Updated: Nov 2
Today is November 1 and the beginning of Adopt-Senior-Pet Month. The month has particular meaning for many dogs and dog-lovers in Anne Arundel County, as there is a no-kill Senior Dog Sanctuary in Severn.
Susan Razik, the shelter’s operations manager, is looking forward to November, a time she hopes more animals will be adopted by loving owners from the sanctuary.
“We always know senior dogs are the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized in a kill shelter,” she said. “We understand the value of a senior dogs. Their seasoned. They’ve lived much of their lives with a family that cared for them.”
The month was started by the ASPCA and PetFinder.com. The Senior Dog Sanctuary was founded by the late Val Lynch, a retired Air Force colonel, who had a passion for helping old dogs in need.
The sanctuary has seen a rise in available dogs, Razik said, especially since the pandemic appears to be subsiding. Right now the sanctuary has 25 available senior pets, many of them in foster homes.
“There’s been a real slow down in adoptions, “ she said. “During Covid-19 people were adopting dogs left and right.” The mission of the Adopt-A-Senior-Pet month is for those who are looking for a new four-legged family member to seriously consider adopting an older animal.
There can be advantages of adopting an older dog rather than a puppy or younger adult. Seniors are normally house trained, and often gentler, Razik said. Seniors at the sanctuary can be as young a seven years old and have a good deal of energy. But others are at the very end of their lives, or can even be in a hospice program.
Yet, they are often overlooked, when a prospective pet owner passes either their cage in the shelter, or their picture on the screen.
But those who have owned an older pet, describe it as a life-changing experience, that has positively touched both their lives and the lives of their cherished four-legged family member.
Diane Donnelly, an Annapolis Realtor has owned two very memorable senior dogs. She currently owns Maddie, a mixed breed about 11 year old, who she inherited from a late friend.
And before Maddie, her aging Chihuahua, Hazel, gave her and her family some of the best years of their lives.
Donnelly had Hazel for 622 days.
When Hazel’s health began to decline, and time together grew precious and short, Hazel’s
family took her on one last adventure to the mountains of Virginia. They walked those paved trails side by side. The family pushing this special member of their family in a stroller, letting her experience both the beauty of nature she was descended from, and the powerful love they felt for her.
Hazel crossed the Rainbow Bridge 15 days after that trip, likely aware she had lived a long life, and that she mattered to those she was leaving.
Razik has adopted three dogs from the shelter since she started working there in 2016.
Her first senior dog, Zoe, had been an outside dog and was afraid to come into the house. But once she did she was unwilling to leave. Probably because she feared she would be forced to spend the rest of her days outdoors, Raznik said.
“She was the most loving dog we had,” she said. “She preferred being petted to food. That’s the only dog I experienced that with.
All senior dogs have individual personalities. Razik’s second dog was Chloe. Chloe was independent, Razik indicated, but she just “drew the affection out of you,” she said.
And her current dog is Rocky, who has some issues with anxiety.
“I just adopted Rocky from here,” she said. “He’s only happy when I’m with him.”
Donnelly’s Hazel would literally seem to smile when they walked her down the neighborhood street. That’s another trait of shelter dogs some say—they seem more grateful than other pets.
When she got Hazel, Donnelly had just started volunteering at the Senior Dog Sanctuary, after losing another beloved pet.
“I had no intention whatsoever (of getting another dog,)” she said. “I had just lost the other one. One of the staff members was cradling her (Hazel) like a baby. I fell in love immediately. She was so cool.”
For those wanting a dog in their lives who don’t have the means to support the possible bills of owning a dog, or they just aren’t ready for the full commitment just yet, the Senior Dog Shelter offers a Foster Program to vetted individuals and families. They can find out more about the program here.
Adopt-A-Senior_Pet month is a good opportunity for residents to think about the animals in our county who have reached their later years. Many have had an owner pass away on them, or a family is no longer able to care for them for another reason.
The experience of owning an older pet doesn’t end when the animal leaves you. The gift of caring the Donnelly family gave Hazel, and the gift Hazel gave to them in helping them to understand the value and dignity of senior pets lives on today with her owners.
“So many people don’t pay attention to them because they’re older,” Donnelly said. “I think it’s the most magical time to know them. They’re so grateful.”