Home, heart and hope for elder dogs

Jenny pulls into the driveway with 12-year-old Hobbes panting in the back seat.  She’s been fostering the sweet yellow Lab for Senior Dog Rescue of Oregon (SDRO).  Hobbes’s original family left her behind when they had to relocate to a highrise in a big city, moving for a new job in the bad economy.  With Hobbes’ age and arthritis, her chance of being adopted were slim.  

Then a couple showed up at SDRO, asking for “the oldest dog you’ve got.”

Jenny gathers Hobbes and scans the couple’s yard, which is spacious and park-like.  Two big dogs totter up to greet her.  They’re old too.  Jenny helps Hobbes out of the vehicle and the old Lab rushes to greet the approaching couple — wagging her tail as if she’s waited all her life for these people.  Jenny’s heart soars.

Many senior dogs are not so fortunate, winding up at shelters where they are routinely overlooked by potential adopters in search of a younger, cuter pup.  Gray eyebrows or arthritic joints are seen by most as undesirable, and are passed over for more youthful faces, sleek bodies, and clear eyes.  All of these are reasons Jenny started fostering for SDRO, eventually becoming foster care coordinator.

SDRO was created by Susan Faria in 1997 after working with a breed-specific rescue and seeing firsthand how senior dogs were the last to be adopted and first to be euthanized — whether in a rescue or shelter.  Some older dogs had absolutely nothing wrong — they weren’t sick or arthritic, were sometimes as young as seven, with a lot of life and love to offer a companion or a family.  Still, they got passed by.  Faria wanted to give these elders the second chance — or first chance in some cases — at the happy life they deserved.

SDRO works to educate the public, shelters and rescue groups about both the rewards of adopting senior dogs, and their special needs.  Like people, older dogs can be slower to acclimate to change.  They don’t tend to “show” as well in shelters, where they may be sad or confused over the loss of a long-term home.

On the plus side, older dogs are often house-broken, trained and pretty easy going.  They know how to live with people and what’s expected of them.  They can be quieter and less demanding companions than puppies or young dogs who may chew, howl in a crate, or require daily exercise to settle down.

SDRO accepts dogs from rescue groups and shelters as well as directly from owners who no longer want or can no longer care for their aging dog.  These mature canines are placed in SDRO foster homes until they can be adopted.  Foster families provide training and socialization if needed, provide veterinary care, administer medicines and provide appropriate care.  Most of all, they provide love and friendship to an animal who may have never known it, or often, who has lost a long-term family.  Care for these dogs is funded almost exclusively from adoption fees and donations.  While funding is spare, SDRO works to be there for seniors in need.  More foster homes would give even more dogs a second chance at a good life — SDRO must turn away two to five dogs per week.

For dogs that come into the rescue too weak or sick to be adopted, SDRO offers hospice care, allowing ailing elderly dogs to live out their last months, weeks or days in the tender care of an experienced hospice homes.  They receive respect, affection, and whatever they need for comfort.  Finally, they are allowed to pass from this world, not alone and abandoned, but held with compassion and kindness.

Both Faria and Jenny say their hearts are lifted by people who call her after taking home a senior dog.  They call to share how special the time was, even if it was short.  They call to say they will adopt a senior again.

As Jenny pulls out of the driveway that afternoon, her tears are not of sadness.  They come from the realization of, once again, the magic in her work, and that people really are good at heart.

For Jenny and Faria, that what it’s all about.