Geriatric animals: That 15-year-old blind yorkie whose owners surrendered him, the scraggly, teenage cat with bad teeth who shows up as a stray, or the senior shepherd who has some joint soreness and mostly wants lay beside you. What do these pets have in common? First, the obvious: they're senior pets. Second, they’ve often been written off by shelters as ‘unadoptable’ or ‘hard to place.’ Third, and most importantly, they’re some of the easiest, most adoptable animals in the shelter!
Despite this, many organizations are still struggling to get senior and geriatric pets adopted or fostered. Here are some easy, proven ways to reduce length of stay and increase the live release rate of your older pets.
Set expectations with staff and volunteers. If there are folks in your organization who believe that senior pets are undesirable, or that time and resources are wasted trying to find senior pets a home, reset the expectation. Find time to explain to them that this is an outdated perspective and pets will no longer be considered less than simply due to their age. Share the success of senior focussed organizations. For example, Muttville in San Francisco has received national attention for their work with senior dogs. In model lifesaving communities across the nation all senior pets are finding homes.
Assume you’ll find an adopter. Senior pets can be great matches for adopters who don’t want to take long walks or spend time on puppy or kitten training. Lots of potential adopters are looking to adopt a mellow companion to curl up on the couch with or to bring with them to the patio of their favorite coffee shop. Post photos of that old, grouchy looking tom cat and you might catch the eye of someone who is reminded of their cat from childhood.
Treat senior pets like every other pet. Senior pets show up in shelters in all the same ways other pets do, such as being surrendered or brought in by an officer. Regardless of how they come to you, treat senior pets as you would any other animal in your care. Provide every animal, including geriatrics with individual medical assessments, with the care and attention they deserve, regardless of their intake type or backstory.
What do they like? Get to know old dogs and cats. You might find that the blind senior dog you thought would have no interest in toys, loves to play tug, or the tubby, old tabby cat loves a cat tower. Find out about the senior pets in your care by allowing staff and volunteers to engage with them and by sending them to foster homes and on field trips. Match people to senior pets the same way you would other dogs and cats, by knowing their personalities and what they like to do.
Don’t pigeonholes your adopters. Replace your senior for senior programs with an adoption programs marketed towards every type of person who might want a geriatric pet. Not only are senior for senior programs a bit morbid for the humans who are encouraged to adopt old pets, but you limit your adoption pool, too. Everyone should be encouraged to adopt senior pets including young people, college students, and families!
Make all seniors available for foster and adoption. Don’t decide which senior pets people want and which they don’t. If a senior pet isn’t irremediably suffering, then make it available for adoption and foster!
Put them on the adoption floor. Sometimes senior pets end up staying in the medical clinic, or being available only to rescue groups, just because they are old. Don’t house told pets in the clinic; instead, put them on the adoption floor with all the other pets.
Tell their stories, even the sad ones. The shelter is an unnatural, overwhelming, and unsettling place for all animals, but for the senior pets who may have lived in the same home their whole lives, it can be especially frightening. If a dog or cat comes with the story that it has lived in the same house, with the same family, for its whole life, tell people. Someone will hear this story and reach out to help.
Create a fospice program. Some of the older pets who come to you will be sick or have a chronic medical conditions. If these pets respond to pain management and are not suffering, give them the opportunity to go to foster and adoptive homes, too. You might think that it’s too much to ask the public to take pets at the end of their lives, but there are people out there who want to make sure that every pet has the warmth and comfort of a home before they pass. In Austin, Texas, the dog Blackie was brought in after living his life on a chain. Clinic vets didn’t think he had long, but rather than euthanizing Blackie, he was taken in by a loving volunteer and lived for several more weeks. Allow people the opportunity to take these pets home, whether you think they have one week to live or seven months. After living his life on a chain, Blackie was given the chance to have the life he always deserved and spent his first Thanksgiving and Christmas surrounded by love. Not only did Blackie receive the love and kindness of a human companion, but he got national attention, appearing on news around the country! More to come on starting a fospice program!
Tell us about your experiences with finding homes for senior pets. What works for you? What has surprised you? What do you still struggle with? Share your stories in the comments or email [email protected]