Throughout the years, I have visited many animal shelters around Asia, and one thing I have noticed across all shelters was the prevalence of old, injured, disabled dogs.
Prospective adopters tend to be drawn towards the younger, more ‘normal looking’ dogs, and as a result, those who do not fit into the category are usually overlooked. They find it much harder to find a home, so most end up living a life deprived of love and a family. Typically, they are euthanized due to their lack of demand, and if they are not put down, many end up living the rest of their lives in the shelter. Most people do not see the worth of buying dogs that are impaired, disabled, and/or old. Not many people want them, so why keep them? That’s the reality that many of them face, and a survey conducted by Pet Finder shows that older animals have the hardest time finding homes, typically having to wait four times longer than other dogs to be adopted. Most, as proven by various studies, do not get adopted at all.
It is a common misconception that older dogs are ‘problem dogs’ who have lost their homes due to their temperament or troubled behaviour, but prior to popular belief, older dogs are often found in shelters due to various reasons that have nothing to do with them. If they weren’t born with any deficiencies, it’s common that they were victims of abuse and simply left for dead. In other cases, external circumstances such as the death of the owner, financial trouble, allocating to another part of the world, a new baby in the family, etc. are all possible (and more common) reasons as to why many older dogs end up in a shelter. In fact, many older dogs are more ‘low maintenance’ and undoubtedly wiser than the younger dogs, thus making it much easier to discipline them. Some may already have been trained by their previous owners as house dogs, and many don’t require rigorous amounts of exercise or food. And although they may have certain diseases that typically comes with ageing, it is more likely to be expected and thus easy to identify and treat rather than puppies who could pose various health problems along the way that might come unexpectedly.
Now, I am NOT discouraging the adoption of puppies, anyone who adopts is a hero. They are making an incredible difference to an animal’s life. Besides, it’s self-explanatory why younger, more able pets are more popular. Baby animals will be in your life longer and hence, you delay the heartache of death. You get the full experience of watching your pet grow, growing up together, and falling in love with them more each day. You get to teach them new tricks, take them on runs, enrol them in shows – benefits that older, less-able animals do not have or have limited access to. With older, less-able animals, patience is the key. Their bones are more fragile, they might suffer from deficiencies that make it more difficult to partake in common dog-related activities without support, they may not be able to walk or run as fast or as long as they use to, and although they are physically weaker and slower, that does not mean their love has weakened too.
In addition, it is also wrong to assume that physical or mental scars/deformities correlates to a shorter life expectancy and/or makes the animal any less of an animal. In reality, they are often very quick to adapt to their circumstances (just as humans are!). All they require is just extra care and attention, especially if they have been victims of abuse. This may also come with more financial demands, so please consider if you can afford to spend that extra amount to give the proper help your pet needs.
And here’s the thing: when you adopt a pet, and fall in love with it – that love will overcome time and appearance. You soon begin to realize that no amount of time is enough, that it doesn’t matter what they look like, or if it’s going to take just a little bit more time and effort to care for them. Love will overshadow all the insignificant details that might have put you off initially, and trust me when I say that your pet will cherish every second they have with you. They will teach you the valuable lesson of love without any judgement.
And some of you might still be thinking to yourself: “What’s the point of adopting an older dog and falling in love with them, only for them to be taken from you soon?” As John Green said, “you gave me a forever within the numbered days”, what matters is how you spend that time together. And although that time is limited with older dogs, you can fit a million years of love into months when you care for a dog that only seeks to love and be loved by someone who cares, especially if they have never experienced it before. And in a way, you get a much greater sense of charity, happiness, and gratefulness knowing that you were able to fill their void with love and give them a quality of life that they never got or have lost. Heartbreak, nevertheless, is inevitable when you choose to welcome a pet into your home, your life, and your heart. And I think that it is more heartbreaking to allow an old animal to live on the rest of their lives without a proper home or family than to rescue them and give them an abundance of love that will overcome the limited time they have with you.
Dogs are one of the most selfless lovers that humanity has been blessed with, and I think that it’s time for us to be selfless lovers in return.
So next time you enter an animal shelter with the hopes of adopting a pet, consider adopting an older and/or ‘special needs’ animal – the ones who are usually discriminated against, or at the very least, don’t simply overlook them. If adoption is out of bounds, consider donating or volunteering to help such animals in need. They are just as deserving of a love and home as all the other animals in the shelter.