Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting Lucy, a nine year old Chow Chow-Australian Shepherd mix who turned up on my friend's doorstep seven years ago, covered in heavy dreadlocks. The vet believed that the poor thing had been abandoned as a very young puppy and the dreadlocks had been formed over two years of total neglect. There was nothing that could be done but shave her to the skin so her coat could grow all over again.
Today, she is a lovely pet. Her coat is soft black and fluffy. She gazes up trustingly from soft black eyes. She's beginning to show the unmistakable signs of a Senior Canine: the slightly stiff gait and the hint of grey on her muzzle.
Guests were arriving for a party, and Lucy was perfectly behaved. No jumping. No barking. Quietly sporting a Red Party Bow, she went about her role of adding to the ambiance with no fuss, no begging, no histrionics.
Were I "dogless" and if Lucy had no home, I would have given her one in a nano-second.
In my opinion, there is nothing better than to have an old dog as a companion. And yet, after age three, homeless dogs become difficult to place. Every year beyond three makes it more and more difficult to find a home.
Just this morning, I heard of an 82 year old who wants to adopt a Big White Greyhound. He lost a Big White Greyhound a few years ago, and that's all he's interested in.
Good News! There is a Big White Greyhound available for adoption. He really needs a home! He's lived in a home most of his life, so house training should be a snap. He's nine years old, so he won't be tearing around,shredding furniture and tripping people.
Bad News! The 82 year old prospective adopter, doesn't want a dog much over three years old.
Do the math. Consider statistics. Even a large breed three year old dog is likely to either outlive an 82 year old human, or outlive an 82 year old human's ability to care for a large dog.
Either way, in a few years, a middle aged, hard to place dog is likely to bounce back to the placement agency.
If our Big White nine year old Greyhound is lucky, a place might open for him with veteran Greyhound adopters, and he might, eventually, find another home as a member of a multi-dog pack. If he isn't so lucky, he will live out his days in a well run rescue kennel. Staff and volunteers with do their best to give him attention and take him on outings. But it won't be a home.
Dogs give us many gifts. But one of the "gifts" dogs give us is a hard gift to receive: that gift is a reminder of our mortality. Dogs' normal lifespans are much shorter than humans. When we take a dog into our lives, we are opening ourselves to painful loss. We might be able to postpone that awful day if we acquire a healthy puppy. But there are no guarantees.
If you are thinking about adopting a dog, think about adopting an older dog. They're the best!