November is Adopt-a-Senior-Pet Month, and in honor of this month-long holiday that you may not have known existed until now, I want to share the adoption story of Annie, our very own senior girl.
In the midst of gown alteration appointments and stressing about wedding guests returning their RSVP’s in August of 2013, I was also keeping my eyes open for a dog to adopt into our soon-to-be family. When Ben and I married the following month, I would be moving out of my parents’ home and leaving the two cocker spaniels I had loved for the past 6 years, Phemie and Boone. Phemie (pronounced Fee-me) was my little girl, a birthday gift from my parents years earlier, but she and Boone were littermates and had been apart maybe only a handful days their entire lives; I couldn’t separate them. Not to mention, my mom had bonded with Phemie and even though she was technically my little girl, my mom was her person.
Ben also had Drifter, a retired racing greyhound, so our home together would not be entirely dog-less but Ben was Drifter’s person. I wanted a dog that would want me. I follow several of our local rescues on social media, so there was no shortage of dogs for me to consider, and though a part of me falls in love with every dog I see and I wish I could give them all their forever homes, none of them were the one.
Then on a Thursday in August, there she was in all her fluffy cocker spaniel glory on Warrick Humane Society’s Facebook page: 9-year-old orphan Annie with her sweet spaniel eyes staring back at me through the computer screen.
Two important things I should mention:
1. I have an undying love for cocker spaniels all because of one I grew up with named Dana; I always joked that even though she was a birthday gift for my mom, I was her favorite. And because of the bond I had with Dana, I will always want to share my home with at least one cocker spaniel.
2. I have a soft spot for senior dogs because I’ve had the privilege of loving several family dogs into their senior years, and I believe seniors should not spend the remainder of their golden years in a shelter after they’ve given so much of their lives to their humans.
I felt oddly competitive after Annie’s picture popped up on my newsfeed. I sent her photo to Ben and immediately contacted the shelter. “I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of interest in Annie,” I wrote, “but I’m very interested. I would love to come out and meet her tomorrow!”
The response? “We actually haven’t had a lot of interest in her since she is a senior… Everyone comments that she needs a good home, but it will actually probably be very hard to adopt her out.”
Perspective is a funny thing. In my mind, Annie was going to be adopted right away because she was an adorable cocker spaniel. The reality was that her senior status scared potential adopters away.
I used my lunch break the next day to visit the shelter and spend some time with her.
The video isn’t the best, but it captures the moment I knew Annie was the newest part of our family. There was paperwork to sign, of course, and I wanted Ben to meet her as well, but she was already mine.
We had a wedding out of town on Saturday, but Ben and I both went back to the shelter on Sunday and ended up signing the adoption papers. They hadn’t even had a chance to create an official folder for her since she had only been at the shelter a few days.
We didn’t take her home immediately because she still had to be fixed, but we scheduled a time that I would be able to pick her up from their vet later in the month. As that day neared, I received a message from the shelter letting me know that the vet discovered some mammary tumors during the spay surgery (allow me to pull a Bob Barker for a moment: have your pets spayed and neutered!). The news was scary, but it didn’t change the fact that I wanted her. If anything, I wanted her more so that I could love on her, as if that would fix everything she had been through.
When I picked her up at the vet, the nurse told me that the doctor wanted to speak with me. They took me back into an examining room and brought Annie out and laid her on the table. She was heavily sedated from the surgery and wasn’t moving at all. The doctor told me a little more about the tumors that were removed and gave me some signs to look for in the future. I didn’t realize she would still be at risk for tumors, but unfortunately, I learned that older female dogs have a higher chance of developing mammary tumors if they weren’t fixed as puppies (ahem, see my Bob Barker PSA above!).
Her incision seemed so big for such a little dog. I remember feeling so sad and a little overwhelmed, and as a nurse helped me get Annie to my car and laid her on my passenger seat, I looked at this sweet unmoving fluff ball and couldn’t help but wonder, “What did I get myself into?”
I took her home (which, at the time, was still with my parents), carried her inside and gently laid her on the floor of our family room. She still hadn’t moved. Phemie and Boone sniffed her and seemed to disapprove of my bringing another dog into the house; they kept their distance the rest of the night as I sat on the floor by her side.
Ben came over to visit and still, Annie hadn’t moved from the spot where I set her hours before. I hate to admit it, but part of me wondered if we made a mistake in adopting her. I hadn’t anticipated the tumor scare, and I wondered if we would be able to give her the attention she needed. Ben was ever the optimist, though, and told me I would feel better about everything one she was awake.
Then, late in the evening, her head popped up and just stared at me with those same sweet spaniel eyes I remembered. I knew everything was going to be ok.
Despite having turned 11 this year, Annie acts spunkier than her much-younger four-legged siblings. She has provided us with so many laughs through her playful antics and quirky personality and with even more snuggles, as she loves nothing more than to be cuddled up close to her people. Saturday mornings are my favorite because we’ll sleep a little later and snuggle in bed.
She bosses Drifter around and occasionally Phemie and Boone when they come for a visit.
Adopting our sweet senior girl is definitely one of the best things Ben and I have done. Don’t be fooled—just because a shelter pet may have a senior status does not mean they don’t have a lot of life left in them!
There are a lot of perks to adopting a senior dog as well. Don’t have time to potty train a brand new puppy? More often than not, senior pets are already house trained, and even those who may not be all the way there will pick it up very quickly. You also won’t go through the dreaded puppy teething stage! Seniors are a lot calmer than their puppy counterparts and their low-key nature equates to less mischief and more sleeping.
These traits can vary on a case-by-case basis so it’s always a good idea to visit your local shelter to meet the specific pet you’re interested in and to ask the employees questions. With seniors, their personalities are already developed, so you’ll get a good feel for if they’re a good fit for your family and lifestyle.
As much as I am an advocate for senior pet adoption, I realize that it is not the perfect answer for everyone. Our life with Annie has not been entirely wagging tails and treats—we had another tumor scare last October, but luckily we caught it early, we have a fantastic vet and it did not escalate to something life-threatening. Our vet is keeping a close watch on some cloudiness in her eyes too, but she still seems to see pretty well. Yes, she has a tendency to run into things, but that isn’t from a lack of being able to see, it’s from a lack of paying attention (because 9 times out of 10, she’s craning her neck to turn around and watch you).
More health issues are definitely something you should be mindful of when considering a senior pet, but I know if you give a senior shelter animal a chance, the good will far outweigh the bad.
I saved the best trait of senior pets for last: senior pets are very loving. I can vouch that Annie is one of the most loving, appreciative animals I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my life with, and several stories online suggest this extra love is common among rescued senior pets.
The faces of senior pets may be growing white, but they have hearts of gold.