Aug 5 2010

When It Comes To Love, Age Is Just A Number

Boo and Tabasco

Boo and Tabasco

Who doesn’t love a snuggly little puppy or kitten?  They’re sweet and cuddly and just SO dog-gone cute!  But, when it comes to adopting, is a puppy or kitten really the right choice for YOU?  Often-times, the answer to that question is “no”, it is not.  So, what are some of the questions you should be asking, in regard to an animal’s age, once you’ve decided to adopt?  Here are some very important questions you need to consider:

  • How long will my puppy be alone and in a crate during the day?  If the answer is more than 4 hours, then a puppy is not a good choice for you.  A general rule of thumb for a young puppy is that it will need to go outside to eliminate every 30 minutes to one hour initially.  You can then gradually work up to longer periods of time.
  • Do I have the time and temperament to train a puppy?  If the time you can spend training a puppy is very limited, then it’s best to consider adopting an adult dog that most likely will already have had some training.  Although watching a puppy grow to adulthood can be a very rewarding experience, the time requirements will be quite extensive.  Young puppies will need to be fed 3 to 4 times a day, taken out several times a day to eliminate and when loose, must be watched constantly.  Young puppies in a new home may also whine through the night as they are adjusting to their new surroundings and life without mom.
  • Do you have young children in the home?  Kittens and puppies can be overly rambunctious and unintentionally nip or scratch young children, especially those who have not yet learned how to interact with animals.
  • Are my “things” so important to me that I would be distraught if any of them became the “object of desire” for my teething puppy?  Although a puppy should always be supervised when out of its crate, accidents do happen.  So, if you know that you could not live with a few teeth marks on the legs of you dining table, you probably should steer clear of adopting a puppy.  Teething generally lasts for the first 6 to 8 months, although some dogs will continue to be “chewers” for much longer than that. 

So, you may be wondering; if adopting an older animal is so much better, then why are there so many of them in shelters?  Are they second rate, or in some way defective?  The majority of older pets are surrendered through no fault of their own.  Many are surrendered because their owners have developed allergies, or have other health issues and are no longer able to care for their pets, or possibly, the pet has just outlived the owner.  Often-times there is simply a change in the owner’s lifestyle, such a move to a new residence which does not allow pets, a change in work schedule, a new baby in the home…….  The reasons are varied, and far too many to list here, but simply said, shelters are full of healthy, energetic, lovable adult cats and dogs just longing for a new forever family.  Adopting an older pet can be tremendously rewarding too.  Not only will they bring joy into your life with their unconditional love and companionship, you will also be giving refuge to a lost and lonely soul who most likely came into the shelter extremely frightened and bewildered, without a clue as to what had just rocked their world.  All of them, regardless of their age, deserve a second chance.

In addition to receiving unconditional love, there are many other advantages to adopting an older pet.  With an older pet you will immediately know exactly what you are getting in terms of size, physical appearance, activity level, sociability, health and temperament.  An older dog may be easier to train than a puppy, and yes, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!  Older dogs tend to be calmer and quieter than a puppy, they will usually comprehend the word “no” and will probably have already come to understand what kinds of behaviors are acceptable and what are not.  And, an older pet will be less demanding of your time than a kitten or puppy.  Mature cats will usually know how to avoid danger, but that is not always true with kittens, and they will need to be constantly supervised.  Thus, the saying about cats having 9 lives!  Older cats may need some time to adjust to their new surroundings though.  If the new adoptee chooses to spend the first few days hiding under the couch, just make sure it knows where its food, water and litter box are and leave it be.  It may only come out in the dark of night for the first few days, but once it is comfortable with its new surroundings it will venture out on its own and want to begin getting to know you.

One concern expressed by potential adopters when choosing an older animal is that their pet won’t have many years of life left.  But, one need not be overly concerned because, due to advances in veterinary care and nutrition that will most likely not be the case.  Indoor cats will typically live well into their teens, and many into their early twenties.  Depending on the size of the dog (smaller dogs live longer), many dogs can be expected to live well into their teens too.  

As for me personally, I have adopted two older (sibling) cats, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Boo and Tabasco were both 8 years old when I adopted them in 2000.  Unfortunately, 4 years later Boo developed cancer and had to be put down, but Tabasco has been with me for 10 years and is still going strong.  It saddens me deeply that I was only able to have Boo in my life for 4 years, but I wouldn’t trade those 4 years with him for anything in the world.  When you adopt a pet, no matter what their age, you are always taking a chance in regard to how long they will live.  There is no guarantee when adopting a puppy or kitten that it will live any longer than the adult cat or dog you see in the cage right next to it.  We just need to love them and care for them for whatever time we are blessed with them, and of course, mourn for them when they are gone.  As Queen Elizabeth II said – “Grief is the price we pay for love.”  And, what a wonderful love that is!!!

Written by Karen Brown

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