Saturday, November 8, 2014

Choosing the Right Dog for You, Part 1: The Senior Citizen

This is the first in a series of choosing the right dog to fit you and your lifestyle, if you weren't able to discern that from the title. This is one of the services I offer my clients and I have found that choosing the right dog to fit your life can make life easier for everyone.

I decided to start with something that always makes me want to adopt immediately- senior dogs. I have no idea what kind of person could leave a 10 or 12 year old dog in a shelter because they suddenly start have incontinence issues, arthritis or a tumor that will likely be the reason they have to be put to sleep. Seriously? I would not want to be a parent of these people, or a spouse for that matter. I know money can limit what we can do for our dogs, but doggie diapers are not that expensive and pain management in dogs is honestly not that expensive. If it is too much, I love my dog enough to know that I would find her a home that could afford to give her the care she deserves I we no longer could, or make the hard decision to take that one last sad trip to the vet so she was no longer suffering.

I won't judge you if you don't adopt a senior dog, but for some people it's the perfect fit and I'm here to explain why.

Admittedly, puppies are really freakin' cute. I love them. I love working with them. You know what I don't like quite as much? Living with them. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing like getting a puppy who can fit into your hands when you bring it home and still having him there to curl up next to you at night 12 years later. Being able to socialize and train your puppy to fit well into your lifestyle makes it easy to own and love your dog. It does take a lot of work to get to that point. I see people go through it all the time. A family gets a puppy after an older dog passes away and they forget why they wanted another dog. Pee, poop, middle of the night potty breaks, waking up at dawn and earlier,  and those razor sharp puppy teeth! All this compared to their last dog- calm, quiet, alerted them when he needed to potty, could walk off leash and listen perfectly, and all he really wanted was to snuggle up and nap with his family.
I know what you are thinking, "a senior dog comes with so much baggage", 'they usually have major medical issues", "they always have serious health problems", or "what difference does it make if they are only going to live a few more years anyway?"
First of all, ALL dogs come with some kind of baggage. Some come with more or less than others. Some have more serious behavioral or medical issues. I have seen seriously aggressive 10 week old puppies. I have seen (and heard) a grade 4 heart murmur on an 8 week old puppy and hip dysplasia so bad that one hip was literally one inch higher that the other one on an 8 week old puppy (those last two were actually the same puppy and a great example of why inbreeding is terrible, but that's a story for another day). I have also seen all those things on dogs of all ages, so your excuse is not valid. Don't even get me started on the last one- "what difference does it make if it's only for a few years?". A few years or a few months is all the difference in world to a dog who is aging, arthritic, and just wants a warm place to curl up (all day). To be able to provide that and any necessary medical care is a wonderfully selfless thing. Adopting a senior dog is not the same as signing up for major medical bills for the next 1-4 years, though if it's in your budget I say "go for it". Medical issues can frequently be managed with relatively inexpensive medications.
Senior dogs can be great for someone who isn't sure they want to commit to a dog for 15 years, or someone who doesn't have the time or patience for a puppy. A lot of senior dogs are perfectly well trained and easy to live with.
What's not easy for me to live with is the idea of an old dog spending his last few years in a kennel getting minimal interaction from people and other animals (if they like that kind of thing).

Do yourself a favor, go to your local shelter, ASPCA or Humane Society and check out some senior dogs who are in need of a good home.

Next week: picking a breed for your lifestyle!