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Canine Trauma

Getting a "Used" Dog

Written by: Tracy Vogel, Staff Writer -

You could almost compare it to trying to sell a car. New is appealing. Get a few miles on it, and the value drops. Get a lot of miles on it, and the value drops a lot more.

Except that it’s much easier to find someone who wants an older car than an older dog. Too many options out there. Too many young dogs, too many all-desirable puppies.

If they don’t want puppies, they want close to it –two- and three-year-old dogs. At four years old, maybe. But five years old ... nah. Find me the newer model.

"A lot of it is our disposable society," said Donna Allen, of the Senior Dog House and Rescue, Bigfork, Mont. "People look at the number. They don’t look at the dog."

It’s a story animal rescuers and shelter operators alike repeat. Old dogs are difficult to place in homes. Puppies have the best chance to be adopted, followed by young dogs.

And old, in the public’s view, isn’t that long a grace period. "Anything over four is really not attractive to most people," said Teri Goodman, coordinator of the Senior Dogs Project, San Francisco, Calif.

Ms. Goodman started her involvement with older dogs after an introduction to 10-year-old Misty, a golden retriever she and her husband were dog-sitting for family. They fell in love with her, and her previous owners agreed to let her stay.

"She just taught us’my husband and I’both so much," Ms. Goodman said. "She was an incredibly good dog’she never did a bad thing. She loved being with you’she was always wagging her tail and looking for you wherever you were in the house."

She recalled driving across country with her husband, Misty with them. They were inspired to do it because the dog loved riding in the car so much.

"It builds up your empathy," Ms. Goodman said. "If you get a little creakier’your joints begin to ache’and you watch an older dog deal with this very matter-of-factly, you realize you don’t have to complain."

Misty developed cancer at 13, which was successfully treated. She died about a year and a half later, of old age.

Senior dogs can teach their owners important lessons about death as well as old age, Ms. Allen said. "Animals don’t look at death the way we do’when they’re ready to go, they let you know, and they don’t fight. It’s peaceful."

But people have legitimate concerns about adopting older dogs, which include medical care and their lifespan, rescuers said.

There are ways to deal with pet health problems, Ms. Allen said. Arthritic dogs may need ramps to get down porch stairs. With a dog that’s going blind, you don’t move the furniture around as much, and it memorizes its way.

Sometimes the people who are most likely to take a dog with health difficulties like arthritis have similar problems themselves, said Dr. Arnold Plotnick, vice president of the Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, New York City. "It’s: ‘I’ve got arthritis, I walk slow too, so I’d be fine with this dog.’"

But medicine can add extra expense to the adoption of an older dog, rescuers said. And many people don’t want to make the emotional investment in a dog they may lose soon.

Yet, the rewards make up for it, Ms. Allen said. "We all have to go sometime, and the love they can give you in the meantime is worth the effort."

There are unique benefits to adopting older dogs, rescuers said. They’re fully housetrained, unlike puppies and often even younger dogs. They’re well out of the chewing stage. They fit in with singles whose busy lifestyle doesn’t leave a lot of time to exercise and train a dog. They’re good for seniors who want a sedate, quiet pet.

Seniors may also have concerns about their pets outliving them and getting an older dog is one way to decrease that possibility, said Joan Garvin, president of the New-York-area Metropolitan Maltese Rescue, which has several senior dogs up for adoption.

Ms. Allen recalled one woman who came to her looking specifically for an older dog. She did a lot of driving for her work as a supply representative, and she needed a traveling companion’a quiet little dog that would be willing to spend long hours relaxing in the car.

She adopted an 11-year-old dachshund. "She’d sleep with mom on the road, and guard the motel room," Ms. Allen said.

Senior dogs also make excellent additional pets, Ms. Garvin said. "If you have a dog that’s four or five, you don’t want to go through the puppy thing again," she said.

Ms. Garvin has two dogs. Her first was two years old when she adopted her second, an eight year-old. "The older dog kind of mellowed out the young one, and the young one gave the older dog kind of a zest for life."

Adopting an older dog is a way of ensuring, to the extent that you can, that you’re getting a quality dog, rescuers said. With shelters having to euthanize so many animals, and people so willing to give up animals that give them trouble, a dog’s age shows its beaten the odds.

"Usually an older dog doesn’t get to be an older dog unless he’s well behaved," Ms. Goodman said.

But people still look for young dogs, and rescuers say there’s nothing they can do but try to talk up the advantages of the older ones.

Ms. Goodman has the conversation frequently. "Face-to-face they’ll tell you, sure, they’ll take an older dog," she said. "But then they take a puppy."

Article republished here with permission from
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