Dream dog?
January 30, 2014 4:23 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I have been searching for a dog to adopt for the last two month or so - after our interview, home check and lots of hoops we are ready! The shelter we're approved by has found a match - yay! He's a small staffy that's calm, suitable for first time owners (like us), confident, good with kids, and well mannered. The only problem for me is - he's 11 years old. We are open to adult dogs, but we were thinking, uh more like 1 to 8 years old. Does anyone have any experience adopting older dogs? What should we be considering?

I'm a bit torn - we both are - on whether we should even meet the dog or just keep waiting. I totally understand we'll hopefully outlive all our pets, but are we just setting ourselves up for heartbreak or vet bills (we'll be getting pet insurance regardless though). Then the other half of me says but but but pets can be sick at any age - there's no guarantees, and what if he has to spend the rest of his life overlooked in the kennels...

Maybe of note; We're late 20s/early thirties, live in London, I can take the dog to work (this guy specifically ticks the confidence boxes to be in a studio with new people) and my boyfriend is home all day. We're 120% committed to being excellent dog owners.

Any advice on taking on an oldie is much appreciated!
posted by teststrip to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Yes he will break your heart like all dogs do, only sooner. Go meet him and hopefully adopt him. You have many dogs in your life, give this old guy some love.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:42 AM on January 30, 2014 [46 favorites]

Would it be that awful if the dog had only 2+ years with you? Might not be that bad for first time owners. I had pets get sick and die in various stages of life, and it is always hard. Now I am committed to take only older pets in, so I am a bit biased.

Dogs and cats have a short memory, so every new day counts more than the last. And even with an older pet there will be many moments to be cherished. Based on my experience, older pets are not more expensive than younger pets. Does this dog come with a clean-ish bill of health? Go meet him, you guys might click, or not.

Since you mention your location and lifestyle, how about adopting a greyhound? An ex-racer would fit into your life I think, with the caveat that you'd need to pick a confident one. Greyhounds tend to be mellow, sleep a lot, some can be a bit skittish at first but many are easy going. I've heard good things about Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare. Look at the lovely dogs they have.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:49 AM on January 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

My husband and I adopted a senior last year, and I can honestly say it was the best decision we ever made. Our dog is just the light of our life. That he is a senior has meant only good things. He is calm, gentle, loving, and has taken to training like nobody's business. Our hearts will be broken beyond all belief when he passes, but that would be true whether we had adopted him at one or twelve.

I would also say that older dogs vary widely in health and activity. Ours is healthy, happy, and active, and likely will be for some time to come. Just because a dog is old doesn't mean he will necessarily be ill or need serious medical care, and of course, getting a younger dog is no guarantee that he won't. My husband and I did talk quite a bit before adopted our wonderful guy about how we felt about end-of-life decisions and extraordinary medical treatment for our dog, and I think that's a good idea regardless of the age of your pet. Talking about it now might make you more comfortable adopting a senior, too.

Go meet him at least. Don't count out a senior--- I couldn't imagine a more loving and wonderful companion than ours, and maybe you will be as lucky as we are.
posted by MeadowlarkMaude at 4:55 AM on January 30, 2014 [10 favorites]

We got my dog when she was five. The older years were honestly the best ones--she calmed down and stopped trying to escape, and became more of a lap dog; she was always exceedingly sweet. When we had to put her down at sixteen it was the worst, but we had had about three more years with her than we thought we would originally.

(BTW she was a beagle mix, and longevity in dogs largely depends on breed--this is a good calculator. But keep in mind that if this dog is in good health now, you'll probably have more time with her than you think--our dog had cancer for a year and a half before we had to put her down.)
posted by tooloudinhere at 5:23 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should meet the dog. But the important thing to remember is that if the dog isn't right for you, or if you decide that you just can't bear to bring a dog that old home, it won't make you bad people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:07 AM on January 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

We adopted a senior rescue dog last year. She's probably somewhere between nine and eleven now. She is an awesome, gentle, playful, well-behaved dog. It's harder for senior dogs to find good homes, so if the dog is a good fit for your home and personality, I encourage you to go for it!
posted by instamatic at 6:30 AM on January 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

We had to put Lacey down in November. It still sucks, but I would not trade that experience for the world. It doesn't mean it's right for you and Lacey was one in a zillion, but best I can do is share my experience (and try to keep it as short as I can, but no promises).

suchatreat volunteers for a beagle rescue and, as such, we wind up fostering dogs from time to time when the rescue runs out of spots. When she brought Lacey home I was honestly a bit let down: she was really fat and at first glance, not particularly cute. Plus our own dog (who hated dogs) jumped her on the way in the door. No big deal, it was only for a week or two. Except after about 4 days there was no way Lacey was ever leaving us. She was only in foster care because the old couple that owned her for the first 10 years could no longer take care of her and it seemed totally unfair to put her back in the foster care wringer when she'd only known one home plus who would about a 10 year old dog unless you were a hard-hearted bastard trying to teach their kids about loss.

It lasted about 3 years and the last few months were the worst months of my goddamn life and I would do it all over again so quick it'd blow your hair back as I ran to grasp the opportunity. If you want to know why, you can see some of the reasons here. Everything in life ends badly. That's just how it is. It's how you fill the spaces in between that matters. Meet the dog and just for Lacey be a little more open and optimistic than you should. Just don't blame me later.

As someone who never buys the extended warranty I will say do not forget the pet insurance you mentioned. The last six months with Lacey went from bad used car to decent used car to entry-level new car way faster that I could believe.
posted by yerfatma at 6:30 AM on January 30, 2014 [14 favorites]

We adopted a mixed breed puppy from a shelter nearly 2 years ago. It has been hard work, as she is feisty, demanding and time-consuming. We also live in London and are lucky to live near a lot of green spaces, and having a dog has made us appreciate them more than we could have imagined. In the last 6 months or so our dog has really settled into the perfect mutt. She is calm and very mature, but still filled with fun and character. She knows our routines, and we know hers. If I could've picked up our dog as she is now way back in 2012 I know our life would have been a little bit quieter, and our house a little tidier, but we'd have missed out on so many things too, and the pride we feel in having got her to this point all on our own.

I suppose I am saying that you are going to miss out and you are going benefit whatever you decide. If you decide not to meet this dog then you shouldn't feel too guilty about that. There are other potential owners out there who will suit this dog. You have to go with what is right for you and follow your instincts. Don't feel pressured into adoption, but do go and meet the dog. At least give them that chance.
posted by 0bvious at 6:44 AM on January 30, 2014

If this dog is a match, go for it.

I got my little dog when she was 14 and assumed she had maybe a year left. She died at 17. Losing her hurt me deeply, but I'd never trade it. It was worth it. I had three wonderful years of making a very sweet old girl happy and spoiling her at every opportunity, and in return, she loved me with all her heart and taught me a lot: All you really need is a warm place to sleep, and good food, and walks in soft grass. Every day is a sweet adventure. She was right. She was deaf, nearly blind, and had no teeth but she honestly lived with a gusto I lacked in my own healthy life.

They say the old dogs know you are taking a chance on them. Vet bills are a concern, but with mine, I only had the standard shots and checkups. She died in her sleep.
posted by mochapickle at 6:53 AM on January 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have two older dogs, both 13.5, and a 2.5-yr-old puppy. The mixed breed (Lab-coon hound-Gordon setter) is biologically middle-aged - I honestly can't tell much difference from his younger days (he dug a hairpin tunnel under a privacy fence a couple of years ago, and squeezed through it!). He gives the puppy a run for its money. The purebred standard schnauzer is half-blind from cataracts, has arthritis in his hind legs, senses of smell and hearing are dimming, but he is really game at working around these problems and keeping up with the others. I do try to make sure they all 3 get walked as often as possible, along with visits to the dog park; I feed the schnauzer glucosamine, and have Mobic on hand if his breathing seems pained; try to limit what if any human food you give them, and go for the higher-end dog kibble and hard dental treats; make sure their bedding is sturdy and comfortable; get the optional blood test at your annual vet exam. And wish for death on pillow for them, like mochapickle's dog, when the time comes.
posted by mmiddle at 7:02 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you're asking for experiences - my mother adopted a series of older rescue dogs. Each of them got 2-4 years of pampering and love under her care, and she found it to be a really fulfilling experience (and an honor) to make sure their final years were wonderful.

One of them did rack up massive vet bills, and that's something you want to be sure you can handle if it happens, although the pet insurance will help there if you don't have pre-existing conditions to worry about. That same dog had incontinence issues for his last year or so as well, so dog diapers became a thing. Older dogs definitely do have special issues you have to consider whether you'd be willing to handle.

After she'd done this several times, she did take a break from it and go back to younger animals because she'd had about her fill of elderly pet death sadness for a while. (But yes, then one of her cats got cancer and died very young - it's always a crapshoot.) But she is very happy that she provided that home for some really great older dogs, and I think hopes to do it once or twice more.

I wouldn't meet the dog until/unless you're reasonably sure you're able/willing to take on an older dog. I don't know about you, but I've never met a dog or cat I didn't immediately fall in love with and want to bring home.
posted by Stacey at 7:02 AM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Meet the dog. Right now, we're fostering an absolutely brilliant 10 year old GSD who's owner died at Christmas. It's going to be hard to place her; most people are not going to want a senior dog, but I can tell you that most people are morons. This dog is calm, immaculately mannered, has plenty of get up and go left when it's time for walks and playing, and is basically the perfect canine companion. She may well end up in permanent foster with us, which is honestly a great loss to the many homes who wouldn't even consider her due to age.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:14 AM on January 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would be very careful about pet insurance, age limits, and pre-existing conditions. I don't know how it works in the UK, but in the US many pet insurance companies have limits on the age at which you can enroll your pet, and will not cover conditions that predate the start of your coverage. Make to to research that carefully.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:16 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Years ago I adopted an 11 year old lab, and she was wonderful. Best three years of my life! I would definitely do it again.
posted by quixotictic at 7:55 AM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

My first cat (who adopted me) died two years after we adopted her. It broke my heart, but she was such a great trainer pet. She showed me the best the I could expect from a cat friend, and she carved a cat-shaped hole in my heart that will always need to be filled by a cat companion. I wouldn't trade the experience.

My secretary fosters and adopts senior dogs and she has never said anything even slightly negative about the experience.
posted by janey47 at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

We adopted a ten year old dog five years ago. In all honesty, the day we adopted him was one of the best days of my life and I count it as one of the best decisions I ever made. He has been a great dog, so well-behaved (older dogs often come pre-trained), affectionate and adorable. He is now deaf and blind and has a few minor health problems (which do require some $ to treat) but continues to bring us happiness every day. It's gonna be rough when we do one day lose him but I would adopt a senior dog again in a hot minute. (They're also a lot harder to adopt out so you'd be doing a double good deed.)
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I couldn't do it, and I've been a dog owner a long time. My heart breaks a little every time I think of a dog I've had to put to sleep, and at this point in my life that is quite a few. Our current dog was adopted as a rescue when he was somewhere around two, and it already seems to me that the 6 years since then have sped by too quickly.

I am awed by all the MeFis who have adopted seniors, and that gives me hope that this dog will also go to a good home. But if I were you, I'd ask for a younger age range for your candidate. To me, a relationship with a dog is a full on love affair, and there is no way I could endure knowing it would last only a few years.
posted by bearwife at 12:06 PM on January 30, 2014

Best answer: I adopted an 8 year old staffy (quite a while ago). She was the first dog that I had ever owned as a young adult, and she was the most amazing companion. By her age, she had mellowed enough that lounging on the sofa with me was high on her list of favourite things, but she still had plenty of energy and enthusiasm for stroll-n-sniffs around the neighbourhood.

She ended up living to be 16. Her vet bills were minimal over the years, a few UTIs and a small issue with her nails, right up until the day that she died. I was absolutely broken hearted when it was time to say goodbye, and thinking about it now can still make me teary, but I have absolutely no regrets. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I agree with everyone who says you should go visit her.
posted by VioletU at 12:32 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first animal I adopted was very old, and was with me for less than a year before he died. I still miss him, and that was 20 years ago.

An older animal will cost you the same money as a younger one, just much sooner. You will have significantly less impact on their daily temperament. You will be just as attached when they pass.

Look at it this way, though: if you meet him and like him and want to keep him, you'll be giving him a loving home that he needs, and you'll understand what you're getting into for your next dog (after all, some of these older shelter dogs come from homes where the family wanted them as a puppy, but when the dog got old the family did not want the expense or inconvenience.) Do this dog a favor, and set yourself up to be prepared to be great lifetime custodians of the puppy you adopt next (or avoid adopting that puppy because you realize old dog ownership isn't for you.)
posted by davejay at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

By the way, it's okay if you already realize old dog ownership isn't for you. If that's the case, you might want to avoid skipping dog ownership for now, since all young dogs get old.
posted by davejay at 1:17 PM on January 30, 2014

Best answer: I adopted a kitten in 2007 and I loved the crap out of her. All time favorite kitty ever, ever, ever and then I had to put her down in 2010 because of cancer. Age is not a promise for how long you'll get to love your new friend.

On the other hand, I adopted an 11 year old rat terrier last year. It was through a friend and I didn't think his chances were good at a shelter because of his age. But he has all the energy and spunk of a puppy (but that might be a terrier thing. I understand that he's got a life expectancy of another 4 - 8 years or so, but I don't care because I take great pleasure in being the last safe stop on his gravy train. (I'd post a picture to prove how great he is, but he's too wiggly.) He's also really healthy -- make sure this dog is screened well for age-related diseases that might require extra attention even from veteran dog owners.

It's about quality, not quantity (of time). This dog is going to enrich your lives immeasurably and it's going to be sad when he goes, if that's next week or 10 years from now. I love my old little doggie (and my spare kitty). Take this dog, please!
posted by mibo at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

And I should add, this is my first dog in my adult life (I'm your age) ever since the family-owned-yard-dogs of my childhood. He's well socialized, set in his ways (which is good in terms of being housebroken and not begging for table scraps).
posted by mibo at 3:08 PM on January 30, 2014

Best answer: We have adopted several older dogs from the shelter, no one else was going to. It has been amazingly fulfilling.

There are some things about older dogs and medical issues that you may have not thought about; if your 5 year old dog you’ve had for 4 years suddenly needs thousands of dollars worth of medical attention it’s a heart ripping decision. An older dog actually makes some of the decisions easier.

We have been very pragmatic about the older dogs we adopted. I don’t see the sense in putting an old dog through lots of medical procedures and spending tons of money when you know they’re not going to live much longer anyway. We take them in with the intention of making their last days good, whether that’s months or years, but not going to heroic measures. We’ve done tumor removal and surgeries that have clear, concrete results and aren’t too hard on the dogs. While that has cost us quite a bit it was totally worth it, to take a dog that was going to be killed and give them a good home for their final days (in one case we went to pick up the dog and he had already been taken to the killing room, we had him brought out and took him home).
posted by bongo_x at 5:48 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In December 2011 we adopted a dog that had been advertised as being "about 7 1/2 years old" by a foster owner. As soon as we saw him--Homer--and how it took him a couple creaky, groany minutes to get up from the floor and then shuffle over to us, grizzled and grey from nose to belly, we knew he was at least 10 or 11. The vet confirmed this, and also warned us that black labs had a typical life span of about 12 years. We went ahead and adopted this lovely old gentleman. We had a completely joyful, sweet year and a half with him until we had to have him euthenized last August. He wasn't the dog we had been looking for (we had wanted a more energetic companion for walks and playing in the yard, but we got a stiff, arthritic, overweight old man), but we loved him with all our hearts. It was so sad, but so worth it.
posted by primate moon at 6:03 PM on January 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your stories and thoughts. Definitely think meeting is a great idea. I'll keep you updated...!
posted by teststrip at 1:37 AM on February 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So, unfortunately the little - old - guy in question was adopted before we could meet him (yay for him!) - and we ended up coming home today with this little lady. Meet Duchess, a very dignified six year old Staffy. We're thrilled.
posted by teststrip at 12:39 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh yay for you!! Our current foster dog Duchess says mazel tov :)
posted by DarlingBri at 5:00 PM on February 15, 2014

Good news all around, awesome!
posted by travelwithcats at 4:24 AM on February 16, 2014

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