Shelter Stories: A Mr.Frisky Blog

Ageism and Animal Sheltering: How discriminatory attitudes on age impact not only people but also shelter pets.

Ageism is not just about people. It affects shelter pets, negatively impacting their ability to be saved, sheltered long term (it can be much longer before a senior pet is adopted - if ever), and adopted. 

It's discrimination, plain and simple. 

Until I became so heavily involved in animal sheltering, I thought ageism was discrimination only affecting people. I specifically saw it happen to family and friends in the workplace as they "aged", especially those who worked in high tech. I have found that the same age discrimination facing people, also impacts shelter pets. It causes older pets to languish in shelters and face euthanasia even though they have life and love left to give. It causes people to not spend money on keeping an older animal healthy or making them well. I realize some things give out with age, but I've seen people give up on a completely fixable medical situation just because the dog or cat was over 8. 

That's the human equivalent of late 40's to early 50's. 

Are you ready to have medical treatment denied to you at that age?

To have a place to live denied to you because you are that age?

To be treated as though you are useless and not worth the time and trouble at that age? 

In an era where pets and people now live longer - and healthier -  this continued attitude about ageing needs to change for people and shelter pets. A dog or cat that is well cared for will live many years past 10. A friend of mine's indoor only cat recently turned 20 and another's German Shepherd mix turned 18; this is no longer unheard of or unusual.

Older animals adopted from a shelter frequently live much longer than expected because they flourish again in the glow and healing of the love they receive. It makes them want to be around, play again, live again; they go from giving up to giving love. Think about how you feel when you are receiving lots of love and care, versus when you are very alone and are without needed help. When you were in a place of loving and caring, you very likely slept better, ate better, had more energy and people told you that you looked great. 

The same things happen with an older pet that is adopted and showered with loving care.

Yes they may need some medications; likely so do you. Your Doctor doesn't ask if you'd prefer your medications or euthanasia instead when you go in for an office visit. These days, medications can come in easier forms to give like flavoured liquids; there are things like pill pockets, and the pill in the hot dog I still find to be highly effective. I was terrified of needles but had to learn due to a dog that became diabetic at 16 (I adopted him when he was 10; he lived to be 17). I not only learned, but it got me over my fear of needles which is a good thing at annual physical time; definitely better than fainting and vomiting! Pet health insurance can be of some help. State and Federal governments need to provide more assistance as they do for people medical, and the IRS needs to revise deductions to include pet medical and RX (I write every year to no avail; more people need to join the cause).

Walking the dog at the appropriate level of effort actually helps with lameness and arthritis. It's the same principle as people; once people sink in a chair and don't get up much anymore, they tend to be in a wheelchair sooner (and dead) sooner. Keeping moving is good for you and your dog. Regular walking helps build up the muscles around joints severely affected by osteoarthritis, and can improve their ability to walk. When I adopted Paxton, there was a sign on his kennel to NOT walk him. My Vet, upon exam and xRays, started me on a program of walking him a little every day, then slowly and gradually increasing it. 3 months later, he had no limp at all and could even trot when he got very excited. He was 15 when I adopted him. He lived to be almost 19. There are also things like support harnesses, and anti slip boots and socks now that are of great help. We use both for our senior dog Stoop (age 17 and still thinks he's a puppy).

Satchel Paige said, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"

He makes a great point. Don't let an animal's age affect their ability to find the love they deserve. Support your local shelter's efforts to take in and care for older animals, and find them foster and forever homes by combating ageism attitudes when you hear them. - Uniting the World to Adopt, Love, Give at their local animal shelter and rescue.