In October 2008 they took in 16-year-old Stewart, a cocker spaniel with a long list of health problems, the worst of which was renal (kidney) failure.
The Jockers felt that they owed something to a dog like Stewart, who has already lived a long life and needs a comfortable, loving home to enjoy for the rest of his days.
“The way I see it, none of our animals get to choose us, and when we get to choose them, we owe it to them to give them the life they would have picked if they were able to choose,” says Katie, who adopted Stewart through the adoption organization The Max Fund.
Stewart needed almost constant care from the moment he walked through the Jockers’ door. Besides his kidney problems, he is also deaf and suffers from arthritis and a weak heart.
The Jockers feed Stewart nutrients and keep him constantly hydrated. Their reward has been a renewed older dog that is lively and gets along well with his new roommates.
“He’s great; he’s ornery and loves to be the center of attention,” Katie says.
A puppy, she adds, would have been fine. But she prefers a dog like Stewart because he provides an education just by living.
“They teach you to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life,” explains Katie. “Besides, they are quirky and funny.”
Other pet owners and organizations hope that prospective owners will take a more serious look at taking home an older dog or cat during November, which is Adopt-A-Senior-Pet Month, sponsored by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Older pets have a huge advantage over puppies and kittens, simply because of their maturity level, states the ASPCA.
“I simply could not live through another puppyhood,” says Gayle Buchwald, senior vice president who oversees the ASPCA’s adoption center in New York City.
“Kittens are rambunctious and are always zooming here and there and tearing off the covers of your bed in the middle of the night,” Buchwald explains. “Older pets are like people — they’ve been around the block and their energy level is a lot more stable.”
Today’s busy lifestyles are also more conducive to older pets, Buchwald believes. An older pet is less high-maintenance than a puppy or kitten and can be left alone for longer periods of time. She adds, “Their personalities are already formed, and what you see is what you get; you can plan around that. Puppies and kittens are still forming their personalities.”
To help those who want to adopt an older pet make an informed decision, the ASPCA developed the Meet Your Match Program, which helps match an animal’s behavior and interests with potential pet owners.
Dogs are tested on their friendliness, playfulness, energy level, motivation, and drive and are placed in one of nine color-coded “canine-alities.”
Depending on their color code, some dogs are classified as laid-back couch potatoes, while others are more curious busy bees.
Cats are similarly categorized. Green cats (which are relatively new on the scene) are savvy and adventurous, while orange cats make amiable companions.
Adopting an older pet can also have drawbacks, and owners need to be aware of those potential complications.
Many older pets have health problems and often need special diets or medications. Older pets also may need modifications to get around, such as stepladders to get into cars or wider dog and cat doors.
At the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA in San Mateo, Calif., medical staff members spend a lot of time with an older pet to check for physical problems, while other staffers concentrate on any problems in behavior, comments Scott Delucchi, vice president and spokesman for the shelter.
“If a dog or cat is older than five or six we do a lot of work with them before we allow them to be adopted,” Delucchi says.
Still, the shelter does not do blood work or X-rays on most of the animals. Therefore, it is often the prospective owners who must take responsibility for making sure that an animal is a good match, he explains.
Sometimes small children are not good matches for an older dog or cat, says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk Program for the Humane Society of the United States.
“Some animals are not fond of children and all the grabbing they do,” Goldfarb says.
Still, a mature pet probably has been around a toddler and knows what to expect, he adds. “They’ve seen the world, and they know what to expect when it comes to a child. Younger dogs and cats may not see it that way and won’t get along with a child.”
Older dogs need their exercise, too. But like an older person, their days of running a marathon or chasing squirrels are, thankfully, long gone, Goldfarb says. “A nice walk in a park on a sunny day suits many older dogs just fine. That’s the beauty of older dogs — they have their own rhythm of life.”
Monte Whaley is a writer from Denver, Colo. He writes for the Denver Post.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Nov/Dec 09 - Volume 4 Issue 6, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.