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Silver linings: Celebrating Adopt a Senior Pet Month

Posted: November 24, 2013 - 12:00am

Adopting a pet can, like any commitment, be daunting. The promise of shared experiences leading to a lifetime bond soothes this twinge, however, and quickly replaces it with excitement.

Just think of the quirks you’ll both learn to love about each other, the long walks or evenings spent reading by the fire, the companionship in both good and hard times. Falling in love is always a risk, but so is getting out of bed in the morning. Who knows what each day will bring? The only way to know is to take leaps of faith, both great and small.

Adopting is one such leap – giving another living being the power to change your life is the greatest gift you can give both them and yourself. Rescuing an animal in need can bring someone into your life who may, in turn, rescue you.

November is national Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Humane Societies and rescue groups all over the country are spending this month giving special discounts to adopters of senior animals, putting out senior-centric ad campaigns, and developing special programs to help senior pets find forever homes. If it seems odd to you that there is a whole month dedicated to such a specific faction of shelter pets, take into account that there are over 17,000 adoptable senior pets on Petfinder.com, the most commonly used search engine for rescues and shelters in the US. There are more than 10 adoptable senior animals at the Gastineau Humane Society in Juneau alone and a several of them have been adoptable and in the shelter for over a year.

Senior pets account for nearly 25 percent of Juneau’s shelter population, but make up a much smaller fraction of monthly adoptions. It’s our responsibility, as humans with both the resources to help and the understanding that age in no way depletes character or capacity to love and be loved, to close this gap.

Older animals are one of the toughest groups for shelters and rescues to place in homes, perhaps because adopters assume that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” As animal lovers, however, we know better than to succumb to an adage. We know that an older animal is likely to be perfectly capable of learning the rules and customs of your home, and to be calmer, more reasonable, and to not beat around the bush about who they are and what they want.

When you adopt a senior pet, you both go into the relationship knowing what you’re getting into and what you want out of it. You may each have undesirable habits or small incompatibilities that will need to be worked on, but what good, long-term relationship doesn’t involve a little compromise and time invested? How often in life are we give the opportunity to be taken exactly as we are and loved for it unabashedly?

Truth be told, we’re all going gray. For some it is only inside so far, but there are pieces of us time and worry have weathered nonetheless. This is not a burden – experience bears its own gentle beauty, as each gray hair on my head can tell you. There is no way I would trade one day of my fascinating, if a bit tumultuous, life for another year or two with a few extra brunette strands.

Such is the nature of living, that we are bettered by time and the opportunity to grow from the challenges it brings. This makes people hardier, stronger, and more interesting. Why should we attribute any less to the glimmering white on a dog’s muzzle or the wisdom-filled eyes in a gray-flecked feline face? Their silver linings are a gift, just like ours.

• Irene Muller is a Kennel Technician with the Gastineau Humane Society.

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