This week, Hotel Doggy is honouring seniors week and we wanted to give a little bit more insight into what it really means to adopt a senior dog. So we reached out to Erin Stanton, founder of Susie’s Senior Dogs to help spread awareness about how adopting an older dog can really enhance anyone’s life.
Erin Stanton started Susie’s Senior Dogs after taking in their beloved senior dog Susie whom her husband, Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York, stumbled upon while in NYC. Susie’s previous owner was no longer able to care for her and asked Brandon if he would be able to take her in and so a love story between two compassionate humans and a senior dog began. She instantly became an online sensation and struck a cord with Erin to help people become aware about adopting senior dogs. Susie’s Senior Dogs is a non-profit that began in 2014 that help to raise funds and share stories of senior dogs in shelters or rescues to help them find their forever homes. Susie (pictured above) sadly passed away in April 2016 of old age. She was almost 17.
Why are senior dogs so special?
I think there’s something really special about senior dogs.
I want to avoid the cliché answer that senior dogs seem so grateful and appreciative of the owners who take them in, but it really is a special relationship. Sometimes you know their past and sometimes you don’t but towards their ‘end of life’ years — usually the last five – it is their most vulnerable stage in life.
My boy Moby, a golden retriever mix came into our lives on April 1, 2016. The vets thought he was 12 judging by his appearance. Moby was emaciated, had no fur and clearly hadn’t received any veterinary care in quite some time. After he was surrendered he was really depressed, but within a few weeks his spirit was up, and with some TLC, his coat came back. We realized at that point he was probably only eight years old with his gorgeous lion-like mane. Moby was gaining weight but then I realized something was wrong and took him in for an ultrasound. The weight around his belly turned out to be fluid and he was diagnosed with liver disease. It all happened so quickly.
As it turned out, he only had a year left to live and passed away from liver failure. If he had gone through anything less than what we had to give him, it would have been truly heartbreaking, but he really did have a loving home to live out his last days comfortably.
Like humans, we revert back to puppyhood or a child-like state in our old-age years. Senior dogs have an innocence to them, a vulnerability. It’s a quieter and more dependent time for the dog.
I can’t really describe it, but the more older dogs you have in your life, the more you understand what it is to give and receive unconditional love.
What are the top things you should consider when adopting a senior dog?
The biggest misconception is that senior dogs are on their death bed. Are they eight years old and considered a senior dog? Absolutely. But often those dogs still have so much energy, and require a lot of stimulation.
Here are the questions to ask yourself and work with a rescue to understand:
- Are you matched for the dog’s needs on a daily basis?
- Are you matched for the dog’s financial needs over the long term?
- Ask about the dog’s energy level and medical needs
- And my advice is to tell the rescue or shelter what your needs are and what you’re looking for, but try not to get hung up on the specifics like what breed you want. Instead, it’s best to say something like “I prefer a big dog” and forget the specifics. I find potential adopters often confuse wants with what they think are needs. If you travel a lot, for example, rather than naming a type of breed you like, request a dog that’s easily portable. That way you won’t limit yourself from finding the perfect match.
At Susie Senior Dogs (SSD) we rely on financial donations to help the dogs become more adoptable, and to stay adopted. It’s something I feel really strongly about. We’ll do things like arrange for the dogs to undergo heartworm treatment or if a dog is showing behavioral issues, we will hire a trainer to help them settle in and learn a routine in their new home. It’s important to choose a reputable rescue that takes on older dogs; one that has the resources to adopt them out. We often work with rescues in other states to help pay for senior dogs with real financial woes.
Is the saying true “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”?
Not at all! Some dogs, you have a really old dog and they just want to be who they are. They’re quirky, or maybe want to stay in their own room and sleep all day.
I have a pitbull named Sarah that needs a lot of stimulation. After putting her through some training I’ve come to realize she’s definitely an old dog who likes learning new tricks. My other dog Simon is snarky with her because he’s getting older and cranky, and poor Sarah looks so hurt when he does. It’s so cute!
If you could give any advice about caring for a senior dog, what would it be?
Enjoy each day that you have with your senior dog just as you do with the people you love. It’s exactly the same. We don’t know if we have tomorrow or the next five years. Having lost two senior dogs in the past few years has allowed me to care and love my dogs so much more on a daily basis. Even the frustrating, overwhelming or chaotic moments. I’ve learned to not take them for granted.
Caring for senior dogs has taught me to be less worried about time and losing those around me that I love. I realize that life and these moments are fleeting, and it allows me to be less bothered by the little things. I like a clean house, and I say this as someone who is not “cool as a cucumber”. With older dogs there are often more accidents around the house. I have cleaning supplies everywhere but as a dog mom, their poo and pee doesn’t bother me. You get better and better at being more relaxed about stuff like that.
If adopting a senior dog doesn’t work well with your lifestyle, are there other ways you could get involved?
Oh definitely. A great example is an older lady I know in Brooklyn, New York who already has a senior dog. She can’t adopt another one but she is passionate about the cause. Every time we put up posts on our Facebook page, she prints out adopt-a-dog flyers and puts them up in the laundry room of her building. It’s such a small gesture, and yet so creative. It has impact and allows her to be proactive in her own profound way.
Every rescue, no matter which county, town or city has different issues. In New York, animal rescues have money but not the space to provide shelter for animals. Other places have the space, but lack the funding. I would advise anyone who is passionate about pet rescues and senior dogs, to roll up their sleeves and get in touch with their local shelter and ask them what’s needed. There are a number of ways you can volunteer for a rescue or shelter. For example, many private rescues need social media help. Or, if adoption is too much of a long-term or financial commitment, then fostering a senior dog is an amazing alternative. And the obvious? Shelters always need financial donations.
I think it’s human nature to wait for things to be presented to us. But we need to swim our way to find where the help is needed.