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Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM

Are YOU Too Old To Adopt?

By May 29, 2009

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The Human Animal Bond - Getty Images - David Paul Morris/StringerAs readers of this site know by now, I am a huge fan of adopting pets from shelters, rescues and other pet-in-need situations. I am also very much in favor of adopting middle-aged and senior animals, as they don't get as many looks as the puppies and kittens.

I also think pre-adoption screening is essential, as not all pets will fit all lifestyles. Chances of being re-adopted after a return to a shelter are very slim for most animals. (Not all pets are as lucky as Kelsey the Twice-Adopted dog.)

That said, my Twitter friend, Anthony Holloway (@K9Cuisine), brought this news article to my attention. The subjects of the story are Doug and Harriet Thompson, 70 and 69 years old, respectively. They recently had to euthanize their 14-year-old Labrador after it had a stroke. They contacted a local rescue and planned to adopt a young poodle. From the article:

    "After some initial e-mail inquiries, the Thompsons were asked the ages of everyone in the house. Their answer drew a response from Dachshund Rescue saying they would not be approved for a young dog, but would be considered for an older one."
What do you think of this story? Assuming plans are put in place for pets (because who knows how long we have anyway), should prospective pet adopters be turned down if they are too "old"?

Please share your experiences with pre-adoption screening: Does People-Pet Matchmaking work?

Your comments are also welcomed (link below). Thank you for thoughts and opinions.

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Photo: The Human Animal Bond - Getty Images - David Paul Morris/Stringer
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Comments

May 29, 2009 at 4:23 pm
(1) Allie says:

That’s just silly. Of course they should plan carefully for the worst (sickness, disability, death), but I plan on living a long long life full of dogs until the end.

May 29, 2009 at 4:33 pm
(2) Bridget Pilloud says:

I work with a lot of pets who are moving on to their next home because an owner died of old age. 69 and 70 aren’t old but a small poodle can live 15 years.
I just worked with a dog yesterday that was grieving his owner who had passed away. Pets experience grief and shelter pets shouldn’t have to worry about losing their home if their next owner dies.
Most pet owners don’t plan for where their pets would go if they passed away. I don’t like the idea of outright age discrimination, but it would be okay to have something in place that says, “If the owners die, the pet is returned to the shelter” or “Owners must have a will that includes plans for post-death pet care” etc. That should be the case regardless of the age of the potential adopters.

May 29, 2009 at 4:33 pm
(3) Tara says:

I think this is very unfair to the couple. If they feel they can keep up with a young poodle, then they should be given the chance to adopt a young dog. Most rescues have an understanding that if it doesnt work out then they can return the dog, so if the couple felt it was too much work, or if they passed away, the dog would be taken care of. However, in terms of longevity, there is no guarantee the dog would outlive them if it was a younger dog, or that an older dog would not. Also, an older dog isnt always easier, as sometimes they can be harder to housebreak if they are not already, and can a lot of times have many issues of their own.

There are pros & cons to older & younger dogs and I feel it is very unfair for the rescue to discriminate against the couple because of their age. They may be able to better provide for a puppy and have more time to attend to training and it’s needs than a young working couple.

May 29, 2009 at 5:08 pm
(4) Anlina Sheng says:

I’m not sure that I agree with the rescue denying their adoption, because I know there are lots of people out there who do make arrangements for their pets in their will.

However, I can understand and appreciate why it happened, because a huge number of pets end up in shelters because their owner died and their kids couldn’t be bothered to keep or rehome the pet. It happens far, far too often and I see why a rescue would be wary about adopting to an older couple who might not outlive the dog.

It certainly sounds like the whole matter could have been handled better. It’s really disappointing that every time someone is denied an adoption from a shelter or rescue, it turns into a big PR nightmare, with people calling for boycotts of the shelter, saying they don’t deserve donations and that no one should ever adopt from the shelter ever again.

It not only hurts that shelter and that animal, it hurts all the people, animals and organizations that work so hard to rescue and find homes for these animals.

Shelters and the general public need to be able to meet half way on this. The public should understand that not everyone is going to be approved because not everyone can provide a suitable home, no matter how much they want a pet. No one is entitled to an animal – shelters have the animal’s best interests in mind when making decisions about adopters.

Conversely, shelters need to build some flexibility and reasonability into their adoption policies. They get to see truly the worst of humanity but they need to remember that not everyone is awful and while a potential adopter may not be 100% perfect, that doesn’t mean they can’t provide a good home. The ultimate goal is to place animals in good, loving homes, and that goal isn’t furthered by alienating people and souring them on the idea of trying to do a shelter adoption. Be selective but give people the benefit of the doubt, and be flexible with people who may be excluded under a blanket policy but that can demonstrate that they’re prepared to provide a good level of care.

Getting homeless animals into loving homes requires a good partnership between the rescuers and the community. Stuff like this only serves to create a rift, and in the end, the animals suffer.

May 29, 2009 at 6:22 pm
(5) Anthony Holloway says:

I think pre-screening is a great idea. It is inevitable that some people will not get the dog they want. However overly aggressive vetting like this example hurts the whole adoption rescue cause.

This was a story on the national news and it was not positive for rescue. The couple was portrayed as victims of an extreme screening process that realy did not have the best interest of the dog in mind.

The truly unfortunate thing about this whole story is the couple purchased a puppy from a breeder that asked no questions whatsoever. The breeder got a check and that was all they needed.

I also agree Anlina. Rescue and shelter volunteers deal with the worst of the worst of humanity. It is understandable that they would tire of the cycle of irresponsible breeding and placing dogs but the people adopting the dog are not the cause of the cycle and to treat them like this is just wrong.

June 3, 2009 at 9:57 am
(6) Richard LaBarre says:

My wife and I recently (two years ago) adopted a Maltese Puppy (I am 73 and my wife is 72) we wanted another dog and thought that we needed to do it now before we reached the point where the pet outlived us. We have a daughter with a Pomeranian and a Maltese and she will be the care giver if we pass before our dog. I think we need to consider our age and who will inherit our pet if we are no longer around or able to take care of our pet.

June 3, 2009 at 3:17 pm
(7) Andrea says:

I feel that pre-adoption screening is absolutely necessary for the good of the dog, and the prospective adopters, however I don’t agree that age should be a limiting factor.

When my father died quite unexpectedly, I had to take in his two dogs. I lived in a small apartment and my own dog was terminal and in need of much care at that time, so this was quite a hardship for me and her. Neither of my siblings could or would help. His dogs were not well-behaved like mine, and it was very stressful on my dog to have them living in our home. I couldn’t keep them under the circumstances, so had to find a home for them. That was very difficult to do, as they were seniors themselves at that time. After months of efforts, I finally found a couple willing to adopt both of them. The whole episode was very painful for me.

I really wish that my father had made arrangements for his dogs in the event of his death. After going through that, I have been careful to make arrangements for my dog, in the event anything happens to me. I’ve done that even though I’m now only 49. One never knows when an accident could occur. I have new parents picked out. She knows these people and their pets and has stayed with them when I have been on vacation. Everyone gets along well. The new parents have agreed to take her and I have made provisions in my life insurance to provide for the cost of her care.

Everyone should take care to make such arrangements for their pets, whether young or old. This should be the deciding criteria, not the age of the adopters.

June 25, 2009 at 12:55 am
(8) Cat Person says:

I had a terrible time finding a home for my mother’s dog after she died. The dog was very attached to her and very sad. I loved her, but could not take her because dogs are not allowed where I live (and I cannot afford to move). The person I gave her to after much searching couldn’t handle her and gave her to someone else. Now I have no idea where she is as the person to whom she was given was someone that person barely knows. I’m so distraught that I have no idea now what is happening with my mother’s dog. I almost wish I had had her put to sleep rather than wondering if she is suffering, let out, dropped off or whatever. IT IS A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE PROBLEM, especially for those with small families and even more so with those for small families and the majority of the family rents (and thus are subject to pet ownership rules). This has been a painful, awful situation in addition to my mother’s death (and, yes, I did contact the breed rescue group and they said they were already overrun with dogs because of the foreclosure crisis, so there is not always a good solution – I tried every organization, veterinarian, school friend, work friend, everyone I knew, and still had a terrible time placing her).

Now, I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I hope to outlive my cats. My youngest one is nine and has already been abandoned by an owner, so I think if she were moved again, she’d never get over it. I just hope I outlive them. I don’t have a bunch of money to leave to take care of them (and who knows if that would be honored even if one did – I have no children and almost all my family members are dead now). I personally have decided that – assuming I outlive the cats I currently have – I will not adopt again. Now that I have a serious diagnosis, I just don’t feel it is fair to the cats. I hope to outlive my cats, and – as much as I would miss having cats around – do not plan to adopt again assuming I outlive them. It just makes me so upset to picture them split up and suffering without me.

So, having been through all that, I guess I’ll say I can understand where the shelter folks were coming from. They’ve probably seen a zillion stories like that and wanted to prevent another one.

January 19, 2010 at 1:44 am
(9) Amy says:

This just happened to my parents who are 72 and 73. My mother walks with a cane after breaking her hip 8 years ago. They already own 2 Yorkshire Terriers one of which was adopted from a breeder as a puppy just 4 years ago. Breeder said she wouldn’t adopt to anyone with children under the age of 5.

Recently, my 13 yo daughter began volunteering for a local rescue group from who we have adopted a dog and a cat. The very first week she went to volunteer she spent the entire day with 2 Yorkshire Terrier puppies that were 9 months old. Lady in charge refused to break the dogs up as they were “bonded”. My mother came by to see how granddaughter was doing and fell in love with the dogs and said, “I would like to put in an application for the dogs.” That was it. She called my father to come to see them and the adoption process was explained to her. She went to wait for my dad and the lady in charge took me aside and started asking me questions.

“I see your Mom walks with a cane. Is her health alright?” I warily answered she broke her hip 8 years ago and walks with a cane when out but rarely at home. Then she asked what would happen to her dogs if something happened to my parents? I said that my husband and I had already agreed to take her dogs and merge them into our family. The dogs are family and therefore they would come to us. We had already agreed to it and 2 more dogs wouldn’t make much of a difference at that point.

What she didn’t tell me until a later conversation was that she had adopted a puppy to a woman who was around 80. She had the dog less than a year when she passed away. The dog wasn’t even a year old when it was returned to her and the “lack of activity” and “low energy level of the household” had turned the dog into a senior dog. It behaved as if it were 10 years old! She said it took over 6 months to get this very young dog to begin acting young again. Also, she said that older people sometimes underestimate how much work a puppy is. How will she handle 2 puppies, a young dog AND an almost senior dog?

I tried to assure the lady that Mom and Dad live in a community very active with dogs. They have dog parties and play dates and love to stand around talking about their dogs, take walks together with their dogs AND the 4 year old thinks it is a baby!

“One last thing…” she said. “The foster mom thinks she would like to keep them. She hasn’t made up her mind. This application may be the push she needs to finally make up her mind.” I asked how long the woman had the dogs. 6 weeks. I realize she has fostered alot of dogs, but when a fit is right, I don’t think it would take me 6 weeks to make that decision…but that’s me.

Long story short, foster mom kept the dogs. My mom is crying “age discrimination” and my daughter is caught in the middle. My mom wants to alert the county of her behavior and my daughter wants to keep her volunteer job she LOVES so much.

When my daughter returned after finding out the foster wanted to keep the dogs, she went in as if nothing was wrong and the lady in charge came and told her she was sorry she had angered her grandmother. She was relieved to see her there and said she was annoyed that the foster mom had put her in that position. I came in later to pick her up and the woman came to speak to me. (Needless to say, my mother was not particularly understanding, gracious or even well-wishing of the dogs when she received word the foster was keeping the dogs. She immediately launched into “age discrimination!” I told the woman I was having a hard time grasping it taking 6 weeks to make that decision but I understood she gets first choice. As for age discrimination, I asked for an explanation because her questions were not received well at all. When she explained her reasons and that ultimately it was her job to do what was best for to the dogs I couldn’t help but understand but did say that my mother was more than up to the task if she had just been given a chance. I worry about her with that very weak hip but I no worries about her taking care of the dogs. They would have had a wonderful home whether they were with my parents or ultimately ended up with us. They would have brothers and sisters and a full life of love, fun, and comfort. IF the foster changed her mind, please reconsider my parents. She said she would.

Now I’m left with an angry mother who believes this woman broke the law when she started asking questions about her age, her health etc. A father who agrees wholeheartedly with her AND my daughter who wants to keep her volunteer job AND remain respectful and honor her grandparents. They said they don’t want to make trouble for her, and don’t believe the lady in charge will harbor any ill will towards my daughter, but this is a hard place to be.

The little I have been able to find online simply says that as a non-profit organization performing a public service she can do whatever she wants as long as she is not committing a hate crime of any kind. Age discrimination only comes into play if she employs anyone — if I interpreted my research correctly. This kind of thing seems to be more common than people know, but many of the rescue groups do have a disclaimer that says they have the right to deny a particular adoption if they don’t believe it is the right fit. Many groups would prefer seniors adopt senior dogs.

I KNOW I would feel discriminated against if this happened to me. I am a large woman and face my own brand of discrimination but that is my cross to bear. I’m not seeing how my mom really can accomplish anything by contacting the county and reporting her. I’m thinking this will be an exercise in repeating the story a half dozen times only to be told there really isn’t anything the county can do about it ending in more frustration for her. She isn’t particularly reasonable and when she gets something in her head, right or wrong, she rolls full steam ahead without much thought other than “I am going to get justice!”

January 30, 2010 at 9:26 pm
(10) Kathy K says:

I’m just going through this with my mom right now. In April of 09 she had to put down her little dog & it nearly broke her heart. She wasn’t ready to get another dog right away, so she “babysat” a dog over the summer. She started looking for a new dog in late August, something smaller than her Cocker, as he was hard for her to pick up at the end (he was about 32 lb.) She’s had her name in at rescues, shelters, etc., has excellent references & plenty of money to take care of the dog, yet the word is always the same….”we’ll get in touch with you if there is a dog we think is a match.” Of course, they are perfectly happy to cash her application check. Well, guess what? It’s because of my mom’s biological age, which is 78. This woman goes and never stops, still works although she could have retired 20 years ago, and has her own business, where she brings her dog to work with her. It’s a cushy life for a dog! Both my sister & I have agreed to take the dog if something would happen to Mom, but I guess it doesn’t matter. Mom doesn’t want a puppy (housebreaking & chewing), but she can’t even adopt an adult dog! I am frustrated.

October 1, 2010 at 11:21 pm
(11) Jean Bedford says:

We’ve just adopted a rescue Westie (age estimated at 3 yrs.) I’m 67; my husband is almost 73. Bella is already the center of our lives. We do our own housework and yardwork. We travelled in a motorhome this month for 8 weeks visiting Civil War and Revolutionary War battlegrounds and catching up on that American History we forgot to pay attention to when we should have. Both of our sons have agreed to take Bella should we get in a physical or mental condition where we can’t. They’ve actually encouraged us for some time to get another dog after our much loved Snickers (a Westie) died 2 years ago.

Some folks in their late sixties and seventies are too old to take care of a dog. Many others of us can give a rescue a wonderful life with fulltime attention that younger, working adults can’t give. We don’t have children’s activities or jobs to interfere with Bella’s happiness. Don’t make judgments without taking into account individual differences. Bella in less than a week is already showing great bonding with us and is eating well.

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