How and Why to Adopt a Senior Pet

istock-old-dog-websiteNovember is National Senior Dog Adoption Month and if you’re fortunate, you have lived, or currently live, with a senior dog. As cherished companions, the old dogs in our lives enrich our days for as long as we are privileged to have them.

You may find it inconceivable then, that a treasured member of the family would be tossed away when signs of old age appear, when extra care is required, or after the kids leave home. But this is an all too common occurrence. Old dogs are left at shelters, or simply turned loose or left behind, confused and frightened. Abandonment can also happen right at home - old dogs who are no longer wanted are sometimes banished to the garage or exiled to the back yard with little human companionship. And sadly, sometimes people or families who love their old dog are forced to give the dog up due to difficult circumstances.

The need for senior dog adoption is great. What makes this need even more saddening is the fact that, despite the wonderful attributes of older dogs and all the best efforts of most shelters, these dogs are frequently overlooked in favor of puppies and younger animals. The ageism that causes seniors to be passed over is a prejudice without merit, as oftentimes it’s the older dog that is best suited for a happy household and a lasting marriage of dog and family. Here’s why:

What You See Is What You Get

With an older dog, what you see is what you get. There are no surprises. Their physical size is established so there are no mysteries about whether they’ll exceed the weight limit for your apartment, and by and large, their temperament and personality are also fully developed. In other words, they’ve become what and who they are going to be.

Of course, you can expect that your old dog’s confidence will blossom as he adjusts to his new surroundings and the trauma of his loss is replaced by the reassurance of knowing that you are there for him. Beyond that, however, his demeanor will be evident in a first meeting, allowing you to fairly size up how he will fit into both your lifestyle and the family dynamic.

Most Older Dogs Have Already Been Trained

An older dog has typically had some basic obedience training and is already familiar with the essential commands that will make life enjoyable for both of you (come, sit, stay). Equally important, he is more than likely also housetrained, unlike his puppy counterpart. If your household includes very young children, you will welcome the fact that you will not have to endure housetraining and potty training all at the same time.

That said, don’t believe the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s simply not true! If there is a need and you are so inclined, these old dogs are eager to please and enjoy the attention and mental stimulation that your training sessions can provide. For instance, nose work is a relatively new dog sport that old dogs can learn and perform very well at; while the youngsters are still figuring out how to get another reward, the old ones have nailed it.

The Older Dog is Past His Chewing Phase

To anyone who has ever had his favorite shoes, the furniture, an heirloom rug, or the baseboards of his house chewed with endless abandon, rejoice! This is typical puppy behavior but not at all what to expect from a normal, adult dog.

A Senior Dog Requires Less Exercise

Let’s face it, as we age we all slow down a bit. You can expect an older dog to be less frisky and rambunctious than his younger counterparts, and in most cases, his requirement for exercise will be far less. This attribute alone makes the older dog a great fit for many family situations and an ideal match for the aging adult as well.

The Perfect Match: Pairing Seniors with Seniors

As they age, like all of us, dogs will have health issues that need to be addressed. Many of these common ailments are addressed in other places, including books, Internet resources, and your vet, so we’ll focus here instead on the benefits of adopting a senior dog—and they are many—especially for aging humans!


What better excuse to fire up the muscles and get outside than to walk the dog? A dog’s need to regularly relieve himself and sniff his way around the neighborhood is a great way to get the elderly out of doors, moving joints and muscles, and enabling them to see the beauty around them. Never again will they miss a beautiful sunset, the fall leaves as they change color, or the first signs of spring. Having a dog makes one live in the present and focus on the now.


For some reason, a dog creates an invitation to talk. Walking a dog is a great way to meet one’s neighbors and to build community. The wag of a tail has done more to break down social barriers and build friendships than anything we know.

At this time, there are very few rescue groups in the United States that specialize in helping homeless senior dogs, though the issue of geriatric rescue dogs is found in every municipal animal shelter and humane society, and with rescue leagues of all shapes and sizes. There is a great need for special programs that are unique to old dogs, such as in-home hospice care or health care programs for dogs in loving homes that may need a little financial assistance as their dog ages. We believe much more can be done.

The Grey Muzzle Organization’s goal is to enable animal welfare organizations to improve their ability to provide care, comfort, and loving homes for old dogs. The organizations that Grey Muzzle supports and grants to are chosen carefully and all have a commitment to senior dogs. Grey Muzzle also actively encourages the formation of new non-profit organizations to care for senior dogs, such as hospice care and senior dog rescues.

Where to Find a Senior Dog to Adopt

There are many animal shelters across the country but few fill the desperate need to place senior dogs. The following list is an excellent starting point for your research. Keep in mind that each of these organizations needs volunteers to survive and funding to underwrite their noble efforts. If you’re not yet ready to adopt your senior dog, consider becoming a foster home, a dog walker, or providing some other service or donation that will help ease the suffering of an old dog and provide him with a shot at a new beginning and the happy ending he deserves.

Below are some Grey Muzzle Organization Grantees where you can find senior dogs to adopt or foster. 2016-logo-lrg


Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, San Francisco, CA

Canine Adoption and Rescue League, Ventura CA

Lionel’s Legacy Senior Dog Rescue, San Diego, CA 

Saving Pets One at a Time, Skagit County, WA

Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary, Hawaii

Arizona Beagle Rescue, Phoenix, AZ

Kitty & K-9 Connection, Anchorage, AK



Aggieland Humane Society, Bryan, TX

Casche Humane Society, Logan, UT

Animal Rescue New Orleans

Bob’s House for Dogs, Eau Claire, WI

Bound Fur Life Foundation, Kechi, KS

Tyson’s Place Rescue, Jamestown, MI

KC Pet Project , Kansas City

Nuzzles & CO Rescue, Park City, UT



Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, Ashville, NC

Richmond Animal League, No. Chesterfield, VA

Fairytail Endings, Inc., Sarasota, FL

Humane Society of Warren County, Front Royal, VA

Connecticut Humane Society, Newington, CT

Main Line Animal Rescue, Phoenixville, PA

Ramapo Bergan Animal Refuge, Oakland, NJ


National Mill Dog Rescue, Peyton, CO

Petfinder – List of available pets and senior dogs

Pet Harbor – National list of pets available for adoption


Jennifer Kachnic, President
The Grey Muzzle Organization

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Positively Expert: Jennifer Kachnic

Jennifer Kachnic is president of The Grey Muzzle Organization, a nonprofit providing grants to animal shelters and rescues nationwide for senior dog programs. She is also author of a manual on senior dog care.


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