"You never know what you're getting....."
I recall the first time I met Stynson, a 12-year-old Golden Retriever who had been turned into the local shelter by a man who told the intake interviewer that, “…..my family is going away on vacation, and this seems like a good time to get rid of the dog – he’s old anyway, and, when we return home after being away, we can more easily forget about him.”
Stynson had a huge tumor that hung from his abdomen and looked really uncomfortable, but you’d never know it from his demeanor. He looked tired and not all that well, but he was uncomplaining, very friendly and outgoing, and had a very gentle nature.
It took only a week with Stynson before I was head-over-heels in love with him. He had picked up all the nuances of life in our family and was a happy participant in everything we did together. He was so attuned to me and family life that I had only to “think” what I wanted him to do, and it was done.
The tumor, when it was surgically removed, was tested and turned out to be malignant. Eventually the cancer metastasized to skin tumors that left him nearly bald and ultimately caused his death about a year and a half later. Regardless of the sadness his loss caused me, I would not have traded that time with Stynson for any other experience in my life….
…..which is why, when someone says they won’t adopt an older dog because “you never know what you’re getting,” I always tell them, that’s the best part. You may find the most amazing soul – a soul you had no idea could exist on this earth and with whom you’ll connect and discover a universe of love and understanding. Who would want to miss that opportunity?
At the age of 6 or 7, Woody is the youngest "senior dog" ever adopted by the Senior Dogs Project. He was surrendered to Peace of Mind Dog Rescue when his elderly guardian could no longer care for him. She had found him at a local shelter in northern California, and, without any records, there was little we knew about his age or health. We took one look at his tail wagging at an incredible rate of speed, and at the bright eyes and smile on his face, however, and knew that he was going to fit right into our family.
We've discovered in the time he's been with us that, among Woody's many endearing ways, is his tendency to perch on a little footstool in the living room of a good friend, very much resembling a little circus dog who has been trained to look adorable. No one taught him to do this! It's just one of the many tricks he plays on us to ensure that he's stolen our hearts.
Andy + Teri Goodman
The Senior Dogs Project
and Woody's "Auntie," Sheree Hardrath
July 2021 - December 2022
Serial Senior Dog Adopter!!
We recently came across this story about Steve Greig of Denver, Colorado, who has adopted ten senior dogs.
He couldn't stop once he got started. He says, about senior dogs, "They’re just wiser animals. You kind of know what you want out of life once you become a certain age. These dogs know who they are and it’s easy to develop a relationship with a person or pet who knows who they are."
When the Senior Dogs Project went live in 1997, we asked website visitors to submit stories about the dogs they adopted as seniors. We received over two hundred submissions. Following are among the very best stories we received. We hope they will provide example and inspiration to anyone considering the adoption of a senior dog.
"I adopted Gizmo, a Cocker/Lab mix from the SPCA when he was 7 years old and heartworm positive. Because of his looks and lovely nature, everyone -- even the vet -- thought he was a Golden Retriever mix. His legacy may well be that, because he was such a nice dog, he inspired the SPCA to start treating heartworm positive dogs and have done so many times since treating Gizmo. He hated being confined during the treatment; it was rough on him, but he was always so loving. After his treatment was finished, he was introduced to one of my foster kittens. He has now helped to foster over 105 cats. He is 14 years old now and has had two cancer surgeries, but is still enjoying life. He is my constant companion and has been such a joy for me. When I'm home, he's never more than a few feet away from me. I am so glad that I gave an old dog a chance. I know I have gotten as much out of this relationship as he has, as we have both given unconditional love. An older dog is to be valued and loved. You get so much in return. No one knows how much time we will have together, but we will enjoy every day of it." Contributed by Renee. December 2009.
"Four years ago, I took in a ten-year-old, Husky/Shepherd mix named 'Autumn.' Her original home was on a farm with a pack of six other dogs in northern Ontario, Canada. Her owners died, and she was passed down through the ranks of the remaining family until I heard about her needing a home and took her in. I didn't know then how much my life would change because of her.
"When Autumn was turned over to me, I was told that she had no training, had never worn a collar or leash, and that her nickname was 'Stupid.' At first, when she came to live with us, she would sit in a corner most of the time, staring at the wall. She would also growl when I touched her or her food dish. It was clear to me that none of us in the household could live with a dog who behaved like this. So I called a local trainer, and as luck would have it, the trainer was a specialist in dog behavior. She designed a program for Autumn and me to follow at home, and, once a week, at school. After just the first session, I could see Autumn's personality changing. She stopped staring at the wall and started to trust me as a leader. The nick name 'Stupid' was replaced with comments like, 'Autumn's the smartest dog of the whole pack.'
"Even though she was ten years old, Autumn had to be taught just like a puppy: we went through the howling phase of crate training, worked through touch and desensitization, had to learn to wear a collar and leash and to walk properly on busy streets. We did it all! and, in the end, it was more than worth it.
"Over the past four years, Autumn and I have had our ups and downs. We've recovered from an attack by an off-leash dog, but it's made Autumn aggressive toward other dogs. I learned that she loves going to dog school and acting like the class clown. She also loves camping, hiking, biking and, of course, walks. She opened a door of study for me in dog training and behavior. She is not only my friend, but my four-footed child. I learned that it is my job not only to take care of her, but to help her to grow and learn. At fourteen years of age, Autumn behaves like a six- year-old. She's the oldest in her class, but also at the top of it. We hope to be able to take the Good Canine Citizenship test this year, provided we work harder on curbing aggression toward other dogs. I think we're up to the challenge.
"I am so grateful that fate or luck brought us together; we are a perfect match." Contributed by Laura Elend, Oakville, Ontario, Canada. March 2001.
Basset Hound Duo
"Two years ago I adopted two senior Basset Hounds. I received some criticism for adopting these older dogs. Everyone told me that they could have habits from their former family that we would hate, and you could never change that.
"I have never looked back. They are the two greatest dogs! It was the best decision I ever made. They eased into the house rules easily and without much of a fight. They became extremely attached to the whole family.
"They are great with the children, even though they previously had not been around kids much. Another bonus was I didn't have to go through the hassle of house-breaking them." Contributed by Vanessa. November 2002.
"I write this letter in memory of an old dog called 'Big Red.' I never knew his real name so I simply called him 'Big Red.' When I first met him, he was a wandering stray Springer Spaniel who had been 'detained' by a police officer at a busy city street intersection. The local animal shelter had been called to come pick up the old guy. While driving by, without any reason or thought, I had pulled over to see what was going on. After the officer explained, I asked if I might have him. The officer replied, 'Sure.' And that was the beginning of a most treasured friendship.
"I certainly never had any intentions of getting another dog, especially such an old one. I tried to find his family, but to no avail. The vet said he had probably been used as a gun dog in the cold waters because of the numerous pellets lodged in him and his severe arthritis. I guess his perceived usefulness wore out. Initially, the vet suggested I might want to re-consider my decision to keep 'Big Red' because, after all, he was 'double digits' and, clearly, his robust heyday was behind him. I looked down at Red and he at me, both thinking the same thought, 'Let's get outta here!'
"So we did, and our wonderful 2 1/2-year adventure together began. I learned more about love, compassion and admiration in those mere 2 1/2 years than I had in my entire 37! At the estimated age of 16+, 'Big Red' had to be put down this past December. His old body couldn't go on any longer, although his pure heart surely could have. It was a privilege to have known this finest of friends who taught me so much.
"I ask anyone who may be considering opening their heart and home to a new animal friend...... please don't forget the 'seniors.' They are so often overlooked as too old or useless; they have such a slim chance of finding a loving home. And they have SO much to offer. The love, devotion and joy you will receive from these 'seniors' will be unsurpassed. They have earned their wisdom and deserve our appreciation. This I learned from an old dog called 'Big Red.' " Contributed by Crystal Smith Elliott,Washoe Valley, NV. March 2001.
"I found my senior dog on the Internet! It has been more than a year since I adopted Blackberry, then a 12-year-old Black Lab, from a local shelter. I had logged onto the Senior Dogs Project website, and after reading a few of the stories posted there, I knew I wanted to adopt a senior. My original dog, Ginger Pie (who was rescued as a stray) is an older dog now, and I wanted a companion for us both who would match her pace.
"I found Blackberry (originally called 'Blackie') listed on the Internet as male, elderly, 12 years old, and currently in a shelter. 'What is a 12-year-old dog doing in a shelter?' I wondered. When I called the shelter to ask about him, I was immediately warned, 'You know he's 12 years old. We don't even know if he's house-trained.' I was told that he was in no danger of being put to sleep. Still, the shelter is no place for an elderly dog! I mailed in an application, then called to ask if I could come and get him as soon as my application was reviewed and accepted. 'But he's not adoptable,' the woman on the phone said. 'You'll have to speak with Sherry.'
"Sherry told me that Blackie still belonged to his owner, who had gone into the hospital. The shelter had agreed to care for Blackie temporarily. What was supposed to be a matter of a few weeks had become six months. Sherry agreed to ask the owner if I could adopt Blackie. I wrote a letter to Sherry, describing my situation in detail: my house, my dog Ginger Pie (a German Shepherd mix), and our eagerness to welcome an elderly dog in need of a home.
"A few days later, Sherry called back. The owner had agreed to release Blackie. She was very ill with cancer and would not be able to take care of him any longer. I was sorry to learn about the owner's condition, but also knew I wanted to get Blackie out of the shelter as soon as possible, so I made an appointment right away.
"When I got to the shelter, a worker was dispatched to get Blackie. He was brought out to me. 'You're taking the old guy,' said the worker with a smile (himself not so young). I looked down at Blackie for the first time, and he looked up at me with a mixture of worry and relief. I noted his graying muzzle and his very, very thin body. I had never seen him before, not even in a picture, but it was as if we were both thinking the same thing: 'Oh, it's you! Finally.'
"That first night, Blackberry collapsed on a pile of blankets in the corner of the living room. I claimed the sofa, and Ginger Pie went to her dog bed under the window. The next day, I gave him a bath in the tub. The six months in the shelter had taken a lot out of him. He had lost at least half his body weight, and house-training was something he had to re-learn. I work during the day, so I couldn't do the usual puppy-training. I left puppy pads at front and back doors, and in his favorite spot next to the bathroom (makes sense, I thought) with newspapers underneath. I had read that Labs love food treats, and that they train well with food rewards. So, when I was home, I gave him a treat every time he relieved himself outside. But I didn't scold him for going inside. When he did, I would say, 'Eek! Eek! Outside! Outside!' Then he would look terribly guilty. He couldn't take any kind of correction (any kind of negative-sounding words gave him a bit of diarrhea), so letting him go on the pads for as long as he needed to turned out to be the best thing. He just didn't get a treat for going on the pads. He gradually began to wait for me to come home and, by March, I was able to stop putting out pads and papers.
"There were other challenges: a severe ear infection, and then a bacterial overgrowth in his intestine that wasn't found by the vet and was only helped when Bactryl was prescribed for his ears. No wonder he wasn't gaining weight! I really think that he would have died in the shelter from this infection.
"Blackberry's original owner sent me a check for $150 in the mail soon after I adopted him. I used it to pay for the two dog beds (one upstairs, one down) I had bought for Blackberry on credit. I sent a Black Lab beanbag puppy to her as a thank-you, and then, around Christmas, I sent a box of cookies and Blacks' original leather collar that she had requested. The box came back to me as unclaimed, and no one answered her phone when I called. I never heard from her again. But her dog was safe, well cared for and loved, and I am sure that this knowledge helped her to leave this world in peace. Contributed by Joanna D., Staten Island, NY, February 2001.
"In February of this year, an elderly lady who was moving into a senior residence was unable to take her 19-year-old Lhasa. Since she had adopted him from the Ulster County SPCA in 1989, she called and told them of the problem (part of the adoption agreement states, 'If you are no longer able to keep the dog for whatever reason, you must return him to us'). Unfortunately, they told her, they were not in a position to take the dog back. The elderly lady was on the verge of losing her house for taxes; she could no longer afford to keep the dog and really couldn't afford anything but the low income senior housing.
"I heard the lady's plea on the local radio station and went to meet her and the old fellow. It was on the final day before she moved to the senior residence.
"I really don't know what she would have done with him, but I'm glad Chewie is a part of my life now. He has given us nothing but love and happiness. He LOVES to eat dog cookies and will bark incessantly until you give him at least three! I figure at his age he has earned the right to have what he wants. He loves to go for walks and forges ahead at such a lively pace that at times it is hard to keep up with him. His hearing and sight are about gone. He can only hear if you shout at him, and he can distinguish shape and movement only of objects directly in front of him. On January 1st he will celebrate his 20th birthday. It is my plan to have a big party. (I sure hope he makes it!) Contributed by Elsa Norton, Saugerties, NY. December 2001.
"Daisy was turned in to Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue by her family. She was overweight and had arthritis. She also had some other minor age-related medical problems, all of which added up to more than they wanted to handle. I want to thank Daisy's family for surrendering her to MAGSR, and also to thank MAGSR for accepting her into their rescue program. Many other old dogs might not have been that lucky. MAGSR saw to it that Daisy got to a vet who put her on medication, which cleared up most of her problems. She lost some weight and began to enjoy life again with her foster family. But her foster home had cats, which Daisy had never seen before. She chased them good-naturedly, out of curiosity. The foster family could not keep her very long, and it was clear she needed a permanent home. But who would adopt a 10-12-year-old dog?
"Many people who think about adopting an older dog have doubts and questions: How will she adjust? Will she be set in her ways? Could she adapt to a new routine, new companions (including lots of cats)? Would she listen to us? Love us? Become part of our family? And, yes, could we let ourselves grow to love her, only to lose her in a few short years? The answer to all those questions is a resounding YES! Daisy adapted quickly to her new home, new routines and new companions. Yes, she chased the cats at first, but, once the novelty wore off, she just accepted them as part of her new family, as she did our other two dogs. She has even made a special friend of our blind cat. She has learned our routine, and greets us at the door every night when we come home. She treats us to big sloppy kisses. She doesn't chew or make a mess in the house. She is a loving, sweet, intelligent person with a mind of her own. "And yes, we have grown to love her, and she has grown to love us. No one lives forever, and life holds no guarantees. It gives us great happiness to know that, whatever her life was like before, her golden years will be spent in the comfort of our home and the love of our hearts. Anyone who loves a dog or cat knows that someday they will have to say goodbye. But we will enjoy her company with all our hearts for whatever time we are allowed, as we all do with our loved ones. Thanks to MAGSR for saving her life and bringing her into ours." Contributed by Peggy Terl & John Eckert and all the Furry Folks, Maryland. July 2000.
"Let me tell you about my wonderful dog Taylor, or as he is nicknamed, 'Little T.' I found him two years ago wandering around in circles in the middle of the road in a rainstorm. I picked him up to get him out of the road, knowing he'd get hit if I didn't. I brought him home and got him all cleaned up, figuring we'd put up signs in the neighborhood the next day. He had no identification tags. From the looks of him, I knew he was old. He had cataracts and was grey around the muzzle. He also had a limp of sorts.
"We put the signs up the next day, the local police and animal shelters were called, and the 'found' ad went in the paper. No one called looking for a dog of his description. We weren't seeking another pet, as we already had a dog, a cat, two mice, and various fish. We figured we were topped out for our household. But we also knew that, if we turned him in to the local authorities, they'd hold him the requisite three days, and he'd be history after that because of his age and the condition he was in.
"The vet I took him to estimated his age at 10 years. He had an ear infection, a urinary tract infection, several black teeth, and he wasn't neutered. But his heart was strong and his bloodwork came back with nothing horrible, so the decision was made to fix him up and put him up for adoption through our humane society. This little dog probably thought he'd been better off when he was in the street in the rainstorm than when he came back from the vet that night! He'd been neutered, shaved (his fur was matted and he'd had ticks), and had six teeth extracted.
"Long story short, as he was recuperating at our home, we also realized he was deaf, sight-impaired and not housetrained. NOBODY was going to adopt this dog! But, of course, after having recuperated in our home for those weeks, we absolutely fell in love with him! It's something in the way he looks so innocently and trustingly at us, and in the way his ears go 'flip-flip' when he walks.
"He's come such a long way in these past two years. He still has his issues, but I can't imagine being without him. I'm so glad our family was blessed with his presence for the balance of his life, however long that may be. And I'm glad we could offer him a loving, secure family home for his golden years. His transformation shows what his potential is -- indeed the potential inside all creatures, if they are loved and cared for properly.: Contributed by Cheryl L. Maibusch/ Hinsdale, IL. March 2002.
"Two weeks ago my ex-husband got remarried. I was feeling old, discarded, and abandoned. So I went to the Animal Shelter to adopt a dog. I didn't know what I was looking for. There was a cute little puppy that everyone wanted. They were going to have a drawing to see who would get to adopt her. No one wanted the pitiful looking little Sheltie. She had almost no hair on her body, was covered with scabs, and smelled bad. She knew she was unwanted -- you could see it in her eyes. The shelter volunteers were very surprised when I asked them to bring her out so I could look at her. Of course, I had to have her. I called my vet from the shelter, and 'Shelly' and I went directly there. They bathed her three times to get the filth out, ran a series of blood tests, and I brought her home later in the day. She does have a few problems, so we are taking it one step at a time. I am certain that she is an angel. She totters around the house after me, quietly lying down wherever I happen to be; and she watches me all the time. I am glad to give her a warm bed, good food, and lots of love for whatever time she has left. I had no idea that it would be so satisfying to care for her. My two 'middle-aged' dogs seem to understand that she is an old lady, and they treat her with respect. The 'boys' (10 and12) are careful with her and move slowly around her, since she is deaf. So she is a blessing to all of us! Who would've thought?" Contributed by Kathy Bloom. September 2003. Update, two days later: "Shelly continues to get 'perkier' each day, and her hair is already starting to grow! She is wagging her tail more, and she shocked us all by barking today. It was the first time she's made a sound!" (Editor's note: WONDERFUL!!)
"Adopting a senior dog has been one of the best things I have ever done. Adopting a younger dog wouldn't have been any guarantee that I would have him any longer than I will have Petey.
"I had really been looking for a female dog, but, after hearing a little bit about his circumstances, I decided not to be so sexist and to meet little Petey. Well, he just captured my heart the moment I saw him strutting his stuff!
"It has been such a pleasure to have Petey in my life. I've enjoyed so many of the advantages of an older dog -- such as his being more settled and already housetrained. In no time at all, Petey and I had our routines established. I love coming home from a day at the office to see his little tail wiggling and a smile on his face because he's so glad to see me. And, oh, he gives the BEST kisses!" -- Contribured by Lori Eaton, Marin City, CA, December 2000. Photo by Josephine Zeitlin.