog highlighting success adoption stories and dogs needing homes, most whom she describes as being “just about perfect.”

Recently, she reflected on accomplishments. “Things are changing for the better,” she wrote. “There are fewer commercial puppy mill breeders, the euthanasia rate in shelters has dropped dramatically in the past five years, and low cost spay-neuter programs have begun to move out of the urban areas into rural areas.”

Like Ellick, Allen and Stanton, most adopters of senior dogs share heartwarming stories of these animals’ deep love and companionship. Older dogs are so grateful for being given a second chance. Their unconditional love is indeed a celebration of life.

 Benefits of Adopting Older Dogs

  • Usually housetrained, older dogs are less likely to chew shoes and furniture and most already know to use the bathroom outside
  • Adult dogs generally are more trainable than puppies
  • Unlike puppies that are still growing and maturing, senior dogs have reached their adult size and shape so there are no surprises as they grow older
  • Older dogs usually do not demand time and attention like puppies and younger dogs
  • Senior dogs are grateful for a second chance, and once they settle into a new home, they are very likely to become a loving, lifetime companion
  • Though you may have less time in life with an older dog than a puppy, there’s nothing more rewarding than earning the love of an older animal

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