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Archive for Sunday, May 21, 2006

While older pets have special needs, their devotion can’t be matched

May 21, 2006

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At 12 years young, Sarge was a sweet old boy. He was a liver-and-white springer spaniel who had lived his entire life with someone to whom he devoted himself. He had his routine, a stable home, and water and food bowls that were always full. It never once crossed his mind that his existence might change.

What Sarge didn't understand was that his owner heard a calling to become a missionary in a place where a liver-and-white springer spaniel would not be welcome, no matter how good a boy he was.

And so Sarge found himself, at an advanced age and with a few little medical problems, in a kindly but strange foster home, his longtime owner suddenly gone from his life forever. He found himself vying for attention with the other dogs in the home instead of being the only one.

He was confused and scared.

Sarge's situation is repeated daily across this country: People die, move, lose patience or interest, or decide for any of a variety of reasons that the commitment they made to a pet is suddenly revocable. For young, healthy animals dropped off at the majority of shelters, the chances of finding a new home are tenuous at best, but for cats and dogs of more advanced ages, and particularly those with health problems, the chances of a happy end to their lives drop precipitously.

There's no question that caring for an ill or geriatric pet can at times be trying. More than a few owners of older dogs and cats would agree that they should own stock in paper towel companies for all the little accidents they clean up. And yes, medicines can get a bit pricey, depending on the infirmity.

But the advantages of taking on an older pet by far outshine the problems.

Older animals usually have long ago outgrown the need to be perpetual motion machines. For the most part, senior felines are just as content to lie in a patch of sun as to chase sunbeams up the curtains and walls. An older canine may decide to speak if it so moves him, but the need to sit outside and bark for hours on end at phantom squirrels and other evil-doers went the way of teen doggy angst.

Now a leisurely walk down the street will suffice in place of the frantic yank-fests of years earlier, and many older people want a pet like that - it's nice to find a friend who prefers to sit quietly.

An older dog is likely to be housebroken already, unlike a puppy who needs to use the great outdoors about every 20 minutes. Older dogs and cats also respond better to being left alone for periods of time. They don't need to be entertained as frequently.

Also in their favor, older dogs have already grown into those saucer-sized feet. For a dog older than 2 years, what you see is what you get. She'll either fit on the bed with you or not.

Are older dogs trainable? You bet! Their attention spans are considerably longer than a puppy's. A dog's greatest pleasure in life is pleasing his or her owner. If your new older dog sees that you go into raptures when he performs his first perfunctory "sit" or "roll over," you can bet he'll be willing to do it again and again, unlike a puppy who is equally happy untying a shoe or chewing a plant as an encore.

Older cats often are better for homes with other pets already in place. While kittens can pester other animals, blissfully ignorant of how annoying they are and possibly creating some ill will, a grown cat knows enough to respect boundaries and set some of his own.

The greatest point of concern in those who are considering adopting an older animal is, "How long will I have this pet? I'll get attached and then just lose her in a short time."

A legitimate thought, I'll grant you. But keep in mind that the months or years you have together are extended in doggy or kitty time. A kind voice and a gentle hand for even a short while is so appreciated, and the love you share, no matter how long it lasts, is never, ever wasted. It's just time to make precious memories.

The woman who was fostering Sarge was smart enough to know this when Marlene asked about him. "Maybe older animals won't be around for years and years," she said, "but if no one takes them, what will happen to them?"

And Marlene was convinced. She took Sarge home and loved and cared for him and faithfully gave him his medicines for his failing hip joints. She didn't even mind much when it came time to order doggie diapers because his plumbing got a little leaky, and she added a little baby powder for his tummy rubs before she put them on him because she "could tell he liked it."

They only had two years together, Marlene and Sarge, but they were quality years, filled with lots of rides and walks and brushings, lots of treats and smiles and wagging tails at the end of the work day.

And when you ask her today about how she rescued Sarge, she'll sit quietly for a minute, fingering the plaster cast of his pawprint that the vet gave her at the end, and then she'll tell you that you have it all wrong.

Sarge was the one who rescued her.

If you're ready to find a Sarge of your own, visit the Lawrence Humane Society or phone the shelter at 843-6835. Our hours are on our Web site at www.lawrencehumane.org.

Sue Novak is president of the Lawrence Humane Society board of directors.

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