Why we could learn a thing or two from older pets

When it comes to my pets, I have a strange, wonderful luck of keeping them alive and well for a very long…long…LONG time. Every dog or cat I’ve ever had has lived well beyond it’s normal life expectancy – and our home has become known to most of our friends as “Shady Pines Retirement Home” for pets (If you’re a “Golden Girls” fan, you’ll appreciate that reference). No joke. I have a gift.

One of our elderly dogs, Oliver, is a long-haired dachshund we nicknamed “Old Man” when we rescued him 13 year ago as a tiny puppy, because he was really only interested in two things: naps and cuddling. Think Wilford Brimley with floppy ears and a wagging tale. He’s always moved at a leisurely pace, content to smell the roses (or fire hydrants) in no particular hurry to anywhere.

Now as a much older dog, nothing has changed except now Oliver is almost completely blind and nearly deaf. It hasn’t affected his outlook or his pace — and he still enjoys taking walks, finding his way around the house and sniffing out treats wherever they may be hiding. He just bumps into the occasional wall, or trips over a shoe in his way. No big deal!

He doesn’t identify as a dog with handicaps, and so he simply doesn’t give them power to hold him back. He’s living his best life – forever seeking out the perfect belly rub and window to sunbathe in front of.

I see this kind of indomitable spirit every day when I walk through the kennels here at the Pasadena Humane Society. We have dogs of all ages who have, for one reason or another, found themselves lost and without a home. But their spirit belies any of the hardship or trauma they may have lived through, or physical handicaps. Some are young, but many are older and therefore overlooked because people have a hard time seeing beyond age.

Take Maggie, for example. Maggie is a 10-year-old terrier mix that has been living at the shelter since July. She’s easily one of the staff and volunteer’s all-time favorites because, despite her age, she has the spirit and energy of a gentle puppy. She loves going for walks, hikes and would thrive in an active household. She’s got great manners, is crate trained, and even knows her “sit,” “stay” and “lie down” cues.

Yet, Maggie is still here, hoping someone will love her for the kind and experienced dog she is.

Here’s the thing, guys. Just like finding successful long-term relationships with people, we have to have a level of self-awareness about what we are looking for in a relationship with a pet. And we have to be realistic. Most of the time, our impulse is to be attracted to good looks and the impression of youth and vitality. And that’s great! But you also have to be OK with all the training and socialization that may need to happen to make that relationship solid for the long term.

There is no substitute for experience though, so if you’re new to relationships with pets, you may want to consider adopting an older, more experienced and socially mature pet, like Maggie, who has been there, done it and has the leash manners to prove it.

I’ll be talking more about the elderly pet population in the coming weeks, because we are seeing more and more elderly strays and owner turn-ins of senior pets than ever before. It’s a complex issue – and one that should be looked at with empathy and kindness for people and pets.

The truth is, you can teach an old dog new tricks…and they have a few to teach us in return, if we let them. In the meantime, though, come check out Maggie. She’s got a lot more life to live – and she needs a family to share it with!

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