Young at Heart

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Area animal lovers open their homes and hearts to senior pets

Story and Photography By Lisa Gregory

The breeder was done with them and wanted them gone. So, he brought the two female huskies, a mother and daughter, to the Adams County SPCA. “He wanted to pay us to kill the dogs,” says Abby Avery, shelter manager and humane officer with the Adams County SPCA. “He said he had no more use for them.”

The mother, 8, and the daughter, 5, had spent their entire lives giving birth to litter after litter of puppies to be sold. The shelter, says Avery, had no intention of killing them. Instead, the staff took in Winter and Sky, as they have come to be known, in the hopes of finding them good homes.  

“After what they have been through, they deserve good homes,” says Avery. 

Winter was adopted in only a few days, and the shelter will continue to work hard to find Sky a home as well. For Winter, specifically, it is a happy ending. But this isn’t always the case. Older pets can often be overlooked for adoption in favor of puppies and kittens, although “senior dogs and cats give just as much love,” says Avery. 

But the tide is turning. A movement is starting to encourage the adoption of senior pets by shelters, rescues, and animal lovers. There’s even an awareness month dedicated to the cause; November is recognized as National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Adams County SPCA and local rescues such as Good Old Tails Senior Animal Rescue in Hanover also are playing a part in this effort. Both organizations are using social media to introduce people to the images and backstories of the pets in their care, including senior and even geriatric pets. 

“I think people are becoming more aware of this issue,” says Megan Snyder, founder and director of Good Old Tails.

And she will be the first to tell you the advantages of having a senior pet.  

“Say, with a puppy, it’s a bigger time commitment,” says Snyder. “It’s a bigger expense. They are going to chew your stuff up. You have to do the training. You need all the shots. They may not be spayed or neutered yet. You need toys. The things they ruin you have to replace. And, you don’t always know what you are getting into with a puppy. You may have unexpected things, like this dog got bigger than I thought it would. Or, this dog has an underlying medical condition that we were not aware of or are prepared to deal with.” 

Senior dogs are a different story.

“I’ll tell you everything about that dog—the good, the bad, the ugly,” says Snyder. “And that’s probably the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future.”

Senior dogs can—and do—have medical issues due to their age. But, says Snyder, these issues are usually quite manageable with the proper care.  

Some Things Get Sweeter with Age

As Snyder talks, she is surrounded by dogs and the occasional cat, many of them stretched out on doggie beds or couches or her lap, sleeping contentedly and snoring occasionally. She keeps many of them at her own home except for those who are fostered. They have names like Cindy Lou, Carl, Mason, Dixon, and Ulysses. Some are blind, missing teeth, or diabetic. They include pugs, chihuahuas, and beagles. They come from New York, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, as well as Maryland and Pennsylvania. 

Snyder says that many senior pets have had loving homes for a long time until their elderly owners became ill or died. Others have been given up after a new baby comes or a family moves. Some come by way of being a stray with no knowledge of where they came from or what they have been through. Then there are dogs, like Winter and Sky, whose owners believe are no longer useful.   

Since establishing Good Old Tails, Snyder has found homes for roughly 200 dogs and cats, at times literally saving their lives. Shelters without a no-kill policy often put down older pets first because they can be the least adoptable. 

Running the rescue can cost Snyder as much as $20,000 a year. She reaches into her own pocket but also relies on much-needed and much-appreciated donations and those willing to raise funds for the rescue. 

It is not easy. But for Snyder, it is well worth it when a senior pet finds a home. Take Boo and Ethel, for example. Both found homes through Good Old Tails. 

Boo, a chihuahua, had accidents in the house, says Snyder. And she was concerned the 12-year-old dog wouldn’t be adoptable. Then came the Heck family. “We know that older dogs are often left behind and don’t get adopted,” says Niki Heck. “Some people want brand new everything, even with their animals, but we’re fine with the slightly used pets.”

Niki and her husband, Keith, decided to take Boo. And they were made fully aware of her bathroom issues. After a handful of accidents, Boo “doesn’t poop or pee in the house at all now,” says Niki. 

She does, however, entertain her new family sometimes with a playful game of hide and seek before she goes outside to the bathroom. “Half the time I forget she’s not a puppy,” says Niki. “She’s so spunky.”

The same can be said for 9-year-old Ethel, a pit bull. Besides being older, she has issues with a back leg and her trachea, which causes her to cough. But that’s not stopping her, says Heather Brinker, who, along with her husband Bill, adopted Ethel. 

“One of her favorite things is tossing her toys up in the air and catching them,” says Heather. 

Ethel is not the first senior dog the couple has adopted, and she won’t be the last, they say. “They just seem to appreciate having a home,” says Bill.  

Even if the time in that home is brief. 

“I think the love they get from you and you get from them and knowing they have a good home with you outweighs the pain of losing them,” says Niki. 

This is something Snyder understands all too well. Not all her senior pets go on to homes. Some remain with her till the end, like Turtle the beagle. 

When she got Turtle, says Snyder, “She was like 1,000 years old, covered with fleas, and her nails were curled under her feet. It was awful.” 

Not long after taking her into her home, Snyder noticed that Turtle was intrigued by the doggie bed but never laid on it. “Then, one day, I saw her walk real slow over to the edge of the bed and lay down,” recalls Snyder. “She just stretched out and relaxed and rolled on her back. I don’t care what people say, that dog smiled. She never had a doggie bed. She lived outside.”

Snyder only had Turtle for three months. “She died with me,” she says. “And it broke my heart. But I also knew that those were the best three months of her life. This was a 17-, 18-year-old dog, and that was the only good life she had had. But at least she had that.” 

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