Previously, I wrote about some of the special considerations involved in keeping your senior dog happy and healthy. Recently I’ve been overwhelmed with images of senior dogs dying in shelters. I look from their pictures on my computer screen into the trusting brown eyes of my sweet, gray-faced Gemma, who turned 12 on the 2nd. I let her out more often than before, I clap my hands loudly to get her attention when she doesn’t hear me, and I lift her into my SUV when she can’t climb in. Every morning, I thank God that he has given me more time with my precious girl, and every night I pray for more years with her. However long she’s with me, it won’t be long enough.
Some older dogs end up in shelters because they stray from home. As dogs grow older, they can suffer from hearing and vision impairment, their sense of smell may not function as well, and their joints may stiffen. It becomes much easier for them to get lost.
Just last year, Gemma was usually off leash, as she listened for my commands. Now, it would be easy for her to not hear a command and be run over, or wander away. It would not be disobedience, but the results could be catastrophic. Protect your senior by keeping him on leash or in a fenced yard. If your dog is not microchipped, this is a great time to have it done, or to make sure your registration information is up to date if he is chipped. It’s also wise for your dog to wear an ID tag, or a collar embroidered with your contact info. Tags can fall off, but a properly fitted collar should stay on your dog, and will provide a fast and easy way to contact you if he becomes lost.
Sadly, many of the senior dogs dying in shelters aren’t strays, but owner turn-ins. I will be honest and say that I can’t understand how anyone could do this to a faithful friend, but I know it happens regularly.
If caring for your dog becomes a financial burden, talk to your vet about your options. If your vet understands you can’t afford a medication, he might be able to offer you a substitute that won’t be as effective, but will help while costing less.
If the burden is related to your dog’s body failing, consider how you can work around the issue. If he’s become incontinent, you might need to restrict him to a crate or an exercise pen with potty pads rather than giving him the run of the house when you’re absent. When you’re there, make sure you take him out frequently. When my parents’ dog Thunder grew more feeble, he quit climbing the long back staircase, and began going out front, where it was easy for my dad to build a ramp for the few stairs there.
If you are unable or unwilling to accommodate your senior dog, please do not dump him at the shelter. The sight of these white-faced, trusting souls staring through chain-link, perplexed and confused and looking for those they love, breaks my heart. A shelter environment is frightening for dogs. There are loud noises and strange smells and cold, hard, concrete floors. Being forced to potty in the same space in which they must sleep is an indignity to many of these seniors. People aren’t eager to adopt elderly dogs that have or will likely develop health issues. Unless a rescue steps in, elderly dogs abandoned at shelters are typically euthanized immediately, or spend the last days of their lives grieving and confused; their torment finally ended by a needle wielded in the hands of a stranger. If you can’t find someone willing to love your dog, it is far kinder to take him to the vet and allow him to exit this life in your arms. Will it be painful for you? I hope so. It’s far easier to leave him at a shelter and lie to yourself about how someone will want him, but it is much more humane to spare your dog that ending. After the years of love he’s given you, doesn’t he deserve a compassionate end?
“Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a bit out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well.” – Bonnie Wilcox ‘Old Dogs, Old Friends’