When Marilyn Harrison, 66, and her husband, John, 67, decided to get a dog, they didn’t want the hassle of training a boisterous puppy.
“When our previous dog died, we vowed we’d never get another dog – I think that lasted six months,” Marilyn recalls. “There was a hole in our lives because we were so used to having a dog around, but we weren’t looking for an active, chewy puppy that needed toilet training.”
After visiting various animal shelters, the couple found their “pawfect” companion, a lovable nine-year-old golden retriever named Taya, who they adopted from the Golden Retriever Rescue Club.
Veterinarian and RSPCA Victoria CEO Dr Liz Walker says while the majority of potential dog owners prefer puppies, adopting a dog of Taya’s vintage is a terrific way to provide a happy home for an animal who still has many good years ahead. Plus, older dogs are usually already housebroken and understand basic commands.
“Whether it’s having a Sunday sleep in on the bed or a frolic in the park, senior animals have years of love, life and devotion to give very lucky owners,” Dr Walker says.
Having an animal companion is also proven to be a boon for its owner’s health after 50. So if you’re thinking about adopting a pet, make it a senior dog and give both you and your canine a new lease on life.
Among the most common reasons for older pets ending up in shelters are problem behaviour and a change of mind. But it also happens when owners die or go into care.
Dr Walker says around seven per cent of the dogs and cats RSPCA Victoria re-homes each year are seniors, plus there are organisations specialising in finding homes for older dogs.
Roman Deguchi from Neighbour Aid Pets, a free service matching senior Australians with senior dogs, says the benefits go both ways in reducing loneliness for a new owner and giving a needy dog a home.
“When you bring those two circumstances together, there’s a level of appreciation shared between the person who wants companionship and the animal that needs love – it’s a beautiful thing,” he says.
From loving companionship to a more physical lifestyle, furry friends have much to offer. Dr Walker says, “Pet ownership has been associated with fewer doctor visits, lower stress levels and increased social support. Dogs, in particular, help keep you active and provide a routine and extra reason to get up in the morning.”
While senior dogs are generally calmer and less energetic, most still need to be let outside and taken for walks.
“When we got Taya, she was fully house and toilet trained, so she slept inside every night, and if she needed to go to the toilet, she would bark a couple of times and we’d let her out,” Marilyn says.
“Taya was active enough for us to take her for a walk but we didn’t have to spend hours trying to wear her out like you do with younger dogs.”
If you can see past a few grey hairs and think an older pet might be a match for you, talk to a vet or visit an animal shelter for more information.
Before bringing a senior pet home, Dr Walker says you should be aware of the associated responsibilities and decide if you’re able to meet them.
Some senior rescue dogs have behavioural issues as a result of their previous living conditions or abuse. Happily, you can usually “teach an old dog new tricks” - it’s just that you might need to invest in an animal behaviourist to help you out.
Other older dogs may have a pre-existing medical problem - such as arthritis, cancer or kidney disease - that calls for prescription medication and ongoing (possibly expensive) vet care.
If you adopt through the RSPCA however, you should know what you’re in for because all pets they re-home are carefully checked for pre-existing conditions to avoid saddling new owners with unexpected expensive vet bills. But even dogs with a clean bill of health need regular check-ups.
“All pets should have an annual visit to the vet for vaccinations,” Dr Walker advises.
Marilyn says despite Taya’s advanced age, it didn’t cost any more to care for her than a younger dog.
“She did have some hip problems which we treated with over-the-counter fish oil tablets,” she says.
While Taya passed earlier this year at the grand old age of 14, she spent her twilight years in a loving home where she was part of the family. “You know in your heart that you’ve provided a good life for them while you’re getting older as well,” Marilyn says.