Maine’s aging population and the number of senior pets looking for a new home could be the perfect match, according to those who work at the state’s animal shelters.
“It can really open up options,” Stacey Coventry, director of public relations at the Bangor Humane Society, said. “We have a growing elderly population in Maine, and if someone is still able to live independently at home or is living with supportive family, a senior citizen can really benefit from adopting an older pet.”
A senior dog or cat — a pet age 7 years or older — may not have the energy level of a puppy or a kitten, but Coventry said that for many people, what an older pet lacks in bounce, they more than makes up for in experience and wisdom.
That is what retirees Kate, 70, and Jim Burke, 68, were looking for when they were ready to adopt a dog last month.
“We had talked in terms of adopting a senior dog for a couple of years,” Kate Bauer-Burke said. “We used to have black Labs and now have smaller King Charles Cavaliers, so we thought adopting an older dog with less energy would be a nice compromise.”
The retired Kennebunkport couple began looking online and came across the social media page for the Maine-based senior dog rescue group Old Dogs, New Digs, where a 10-year-old springer spaniel named Darla caught their eye.
“When we found out she was just over in Kennebunk, we went over to see her and volunteered to foster her,” Bauer-Burke said. “She was with us for two weeks, and we decided, ‘Yep, this could work,’ so now she’s ours forever.”
Like many rescue dogs, Darla — who the Burkes renamed Derry — had gaps in her personal history.
“We understand she is from South Carolina,” Bauer-Burke said. “We were told she lost her family and home as the result of a hurricane.”
The couple’s two smaller dogs are registered therapy animals, and Bauer-Burke said Derry is fitting into her new home quite nicely.
“A lot of people think they can’t adopt a pet because they are too busy or they are older and not able to be as active as a young pet,” Coventry said. “A senior pet is often already housebroken, obedience and leash trained so it can provide all the benefits of a companion pet without requiring a lot of training.”
At the same time, she said, older pets often view a warm lap or spot in front of a fire with daily strolls as the perfect retirement plan, a lifestyle that matches with the elderly.
“The reality is a senior pet won’t be one of our more active animals or in need of a lot of attention,” Coventry said. “So being able to match with a senior citizen is a great fit.”
Take Tucker, for instance.
The 15-year-old beagle-Lab mix came to the Bangor shelter through a municipal animal control surrender, and Coventry said he is simply the perfect gentleman looking for a good retirement home.
“He is just super sweet,” she said. “And just a handsome fellow.”
Like so many older dogs or cats looking for a new home, Tucker found himself in a situation beyond his control.
“We never want to judge anyone who has to surrender a pet,” Coventry said. “Ultimately, if a person can no longer care for the pet and can’t rehome it privately, we want them to come to us.”
Once at the shelter, Coventry said, the pet is given a thorough check up, any medical issues identified and its behaviour evaluated to allow the staff to make sure the animal is matched with the best new owner.
“There are all kinds of reasons people have to give up senior pets,” Coventry said. “Some people have to move into assisted living that does not allow pets, some people have to relocate due to work or there are times a new dog or cat is brought into the home [and] does not get along with the older pet, and often it is that older pet that gets surrendered.”
Working with surrendered pets at the no-kill Animal Welfare Society Shelter in Kennebunk, Stephanie Kelley, marketing associate, has seen or heard it all.
“I’m really not shocked by anything anymore,” Kelley said. “But we want the community to know we are a resource they can contact. We can provide a surrendered pet the care it needs until it can find a new home.”
Kelley said her shelter’s staff will work with pet owners who may just need some temporary help or guidance to medical resources that would allow them to keep an aging pet.
“We just want that pet to be comfortable and happy,” she said.
When a senior pet does end up at the Animal Welfare Society, Kelley said there is often little trouble in finding it that new home.
“People really do think about adopting a senior, and there is not a huge bias against those older dogs or cats,” she said. “A lot of these people have had a dog or cat from puppy or kitten for years and after a full lifetime of that pet, they know how to deal with senior issues and have that knowledge base to take care of an older pet.”
A senior dog or cat may require regular medications to treat age-related conditions such as arthritis, diabetes or hypothyroidism.
Derry came with a few medical issues, according to Bauer-Burke, including a treatable thyroid condition and a number of fatty “lumps” common to older dogs.
“That’s one of the advantages of adopting a senior through a shelter,” Coventry said. “We take care of evaluating their medical condition so you know going in what you are dealing with.”
That care can come at a cost, she said.
“We just make sure the new family has a solid relationship with their veterinarian and understand there might be some added expenses,” she said. “Those are the realities of taking care of a pet in its golden years.”
At the Animal Welfare Society, which works with Old Dogs, New Digs, Kelley said a senior pet comes with few surprises.
“When you meet the senior dog or cat, their behavior is set and what you see is what you get,” she said. “They are set in their ways in a really good sense [because] they know what they want and what they like to do.”
In the case of Dunkin, a 15-year-old tabby looking for a home, that means a quiet home where he can sit on a lap, look out a window and make sure his feline diabetes is kept under control.
“We just love Dunkin,” Kelley said. “With proper medical care, he can live to be 18 or 20. We know the right family is out there for him.”
It’s the same for the other senior pets at the shelters around Maine.
“There is a population out there that loves the senior dogs and cats,” Kelley said. “Their hearts just go out to them.”
For the Burkes, there are no regrets about taking in a senior pet.
“Older animals are just wonderful and they bring you so much,” Bauer-Burke said. “We are older, and a senior pet is ideal for retirees. We get to have a dog, and we give that dog a home.”