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Why you should consider adding a new old friend to your family

Like many people across America, I am spending a lot more time at home these days. That gives me an opportunity to appreciate things I wasn’t always around to enjoy before, like watching my pets do their daily routine. It’s really the best show in town. 

First, there’s our dogs. Shadow, a big black German shepherd, is now 12 but that hasn’t diminished his protective spirit. He is a typical shepherd, always on alert, but to those who know him, Shadow is a big goof with a bemused Gomer Pyle expression who loves his squeaky toys too much (usually until they go silent).  

His sidekick is Stanley, an 11-year-old spaniel-ish mix with the most adorable snaggle teeth and underbite. His sweet, silly face alone is enough to make me smile. Then there’s the ear licking. Stanley licks Shadow’s ears incessantly, which Shadow seems to enjoy. It's a little weird, but hey, to each his own.  

Shadow and Stanley have turned our smooth floor into something of a demolition derby track, skidding on the turns and sliding into the sofa. They also like to play tug of war, with Shadow often letting his smaller buddy win. These two give me so much joy and levity with their antics. 

Our cats, Bumblebee and Bullfrog, are both about 18 now, and they have changed a lot since they came to us as rambunctious youngsters. Bullfrog is a handsome tuxedo who once thought, in that uniquely feline way, that he knew more than the rest of us. Today, Bullfrog is much more of a cuddle bug, always looking for a snuggle.  

Bumblebee, a beautiful tortie, used to be quite vocally grumpy at times, but has now become a world-class napper, enjoying the dreams she’s earned as a cat of a certain age. Looking at them can be something of a meditation, giving me a sense of peace when the world feels uncertain.  

You may have noticed a theme by now, other than how much I adore this quartet. Our pets are all seniors now, which means their faces are getting frosted and they have slowed down a bit (or a lot). Stanley was the only one who was a senior when we adopted him three years ago from an Atlanta shelter, where he was overlooked because he was slightly snappy at times (in that little dog kind of way). He instantly fit into our pack and into our hearts.  

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Sadly, seniors like Shadow, Stanley, Bumblebee and Bullfrog can find themselves in shelters through no fault of their own, usually the result of a death, divorce or other loss, like a job or a home.   

There, they desperately await a second chance to show what great pets they are, yet most adopters tend to gravitate to puppies, kittens, or younger dogs and cats. This makes senior pets some of the most at-risk animals in shelters across the country.  

It’s such a shame, because there are so many reasons why seniors are often a perfect fit for just about any home. Let’s talk about why an older dog or cat might be the best choice for your next furry friend. 

For example, I’d like to debunk the whole “let’s get a puppy or kitten to grow up with the children” myth as being ideal. Yes, I know, puppy breath may be hard to resist, but puppies and kittens can be wild little beasts, with sharp teeth and claws that can scratch and puncture small hands. Not to mention that young pets need to learn potty training, manners and social skills, which can be a time management challenge for busy families. 

Older dogs and cats, on the other hand, generally come with good manners after years of living in a home. They are usually house- or litter-trained, maybe needing just a quick refresher course after being in a shelter.  

Another advantage to adopting an older pet is that you know exactly what you’re getting. Their size, weight and personality are already developed, so you can choose them for what they are, rather than for what you hope they’ll be when they grow up. If you’re looking for a cat who likes dogs, for example, or vice versa, you can talk to the adoption specialist and find a pet with the history you’re looking for. 

For those who prefer an orderly home, senior pets are far less likely to destroy your belongings, such as shoes. All puppies tend to chew, no matter how many toys they have, and kittens might see your couch or curtains as a climbing wall. Mature pets are more inclined to enjoy the simple things in life, like naps, cuddling, short strolls and hanging out with you during quarantine binge-fests. Doesn’t that sound nice?  

Trust me. If you give a senior pet a second chance, you’ll share a lifetime of unconditional love with a very grateful companion. And since many shelters start labeling pets as seniors at five years old, that can add up to a lot of happy years together.   

So, if you’re able to look past a little gray hair and open your home and your heart, your new old friend will show you why he or she is the perfect pet. Just as Stanley showed us. 

Together, we can Save Them All.

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Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society Julie Castle
CEO
Best Friends Animal Society