November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, a time of the year devoted to raising awareness of the benefits and joys of adopting an older pet. It's also a month during which many animal shelters offer significantly reduced rates for people interested in adopting an older animal. Some even waive the adoption fee for senior adoptions during the month.
So, what exactly is a "senior" pet, and why would you want to adopt one, especially when there are so many younger animals available? After all, doesn't everyone prefer a puppy or kitten to an older pet? In answer to the first question, many organizations consider pets, particularly dogs and cats, 8 years and older as "senior." However, some organizations go as low as 2 years.
As to the "why" of adopting the older pet, there are many advantages. As anyone who's spent time around pets knows, older animals are usually quieter, calmer, more settled, housebroken or litter trained, and, thus, easier to handle than their younger counterparts. Fewer chewed shoes or gnawed table legs. Fewer climbed curtains and clawed sofas. Fewer times being dragged down the street by an 80 pound puppy who hasn't quite mastered the finer points of leash walking. Fewer "surprises" on the living room rug.
Of course, in addition to unwanted "presents," there are going to be fewer surprises all around with an older pet. The animal is already at its full size, has its personality - quirks and all - fully developed, and, if it has any bad habits or behaviors, they've probably already shown up. The same can be said for health problems, at least those of the congenital kind.
In addition, older pets come with greater life experiences and the learning and poise that life experience frequently bring, often making them easier to deal with in new situations. Some older pets even seem to fit the description of an "old soul," only in animal form instead of human.
But don't think that these older, calmer pets are less fun to live with than younger pets. Senior pets, while often quieter and easier to handle than a younger pet, still love to learn new things and have new adventures. While the senior dog isn't likely to drag you around the neighborhood, he's probably more than eager walk by your side as the two of you explore the neighborhood, meet the neighbors, or venture out on a hike. And while the older cat may be less inclined to destroy your house, he'll probably offer you hours of entertainment as he plays with a new cat nip mouse or paper bag.
Finally, as anyone who's adopted an older pet can tell you, these older animals seem to be especially grateful for their new homes and families, as though they possess an uncanny ability to know that you've saved their life. I've heard this over and over again from people who've adopted older pets, and I've seen it myself first hand with my own furry adoptees. They know the score, and they know what you've done for them. And, from the what-goes-around-comes-around department, people who rescue the older pet often report an added sense of satisfaction in knowing that they've provided a loving home for an animal who might not have gotten a second chance.
At our house, we've adopted two senior dogs. We've also adopted one non-senior adult dog and one similar cat. Alex was our first senior adoption. A Samoyed found wandering in the boon docks as an emaciated stray, he was about 8-years-old when we adopted him from our local Samoyed rescue group (Minuteman Samoyed Rescue.) Despite arriving with a history of obvious neglect and abuse and a host of health problems, he was a great dog who adjusted quickly to our family and went on to be a loyal, loving, and extremely protective companion . He also recovered his health with a little TLC and good vet care and lived a long and healthy life. Ultimately, he gave us 7 1/2 wonderful years before leaving us as a very old man.
In his later years, Alex developed the canine equivalent of Alzheimers. So, to help him with his cognitive probems and the resultant anxiety, we adopted a second senior dog to keep him company. Becky - aka, Becky Beagle, Girl Psychologist - was a 9-10 year old Beagle who came to our local shelter as a stray. When I met her, she was sick with an active case of Lyme Disease, had a serious, congenital heart condition, and very few prospects. I knew immediately that she was the dog I wanted to take home. As it turned out, adopting her was one of the smartest things we ever did. Like Alex, she adjusted quickly and fit right into our family. She also regained her health quickly and thrived. And she paid us back a thousand fold. She was that rare "angel" of a pet who never misbehaved. She also seemed like a wise, old soul. Sometimes when I felt stressed, I'd just sit next to her, put my hand on her, close my eyes, and feel awash in calm and peacefulness. When she wasn't soothing one of us, she was making us laugh with her goofy sense of humor. She was also the perfect companion for Alex. They were best friends from the moment they met, and exactly what Alex needed to keep him company in his declining years. From the instant they met, Alex's anxiety seemed to melt away. Becky's presence in our home made Alex's last 2 years immensely better than they might have been. And, like Alex, she brought us tremendous joy.
More recently, we've adopted Simon. When we got him, he was a 3-year-old shelter cat who'd been rescued as a neighborhood stray from the mean streets of a neighboring city. Simon's a great cat with a charming personality and one of the few cats I've ever had who is never, ever destructive. In addition, he's a fantastic mouser and also one heck of a "batter," having saved us all from a bat that flew into the house while we were sleeping.
Morgan is our most recent adoption. A Beagle from a shelter in NYS' Adirondack area, this beautiful, little girl had initially been purchased for breeding purposes. At age 3 years. she found herself in need of a home when she got out and got pregnant by the neighbor's Cocker Spaniel. Her first owners' loss was clearly our gain. We couldn't ask for a better dog. She's sweet, funny, well behaved, and also quite the hostess whenever we have guests. Her puppy-having days behind her, she loves her new life as a canine house princess, and we love her.
So, let me suggest that if you find yourself thinking of adding a pet to your family, think about a senior pet. Or at least one past the puppy/kitten stage. You might be happy that you did.
And if you've adopted an older pet, or even a not so older pet, please feel free to tell us about your experience.