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About 16 years ago, cat lover Rita Deyo stopped by the local animal shelter in rural Tennessee to volunteer. She was there to put some aloe vera on the noses of some of the isolated sick kitties.
The staff told her it would be a sad day at the shelter as some cats would be euthanized. She tried to accept this and said to herself that she already had several rescued cats, and she simply could not afford to take in any more.
She asked if she could feed some tuna to one of the senior cats for her last meal.
“As I opened the can, the cat began talking to me. Meowing up a storm. She didn’t have to open her mouth though, I heard every word she said. I refused to look at her. It was then that the cat began waving her paw at me to get my attention. I swear she waved her right paw up and down. I hesitantly looked into her eyes and I heard her scream, ‘HELP ME!’ With tears in my eyes, I opened her cage, picked her up, and felt the terror running through her body. I held her tight and whispered softly, ‘You’re coming home with me, Special.’ I renamed her Special because that is what she was,” Rita said.
That was the moment that Rita decided to start the PurrEver Ranch, a cat sanctuary she had been dreaming of for years. The rescue takes in cats from shelters that would otherwise be euthanized — the old, abandoned, abused, and sick. Since its founding, the shelter has taken in hundreds of cats, and the need is so great, it is currently at capacity.
Like Rita, many people have discovered the joy and satisfaction of adopting an older pet. Still, senior homeless pets are the least likely to be rescued or adopted and are most at risk of being euthanized.
In honor of Adopt a Senior Pet Month in November, Healthy Paws highlights reasons to consider adopting a senior pet and support rescues that cater to older dogs and cats.
Reasons to consider a senior pet
- Thanks to better care, pets are living longer now than they ever have before, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
- They are already house- or litter box-trained, and senior pets are usually pretty easygoing and set in their ways, so you know what you are getting.
- Senior pets may develop age-related problems, but good care allows them to live happy, healthy, and active lives in their later years, veterinarians say.
- Keeping a senior pet active and at a healthy weight will allow them to avoid many age-related conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Old dogs can learn new tricks. Dogs never stop learning and can be trained even late in life.
- Senior pets make ideal companions for people who can’t exercise them as much or have space to run, since they are generally less active.
- Elderly people can worry less about their pet outliving them.
- Pet parents can offset high veterinary bills by signing up for pet insurance before their pet turns 14 years of age.
- Many shelters offer discounted adoption fees for senior pets, which are harder to place.
Inspiration about senior pets
Some shelters are finding creative ways to market their senior pets. The Fancy Cats & Dogs rescue started a “Senior Cats for Senior Laps” program to place senior cats with senior citizens. The Flager Humane Society in Florida dressed up its older pets with costumes of “senior petizens” to help them get adopted. Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary launched “Saving Senior Dogs Week” the last week in October to coordinate with other senior dog rescues and raise awareness of older dogs’ value.
“…They need you to make the last years of their life the best years. Adopting a senior is rewarding and heartbreaking, but that heart break belongs to you. When it’s time to say goodbye, you can process it and understand it. All they know is that up to the very end, they were loved.”
– one pet parent about the joys and challenges of senior pets.
Many pet parents who have adopted senior dogs from Lily’s have posted their stories on Facebook.
In one post, pet parents Beth and Briana explained why they had adopted two senior dogs. “We’ve had many people ask us how we do it… how can we adopt a dog knowing there may not be a lot of time left? Well, practically speaking, they are mellow, over the destructive phase, house trained, and know some commands. But most importantly, they need you to make the last years of their life the best years. Adopting a senior is rewarding and heartbreaking, but that heart break belongs to you. When it’s time to say goodbye, you can process it and understand it. All they know is that up to the very end, they were loved.”
And Rita Deyo of Purrever Ranch shared a photo of a cat named Fish, who she said is a “Senior Kittizen” at 19 years old, who was lounging in the sun on the deck of the sanctuary.
Fish the cat had landed twice at the same high-kill shelter – once as a kitten and again at age 15. Rita brought him to the sanctuary, where he continues to thrive as an elderly cat.
“Fish is HOME with us and part of our sweet family. This old cat acts like a kitten and loves like nobody’s business. Fish is loved,” she wrote.
Healthy Paws Foundation donations for senior pet rescues
The Healthy Paws Foundation is giving $5,000 each to two rescue groups whose efforts are focused on senior pets, one for dogs and one for cats. They are:
- Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary is a volunteer-run rescue based in Petaluma, Calif. on five acres of land. They provide safe and loving homes for large breed senior dogs (50+ pounds, 7 years or older) who have been displaced from their homes or abandoned until they are adopted or to remain at the sanctuary until they pass on.
- PurrEver Ranch Sanctuary is a place of refuge in Coldwater, Miss. for cats from shelters that would otherwise be euthanized. The ranch adopts out the cats that it can and provides a cat hospice where unadoptable cats can live out their lives surrounded by love.
Alice Mayn, the executive director and founder of Lily’s Legacy, said “we are so incredibly grateful for the donation, and it will be extremely helpful in providing medical care for some of the rescue’s residents. As you can imagine, medical expenses are the biggest part of our budget. ”
The nonprofit has seen a 20 percent uptick in incoming dogs this year, either through dogs coming from shelters or those being surrendered by their families. Some of those surrenders have been due to people losing jobs or homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
Rita of PurrEver Ranch said the $5,000 would make a huge difference for her tiny operation, which she and her husband Dean run on their retirement income. She said the money would get them through the winter by covering food and some medical expenses for the elderly cats.
“Oh my gosh! Thank you so very much. Tears of joy are running down my face. This is so greatly needed, and I can’t tell you how timely this is,” she wrote.
How to adopt a senior pet
If you are interested in adopting a senior pet, they are easy to find. Ask your local shelter or rescue about older pets. Petfinder and other online pet adoption sites often allow you to search specifically for senior pets.
Here are some rescues that specialize in senior pets:
Albert’s Dog Lounge Dog Rescue – Wisconsin
Daisy Lu – Southern California
Forever Loved Pet Sanctuary – Arizona
Frosted Faces Foundation – Southern California
Gray Face Acres Senior Dog Rescue – Maryland
Grand-Paws Senior Sanctuary – Southern California
Homer J’s Senior Dog Sanctuary – Nevada
Lily’s Legacy – Petaluma, California
Lionel’s Legacy – Southern California
Muttville – Northern California
Old Dog Home Inc. – Georgia
Peace of Mind Dog Rescue – Northern California
The Roland Senior Dog Rescue Gang – Florida
Senior Dog Haven & Hospice – Delaware
Senior Paws Rescue – Indiana
Vintage Paws Rescue – Florida
Vintage Pet Rescue – Rhode Island