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Yes; puppies are adorable, young dogs are full of energy, and our normal human reaction is to likely be drawn to that when we enter a dog shelter or browse sites like Petfinder for a new furry friend. But I am here to tell you, that if you look beyond that, and consider the more mature canines in the crowd, it might just be the best decision you ever make.
You can google and find many practical reasons why adopting a senior dog is a good choice. They are likely already house trained, they probably know some commands, and they are lower energy just to name a few. And while all these and more are true, in my opinion they are just the tip of the iceberg.
As the owner of 6 dogs, I have adopted most as a puppy, or a young adult. But the 4th dog into my pack changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. As a frequent visitor to my local county animal shelter, walking in on this particular Saturday wasn’t any different than most. That is, until my boyfriend and I and walked by a cage, with the most handsome, and gentle fellow in it. We made our rounds as we always did, but found ourselves back at this same cage. “Champion” his kennel card said his name was, and with sharpie was written, “Adoption Special $20”. He stood quietly, clearly curious about us, but not overly demonstrative. We found the nearest employee and asked about the dog, as we found ourselves very drawn to him. We were told that he was surrendered by the out of state family of his owner, who had passed. After a few weeks in the shelter, he was adopted out, but had sadly been returned earlier that day. Given his age of 10 years, and his failed adoption trial they chose to run him on an adoption special.
We decided to get him out of the kennel and meet with him. He was eager to exit his cage, but once outside with us, was calm, curious, and seemed particularly interested and drawn to my boyfriend. It was very clear that he had a male owner, as he wasn’t initially sure what to make of me. Nevertheless, after spending some time with him, my boyfriend and I looked at each other and knew this old man was coming home with us.
After the introductions with our 3 dogs, we knew Champ was going to be a great addition. What I didn’t know in that moment, was the journey he would take us on. We realized very quickly that he was still mourning his former owner. He would often stare at the doors in our home, as if he was waiting for or missing someone. He did not want to eat; we would try at all times of the day, usually to no avail. He was underweight as it was, so we were very concerned and stressed knowing we needed to get some weight on our new bud.
We made an appointment for a checkup with our vet, and based on what he found, he concluded he probably had lived a mostly outdoor life, which was certainly heartbreaking to hear, but validated our choice to adopt this sweet guy, as we were ready and prepared to spoil him for the rest of his days. As he continued settling into our home, his previous outdoor life became more evident as he didn’t know what to do with a toy or a Nylabone, he acted as if he had never experienced a treat before, and he didn’t understand what the other dogs were doing when they got up on the couches and beds at night.
He didn’t “love” or show affection like our other dogs. Didn’t want a hug, or a kiss, or know how awesome a lap was. Luckily though, his outdoor life had not made him aggressive or unsocialized to the point that he couldn’t learn. So there our journey began. We were determined, and spent day after day making him understand that we were his family now, he belonged IN our home, and he would get all the love he could ever want. Slowly his appetite grew, and he allowed our dogs, who are big cuddlers with each other; to lay a little closer. We would scoop him up from time to time and set him on our laps and I will never forget the day, about 6 months into our journey, when I saw his body language change, and noticed him relax fully for the first time. He seemed to finally enjoy being petted, and feeling safe, and yes I cried. Like a baby. Then there was the first time he picked up a Nylabone. Again the joy I felt was monumental. These things that were so normal for our other dogs were so big for him, and it was a reassurance that we were moving in the right direction.
Fast forward to almost 2 years since we brought Champ home. He has come so far, and it STILL makes me smile when he has his playful spurts with our other dogs, barks for his dog food, and hops up on the couch next to us. He still and will always have his quirks; he hates storms, he walks the perimeter of the yard only, still had no idea what to do with a Frisbee or ball, and paws at us awkwardly when he wants attention. But we have come to know and love every one of those things. I won’t lie, there were times when I felt sad, at the thought that we would never get him to the point he is today, but even if we hadn’t I would not have regretted bringing him home for one second. To know that we are providing love and happiness in the last years of his life is something so special that fills a part of my heart I never knew was empty.
Every dog has a story, and while you may never know it, the next time you are considering adding a dog to your family, take the time to look into the eyes of the old and grey ones too. They need a soft place to fall, and will teach you their story in their own way. You might just find something you didn’t even know you were looking for; a Champion of your own.
Sarah Ingram is from Dayton, Ohio. She is the mom of 6 dogs, from a small Chihuahua/Pug mix, to a large Chocolate Lab! As a passionate animal advocate, she is a dedicated animal shelter volunteer, and enjoys visiting shelters across the State of Ohio and learning about their processes, procedures, needs, and ways to help. She is a volunteer with Rescue Me Ohio, as part of their education & advocacy team, sharing knowledge on topics in animal welfare, responsible pet ownership, spay & neuter, and many other important topics. She enjoys networking adoptable dogs from all over Ohio, which is one of the primary functions of her social media pages, Sarah’s Space for K9 Rescue & Awareness (facebook) & SarahsSpace4K9s (Instagram), where she also shares helpful info for dog owners & important animal welfare issues.