Survey reports brighter prospects for old dogs seeking new homes

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Birdie is one lucky senior dog. Found as a stray, her paws painfully sore from miles of walking, the 7- year-old yellow Labrador retriever was taken in by Safe Harbor Lab Rescue outside of Denver, Colorado. There, she was quickly adopted by a family who preferred an older dog.

A new survey by The Grey Muzzle Organization—which provides grants to help at-risk senior dogs at Safe Harbor and dozens of other rescue groups and animal shelters around the country—reveals that Birdie is one of thousands of older dogs who are benefitting from a nationwide trend toward more positive perceptions and increased adoption of senior dogs. The results are based on input from 30 Grey Muzzle grant recipients who found homes for nearly 18,000 dogs including almost 3,900 seniors in 2016.

Once considered unadoptable, seniors were often the first to be euthanized to make room for younger dogs in overcrowded animal shelters. Today, however, the Grey Muzzle survey shows more people are open to bringing home an older dog who already knows how to fit into family life.

“Based on their hands-on experience, two-thirds of our survey respondents reported that the situation for homeless senior dogs has improved over the past year or two,” said Dr. Lisa Lunghofer, Executive Director of The Grey Muzzle Organization. “No dog is more grateful or loving than a senior. As more people discover their wonderful qualities, more old dogs are getting the second chance they deserve.”

Eighty percent of the groups surveyed reported positive changes in public perception of senior dogs. Erick Smith of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, California, which has seen a steady increase in the number of older dogs adopted and found homes for more than 900 last year, noted, “More people understand senior dogs still have the potential for a good quality of life and will enhance the lives of the families they join.”

Nearly all of those surveyed agreed the main reason many adopters choose older dogs is altruism: “One look and people say, ‘He needs to come home with me and spend his last days on my couch, not in a kennel,’” said Mary Talaske of the Cheboygan Humane Society in Michigan. Groups also reported that many adopters prefer senior dogs because they are calm, and importantly, already housetrained.

Half of survey respondents believe that younger people are now more open to adopting old dogs than in the past. Nicole Ristau of Bob’s House for Dogs in Eleva, Wisconsin, reported heartening news: “We are starting to see more and more young people come in to adopt seniors. We think this is because they first see the dog on social media and want to ‘do the right thing.’ It seems as if adopting seniors is starting to be a trend. People see it in a new light.”

Two-thirds of organizations believe that senior humans are most open to adopting senior dogs. As Robert Jachens of German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California’s Thulani Program, which helps dogs age 10 and up, said, “Older people have slowed down in their lives and lifestyles and are looking for similar traits in their companion dogs.” The group reported increased adoptions, thanks to improved marketing efforts through social media and satisfied customers, with more than 60 percent of adopters coming back for a second senior shepherd.

Holly Smith, who along with her husband, adopted Birdie the senior Lab, couldn’t be happier with their choice: “I wanted an older dog who would walk with me daily and nap with me in the afternoon…She folded into our family seamlessly and is a complete and utter love.”

Nearly all the groups agreed on the main reasons why some people choose not to adopt old dogs:  Fear of losing a beloved companion too soon and concern about the high cost of veterinary care. “Dogs are typically called ‘senior’ starting at age seven, but that’s barely middle-aged for many,” Lunghofer said, adding that dogs are living longer, healthier lives thanks to better nutrition, medical and dental care. “By providing grants to cover the cost of veterinary care for homeless senior dogs, Grey Muzzle and our donors are helping break down one of the biggest barriers to adoption.” A non-profit organization, Grey Muzzle has provided $750,000 in grants to 76 organizations helping senior dogs in 30 states since 2008.  

She also noted that the prospects for homeless senior dogs vary by location depending on local resources and spay/neuter programs, among other factors. “The survey results were mostly good news, but there’s still much more work to be done to ensure that someday no old dog anywhere dies alone and afraid.”

To learn more about The Grey Muzzle Organization or donate, please visit  Applications for Grey Muzzle’s 2017 grants are due by March 17. Non-profit animal welfare groups helping old dogs are encouraged to visit the website for details.                                                                           

Press Release issued February 21, 2017