How did you decide "now is the time" to adopt a new dog?
We lost Nikki, our beloved 15-year-old mini dachshund, this September. Even before she died, I knew we’d someday have another dog, but I didn’t know when. The day we put Nikki to sleep, when I was leaving the vet’s office, I told him tearfully that we’d be back someday. He told me that some people need a long time before they can get another pet, and some people are back with a new dog in two weeks because they just can’t bear to be without one.
My heart was broken when Nikki died. About a month afterward, a friend wrote to me and said she was sorry she hadn’t called me right away. I said "Don’t be sorry… I couldn’t have talked to you. I still can’t talk about her without crying." My friend wrote back, "You should definitely get another doggie, sooner than later…. there are so many doggies out there in need of a loving home and you could make some puppy very very happy and loved, why should that pup live one more minute in a shelter when it could be home with you? So go and get yourself a new cuddle friend asap! That's my advice." For some reason, that really resonated with me.
Around the same time, we had to dispose of Nikki’s ashes. I decided to plant crocuses all over our backyard in her memory, and to mix her ashes in with the earth when I planted them. Over the coming years, the crocuses would naturalize and spread, and these beautiful little winter flowers in Nikki’s yard would always be a memorial to her. My husband liked this idea too. On the sunny October day when I planted the bulbs, I also let some of her ashes drift into the wind over the valley behind our house. I’m crying even to tell you this story, but after I’d buried her ashes in that way, I felt like I’d taken another step in the healing process.
My husband saw how much I was suffering, and he agreed that we could start thinking about getting another dog. Still, we weren’t totally ready, because we were planning to go away for Veterans Day weekend and didn’t want to get a dog until after that trip. And I wanted to schedule an adoption for a time when I could work at home for a few weeks, to get the dog settled.
As it turned out, because of Hurricane Sandy we had to cancel the trip. And also because of the storm, I can’t commute to work because the train tracks were badly damaged.
So while the hurricane exhausted us and made our lives miserable for a few weeks, in a way it also provided the perfect timing to bring home a new dog.
How did you start your search, and how did you end up with the organization that you adopted Lucky from?
I would look at the "adoptable dogs" every night, and then I would cry myself to sleep. I was a mess. (My husband’s my witness.) But I got to see which dogs were being adopted relatively quickly, and which ones were still waiting, week after week.
I also started to learn about the various places one can adopt from: suburban shelters, urban shelters, local rescue groups that take animals out of high-kill shelters in other areas, etc.
We got our new dog, whom we’ve named Lucky, from a group in New Jersey (my state) called Animal Alliance. I had started following them on Facebook. One night they posted a photo of Lucky (his name was Vance back then), with a description of him, saying that he was a wonderful, very friendly little eight-year-old dog who’d been with them too long, and they hoped his luck would change.
I showed his photo to my husband – he had such a cute little doggie face! But that was just a couple of weeks after Nikki had died – before we were ready for another dog. So I cried some more and moved on.
Was age, gender, or breed important to you when searching?
Sort of. It was a little like dating. You start out thinking you know exactly what you want, and then you modify a bit once you have some real choices to make. For example, I thought I would only get a female dog. I’ve only ever had females, and I didn’t want a male. But Lucky is male, and that didn’t keep me from wanting to have him, once I knew about him.
Breed only mattered in the sense that I wanted a small dog. My tiny 86-year-old mother in law lives with us, and I couldn’t have a big dog who might accidentally knock her down in some exuberant maneuver. Also, it’s easier to make sure a small dog gets enough exercise.
I knew I didn’t want a young dog. I’m middle-aged, with a high-pressure job. I don’t know why people my age, or seniors, so often insist on getting young dogs. I wanted a dog that already knew how to live in a house and be a family pet. I wanted to bring home an animal that would settle in easily – and that’s what we’ve found with Lucky.
My husband was a bit worried about adopting a senior dog, because he was afraid that in a few years, I’d have my heart broken again. But no one can predict the future. You can adopt a younger animal and it can get sick or die young, heaven forbid. And frankly, we just lost a 15year-old dog who was quite ill in her last few months. By comparison, Lucky – who’s probably somewhere between eight and nine, our vet thinks – is still very strong and lively. We expect he has quite a few years of life left to enjoy.
How did you know Lucky was "the one" to adopt?
Before Lucky, there was another dog I saw online who I thought would be a perfect fit for us.
But the rescue group never responded to my application, and then I saw that she was adopted by someone else. I cried (again), but I knew we’d find someone else. There are so many animals out there needing homes.
Nine or 10 nights into our "no electricity" phase after Hurricane Sandy, we gave up and checked into a hotel because another big storm was coming. At the hotel I started browsing online again on Petfinder and Adoptapet, and I saw that Vance/Lucky was still waiting to be adopted. With my husband’s agreement, I filled out an application online and submitted it. Someone from Animal Alliance called me back the next day, and I made a tentative appointment to meet the dog a few days later, as long as our electricity had been restored by then (and it was).
The group has animals at various sites, and they bring the animal you’re interested in to meet you at their central spay/neuter clinic. You have to decide at that meeting if you want the animal or not – they won’t keep bringing it back for subsequent meetings if you’re undecided.
So once we made the commitment to drive the 50 miles to this shelter to meet the dog, we were pretty sure we were going to bring him home with us. Animal Alliance had really raved about the dog in his online bio, saying how very, very friendly he is, and how easily they thought he’d settle in… so that encouraged me.
When we actually met him, he looked older and more worn than he did in the online photo. He’d been at the shelter for more than a year, and I think the experience had really taken a toll on him.
And of course, he didn’t know us and didn’t know what was happening to him. But we didn’t let that put us off. And in fact, after just a few days at our house, he’s looking so much better.
Any special challenges when adopting a senior dog? How did you prepare?
I actually think there are fewer challenges to adopting a senior dog compared to adopting a puppy, because the older dogs have usually lived in a house before and know basically what’s expected of them – and they’re so happy to trade a kennel cage for a sunny spot on the living room rug.
Sometimes a dog’s online bio would indicate that it was from a puppy mill or a hoarding situation. Personally I needed to leave those for others to adopt, because those dogs don’t know how to live in a house, and I don’t have the time or energy to teach them from square one. Often those dogs do better when they’re adopted into a family that already has a dog, so the older one can set an example for the new one.
Lucky is my fourth dog. The first came to us as a small puppy, when I was a child. The second, which we got when I was in college, was a six-month-old dog who’d been adopted and returned to the shelter numerous times for behavior issues. My mom worked patiently with her, and she became a wonderful, well behaved dog who lived a long and happy life with our family.
Nikki, the one who just died recently, came into my life when she was five years old. She belonged to my husband and stepdaughter before I married into the family. When I met her, Nikki was a wild little creature – she wasn’t housebroken, she was destructive (she would chew on anything – carpets, shoes, you name it). She stopped chewing destructively as soon as I bought her some of her own toys to chew on. I had her housebroken in less than eight weeks, and she became my little shadow. So I knew old dogs could be taught new tricks, so to speak.
Despite all this experience, I still went online recently and read a bit about bringing home a new pet – what to expect, how to prepare, etc. Also, we had a lot of supplies – dog beds, blankets, towels, leashes, etc., so we didn’t need to prepare anything like that. I waited to get food for Lucky until I knew what he’d been eating at the shelter, so I wouldn’t be changing his diet suddenly.
How is Lucky adapting to his new home?
He’s adapting marvelously. The first day, we kept him confined to the kitchen, and he was happy to retreat into a crate for safety.
The second day, we expanded his territory to include the dining room, where I work when I’m at home. I put a comfy dog bed under one of the chairs, and that’s where he’s been hanging out.
By the third day, he basically had the run of the house, except for a few rooms that are closed off. It’s no trouble to keep track of him in the house, because he stays with us. He hasn’t had any accidents. I’m still taking him on more walks than I ordinarily would, because until I know how his little body works, I want to get him out of the house frequently to make sure we avoid indoor accidents.
Any backstory about Lucky and how he arrived at the shelter?
No one knows about Lucky’s past life. Animal Alliance got him out of a shelter in Trenton, New Jersey, and then he was with Animal Alliance for more than a year, waiting for someone to want him. He’s an older mutt, so I guess everyone was passing him up. But he’s perfect for us. He’s really a gem – sweet, very gentle, very calm, and very cuddly.
There is one backstory to share, however. Lucky had been with Animal Alliance for more than a year, and just as we were about to take him home with us, they realized he needed rabies and distemper boosters.
As I mentioned, we met him in their spay/neuter clinic. They took him into the treatment area to vaccinate him and brought him back out to us. And boom, right there, this little dog had a major allergic reaction to one of the vaccines. He had a seizure and nearly stopped breathing. We were so lucky to be in a clinic with a vet on hand.
They whisked him back, started IVs, and resuscitated him. We knew he’d need to be observed there for a couple of hours, so we went out to lunch and came back. When they returned him to us, he was covered in hives. We took him home with us anyway, and we had to give him Benadryl for the hives for the next 24 hours.
The Animal Alliance people told us many families would have rejected him then and there. But we didn’t – and as my husband says, "We got Lucky."
Thank you, Nancy, for sharing this amazing story of senior adoption. A success all the way around. I wish you many happy, healthy years with Lucky.
Senior Pets and Adoption Resources: