I was helping out at Lakeshore PAWS dog rescue a couple of weeks ago when a staff person from a nearby veterinary clinic came in with a nearly 12-year-old Australian shepherd named Early.
Early's former companion no longer felt she could care for him and the clinic hoped we could find him another home for him to live out his days.
The old guy was in good spirits, despite a series of big changes he had gone through so late in his life. He was very gentle, very full of life and healthy.
Early was immediately made available, but was not getting much attention, likely because of his age and his need to be on medications for life for potential seizures.
Long story short, I decided to take him home last week and see how he did with my older female dog. She had been alone for a couple months since my other dog died after a long struggle with bladder cancer.
All has gone well and I wound up adopting Early.
I share this story as a plug for senior and other special-need dogs, who too often go overlooked at shelters and rescues.
While it is true you will likely have more years with a younger dog, the time spent with a senior will likely be easier and more special in its own way.
Early came to me fully house trained, responsive to directions and eager to please and love. He also has that older-dog gentleness and calmness about him, though still loves to play fetch and has yet to meet a treat he does not love.
I am not alone in my love of senior dogs. Portage resident and Lakehore PAWS volunteer Jennifer Meade Weeks has fostered 17 seniors and adopted four as part of her commitment to those with graying muzzles.
"Seniors make the best companions," she said. "They already have years of experience with humans, so they have a wise way of knowing exactly what you need from them. They are usually housebroken, walk nicely on a leash, and can be left out free in the house while you're gone, without destroying anything. Senior dogs are 'move-in ready,' and require little, if any training."
How about that puppy or young dog fun, you may ask?
"Toby Keith's 'As Good as I Once Was' sums up senior dogs," Weeks said. "They may not run and play for hours every day, but when their favorite toy comes out, they can play like puppies for a short time. Never underestimate an old dog!"