Sadly, even the very best companion animals can wind up at a rescue shelter, through no fault of their own. Some of the most common reasons are due to owners relocating, divorce, and death of an owner (not in that order, of course). But these are all factors that are certainly out of the animal’s control. Although it may be easy to overlook older animals at the shelter for their younger and more energetic counterparts, they are still reliable, loving pets in need of a place they can call home. In honour of International Dog Day, we spoke to a selection of animal shelters across Hong Kong about some of the benefits of senior adoptee hopefuls.
There is no shortage of scientific research supporting the fact that owning a pet can do wonders for our general health and well-being. Simply being in the presence of a companion animal is associated with health benefits, including improvements in mental, social, and physiological health status. Aside from these wonderful perks that come hand-in-hand with owning a pet, there are plenty of other advantages in adopting a senior animal in comparison to their younger counterparts.
Veterinary nurse and TAILS Lantau volunteer Aiko Henderson posits that, as cute as puppies and kittens are, they require a lot of work to train and adjust to living in a household. In comparison, most older animals tend to be more reliable and have a basic understanding of what it’s like to live in a house with other animals or little humans running about the place. Although they may already have a grasp of basic house rules and commands—such as potty time being an outdoor activity, and that expensive shoes are not toys—you can teach an old dog new tricks. In fact, older dogs will have an improved attention span over puppies and therefore pick up on routines and commands much quicker. They are also excellent examples for younger companion animals, such as learned mannerisms and “acceptable behaviours”.
When it comes to adopting a senior pet, you have the advantage of knowing their size, temperament, and personality well in advance. In some cases, volunteers at rescue shelters will have known the dogs for years, and will be able to advise which dog best suits your lifestyle. Overall, seniors tend to be much calmer and make great companions for people who are looking for a less active dog, and they are more than happy to have lazy days beside you as you ease into yet another Netflix marathon (no matter what your parents say about needing to put yourself out there. Your animal companion won’t judge).
A companion animal’s love is unconditional. They don’t care how much you earn, what you look like, or where you’re from—all they want is to be loved and cared for. Kate Halstead, senior volunteer at HK Paws Foundation, says that “a lot of people think they may not bond with a senior dog. However [I think] this is untrue. A senior dog, if given time and love, needs a home even more than many other dogs, because they need you more than ever and it allows you to create a very deep bond. After all, they really have to put their full trust in you.”
The team at Lifelong Animal Protection add that senior pets are great companions for first-timers, as they are often easier to care for than puppies or kittens. For example, senior dogs may require less exercise than puppies, which can be suitable for people who work longer hours. Senior pets are just as loving, but often more calm in nature. For expats, sometimes adopting an older senior can be a great option if you are not planning to stay here permanently. You just need to make sure you plan your timing sensibly!
The team at Lifelong Animal Protection warns that, “People often have misconceptions, especially in Hong Kong, that an animal will only bond with you if you raise them from a young age, which is simply not true! Given proper TLC, any animal will reciprocate your affections and bond with you. Adult animals are as just as likely as adult humans to make friends! Many people in Hong Kong (and probably everywhere else) also only want to adopt very young animals. Forget about seniors—it’s common for us to hear that a 6-month-old or 1-year-old cat is ‘too old’. This is so sad and misguided, as these are animals with their whole lives ahead of them.”
People also tend to think that senior animals are ‘boring’ and cannot play like a younger animal. Aiko Henderson says this is not true: “They have so much character! They can still ‘play’, perhaps just in less bouncy ways (e.g. fetch a ball for a bit, or sit down and chew a toy) and for shorter periods of time. But all the hilarious quirks and mannerisms will provide endless entertainment and bring your household to life.”
Another common misconception is that senior animals must some with health issues and have high veterinary costs. In fact, they can live long healthy lives given the right care and the medical needs will depend on the situation of the individual and how well they are cared for by a responsible owner. Nat Chiu of Paws United Charity says, “A lot of people have this perception that 8–10 years old is considered very senior, but a healthy dog (especially small ones) can live up to 16 years and beyond. My old boy lived until 20!”
They might have slightly more ailments in some cases, but don’t we all when we get old? Vet bills might be a consideration, but there is no guarantee a young pet won’t get sick either. “If anything, older pets don’t require as many vaccinations compared to younger animals,” Aiko Henderson adds.
Read more! Check out our weekly round up of animals in need of a forever home!
One obvious benefit for the senior animal is saving a life. By giving them a home until the end of their days, you know you are helping an animal that might be overlooked by others. If we take the time to consider the older, more timid animals at shelter, the number of animals that are euthanised could be reduced dramatically. By adopting, you could be saving a life, and open up shelter space for another animal who might desperately need it. Although dogs are naturally pack animals and the thought of them off the streets and hanging out with their homies all day at the shelter might sound ideal, shelter life is not a walk in the park and can manifest itself differently in different animals too.Veronica Chan, co-founder of Pup-Up Events HK, recalls the first time she adopted her senior pug, Brie (pictured above). “She had a patch of fur missing on her chest, and her paws were all raw. The shelter believed she was allergic, but (after her adoption, it turned out) Brie is not allergic to anything. The fur issue came from the anxiety [of staying in a shelter]. She was perfectly fine after a month.”
A lot of these animals may have been mistreated, and have not had much of a life before winding up at these shelters. For many of these senior animals, it may be their last chance. According to Nat Chiu, “They are definitely the most over-looked and are the last ones to be adopted,” which, sadly, leaves many senior animals living out their remaining years at the shelter.
Though it might not just be senior animals. Chelsea Tsang of Sai Kung Stray Friends Foundation, says, “A big problem that I have found is that once a pup is over 3–6 months old, people are not interested anymore. I think there’s lot of misconceptions about shelter dogs and older dogs in general.” If you have the ability to open up your home and heart to an older pet, and give them some of the best years of their life in a loving and safe home environment, why not? Not only will your rescue finally be getting the life they have deserved all along, but you will also get to watch your new friend transform and blossom.
If you do decide to open up your heart and home to a senior animal, you’ll soon realise that your pet knows it too. Tiffany Yeo of Pup-Up Events HK says that “animals have a way of recognising who rescued them.” Recent studies have also shown that not only do dogs love us back, but they actually see us as their family. It turns out that dogs rely on humans more than they do their own kind for affection, protection, and lots more. As the saying goes, “Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.”
Still need some convincing? We asked Hong Kong Dog Owners to share their adoption stories with us, and the response was heart warming. Check it out now!
Sheila Mclelland, founder of LAP, notes, “It’s important to consider the possible back story of the animal. For some, they have never known a decent home. How wonderful to finally give them the love and care that has been missing throughout their lives! In many other cases, the dog or cat is rehomed by a sick, dying, or impoverished elderly person. In these situations, it not only helps the animal, but a human family in a devastating situation.”
For those of you considering adopting an older companion animal, Aiko Henderson highly recommends that senior dogs go for check ups every six months. This may seem like a lot to us owners, but if you consider how old your dog is in human years, you would want your 80-year-old grandparent to go for their check-ups more than once every three years, too! After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.“
Stick to the basics and your senior will live life as healthy as possible. You’ll need six month check-ups, appropriate nutrition, and both physically and mentally exercise. Know their limitations, such as decreased hearing or vision. Watch out for common warning signs for health like coughing, increased urination, vomiting, and diarrhoea,” she says.