My two sweet senior dogs, Tiki and Sheba give me so much happiness. Like all senior dogs -call them elder statesdogs -they are mellow, gentle, unflappable, and one hundred percent housebroken. Their idea of a great time is rolling on their backs in the grass or snow.
Senior dogs are happy to complement and follow your daily routine rather thanobnoxiously disrupt it. And they’re perfect companions for people who would rather take a leisurely stroll through the park than be dragged down the street on an aerobic leash-walk, as my younger pack members like to do.
These all sound like excellent qualifications for a perfect pet, do they not? And yet, old dogs are routinely overlooked at animal shelters. Compounding the problem is the sad fact that black shelter dogs like my Tiki are the most often overlooked by potential adopters.That means seniorblack dogs struggle under a double whammy of prejudice. The sad reality is that they are the last to be adopted and the first to be killed.
Like kindly college professors, senior dogshave a distinguished, scholarly air about them (this is heightened by their white facial hairs), as if they’ve seen it all yet are happy to shrug it all off and forgive the world its follies. And speaking of dogs and learning, just forget the old adage that says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
You absolutely can teach new routines to a senior dog.
“He or she will be more than happy to learn them, because as they get older their independent physical activity starts to diminish and they’re much more in tune with their owners and the attention they get from them,” says William Berloni, Director of Behavior at the Humane Society of New York. “Senior dogs become less interested in playing by themselves, and more interested in being with their owners and pleasing them.” Berloni has trained many senior dogs to perform on Broadway, which is much more challenging than acting in movies because – obviously -there are no re-takes.
All anybody ever seems to want is puppies, which is mystifying considering how much hard work looking after a needy dog-infantentails.
A senior dog can actually be his human’s life coach, encouraging a person to take better care of himself. In taking a few steps to care for canine seniors – feeding a diet formulated for older dogs, giving them healthy snacks, adding joint-support supplements to the mix, and maybe even treating them to veterinary chiropractic – we can rethink our ownhealth regimen, and change it for the better.
Happily, many supplement companies offer products for people and pets, so sharing, say, Omega 3 fish oil with Spot is a cinch. After seeing an amazing difference in the way my senior dogs moved after a veterinary chiropractic session, I never miss an appointment with my own chiropractor – and this is what keeps me limber for my heavy dog-walking routine.
I know that I only became hardcore about eating right and exploring nutritional supplements since taking an active interest in my senior pets’ well-being- and as a result, I feel a huge difference in my own overall health. (My human friends will tell you that I’m as relentless about pushing supplements on them as I am with my dogs. Grrr!)
But seriously, I find I have more energy for every dog-walk, even when inclement weather threatens to dampen it, and people tell me I look a lot younger than my 45 years. All this I owe to my senior pets, who helped me tap into a furry fountain of youth.
Respected fitness experts have decided that walking really is the best form of exercise, especially if longevity is your goal. But sometimes it can be tough to get motivated to strap on your sneakers and go out for a walk. Having a dog will ensure that you get up andmove several times a day.
That goes double for senior fitness procrastinators. But for senior people whose gait has slowed downto match theirlevel of exercise enthusiasm, a senior dog is the ideal walking companion, not to mentiona live-in workout partner and fitness coach.
If you can’t adopt right now, please consider fostering a senior pet from your local animal shelter. You’ll benefit in all the ways described above and more besides. Plus, your generosity will help free up a cage space for the next elder statesdog that comes in needing a port in the storm.
Photo: Anneli Adolfsson