As human beings we value the experience that comes with age. We are reminded over and over again with statements like "older and wiser" and "respect your elders," promoting age as something to be cherished and respected.
So why are these ideals lost on animal kind? When animals age, some humans see them as less valuable, less important and less entertaining. This is why when you walk into one of the many animal shelters across the country, they're usually filled with animals that are older, or, as I like to say, wiser.
I can't say I'm not guilty of age discrimination when it comes to animals. Like most people I've walked into a shelter more than a few times and a magnetic force has pulled me toward those fluffy little puppies in the corner cage. There's that one puppy who happens to lick your face in the right way, cries ever so perfectly when you make eye contact, and it's all over. And it's all over for the older dogs, too. While I know that saving any dog or animal from a shelter is doing something incredible, I can't help but feel the older ones are too often passed over.
So, when my beloved dog Rocky passed away and I was ready to adopt again, I made a very important promise to myself – well, two promises. The first was that I wanted to adopt an older dog. The second was that I wanted to extend this ideal of "giving a chance" even further and adopt a pit bull, a breed that is so often misunderstood and mislabeled. I felt firm in this stance and I felt confident about my decision.
When I walked into the shelter one day and saw those adorable puppy eyeballs staring me down like furry laser beams, I really had to focus. I was there on a mission, and I needed to hold strong. When I was taking some of the older dogs out for a walk to get to know them better, the puppy fog began to dissipate and I started to realize that older dogs truly are the hidden treasures of shelters! The older dogs were not only calmer and more relaxed but they were already potty trained.
It is very easy to forget how much of a pain training is when you have a dog for so long, but trust me, it's not as easy and quick as we all hope. So, I go back to my earlier statement: many of these older dogs are already trained! It's like giving birth to a child that is already a teenager.
When I met my future dog Bobbi-Ricki at the shelter, she came with all the bells and whistles. The 5-year-old was already house-trained, knew some tricks, knew most commands and had all of her personality traits and quirks. When you adopt a puppy you are never exactly sure what its personality traits and quirks are going to be, but with older dogs, what you see is what you get.
Since I have adopted both puppies and an older dog, I think it's important to mention that there are bits and pieces of a dog's past life that might have affected it in different ways. Your new buddy may get his kicks howling at the washer and dryer, or he may turn white at the sight of frogs, or he may throw bones in the air like a baton twirler when he's excited (a hilarious trait my dog Bobbi exhibits). But as long as you are willing to be understanding of a few quirks here and there, and be accepting of the dog's individuality, an older dog can deliver so much love and loyalty into the lives of its new parents.
Take it from me. Until recently, I was one of those people who was sure that adopting younger dogs and puppies was the way to go. I never thought anything could change my mind on this – and then I met Bobbi. I wish I would have known then what I know now about the joys of adopting older dogs so I could have potentially saved many more of the "seasoned" dogs.
So next time you head to a shelter why not think about taking home a dog with an unusual quirk or two? These dogs are not only anxious to love you and snuggle with you, they can be loyal and well-behaved companions for many years to come. Show the dog-loving world you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Click here to read Jenna's previous blog about her work with the Humane Society of the United States.
Courtesy Jenna Morasca