I feel like I talk about my time working at the animal shelter a lot compared to the other jobs I’ve had in the past. I was only there about seven months, but the experience had a profound impact on me. Another profession I did for many years was caregiving, eventually becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant. I started this line of work when I was 18 and always worked with elderly and/or disabled people. Fast forward to who I am today, my two interests have intertwined. The senior pets at the shelter pulled on my heart strings in ways I can’t even describe. It was often an emotional rollercoaster working there, but every time I saw a one-eyed cat or an elderly stray dog come in my heart would just ache. My hope is that in the future I’ll be able to act as a hospice foster for these animals. My current crew is a bit too rambunctious to do it now, but what I can do is share the word on how amazing these often overlooked critters are.
There’s probably a notion that senior pets are only really appropriate for senior people. I can understand why someone who has a young child may not want to invest in a companion that won’t be around for that long. No parent wants to see their child experience heartache and losing a beloved pet is definitely a painful experience for everyone involved. All of that aside, there is something to be said for the valuable lessons that can be learned in addition to the equally wonderful companionship that these pets can provide.
A fairly significant perk that seems to be often overlooked is that you know what you’re getting. While senior pets can certainly learn ‘new tricks’ so to speak, their personalities are fairly established. They’re likely to already know the basics of home life. People looking to adopt a pet for the first time may not realize how much time and energy may have to be put into something as simple as potty-training. With a senior pet, they’re likely to already know the ropes and require much less effort to get acclimated into your home. They can be especially appropriate for someone who is interested in having a pet, but may not have the time to invest in a young, high-energy one.
There are senior/disabled pets that are high maintenance and those that are low maintenance. Some require no special treatment. They only need to be provided the same things that you’d provide for any other pet, but likely require less exercise and in return you have a companion with a calmer demeanor that is experienced at providing master snuggles. Obviously a senior pet can potentially have more health issues, which can be cause for increased expenses. Same for disabled pets. They may require special medical devices, medicines, etc. Any time you get a pet you run the risk of them having unexpected health issues. When you consider the fact that you’ll likely know what you’re getting yourself into when adopting a senior/disabled pet, this can actually be seen as an asset.
You’ve probably heard ‘adopting saves lives’ either from me or someone else. Every year many animals are euthanized due to nothing more the lack of space in our shelters. Senior pets are especially vulnerable to be chosen, as they’re less likely to be adopted. The shelter is scary for any animal. It’s an unfamiliar place, surrounded by people and animals they don’t know. It’s loud, especially by the dogs. Consider what it must be like for a senior pet that was a part of a family to be surrendered for whatever reason. To go from the life they knew to this new, terrifying environment can be traumatizing for many of them. Workers and volunteers try to show them love and kindness, but many animals continue to struggle. They get depressed. They shake with fear. When potential adopters come in and look at them, they don’t show well for this reason. The animals that need out the most are often stuck there the longest.
When you walk into a shelter you scan all the animals you see and think to yourself, ‘any one of these guys needs a home’ and that’s true. If you’re absolutely only interested in a puppy or kitten, you’re still doing a wonderful thing by adopting them. But if you’re open to something else, please look at the old and disabled ones. In my experience, puppies and kittens go very quickly. If you don’t adopt them, someone else will shortly after. But the senior pets can end up spending much longer at the shelter. The end of their life should be filled with warmth and love, not fear and loneliness. You may only have them for a short time, but for them, that’s all they have left to give.