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Placing the Older Dog

By: Gary Wynn Kelly

Rescue groups get many calls each month from people wanting to place their dogs. Many of these dogs are older, and have been in the family for years. Some were recently acquired–sometimes from a relative, or a friend, or from a shelter. The reasons people give for needing to find the dog a new home are as diverse as the population of America itself. I developed this page of the website to help answer such inquiries. We hope the ideas here are taken seriously by those with such needs.

The following is but one example of such a request:

Dear Mr. Kelly,

I am interested in trying to place a siberian husky. We have an older husky that we want to find a home for. My employer is moving my family across the country and we will not be able to take our friend with us. I am looking for information on how to place him. Any information you can provide would be very helpful.

We regret the circumstances and really do not want to have to turn our pet over to the local pound or shelter. We hope you can assist us.

ADRTC rarely accepts older dogs into foster care as it can be many weeks before they get a new home, and we have limited space and never enough resources, even for younger dogs in rescue. We developed this list of ideas to help those many families who have decided to try to place their older dog themselves.

Placing an older dog can be easy if the dog has many assets. Being younger, healthier, female, small, well trained, attractive, well mannered, quiet, and oriented to people are all good assets for placing the older dog. Placing an older dog is like looking for a job when one is older–what is on the resume that will impress the person who may provide the next opportunity?

The first and best approach is to check with one’s friends and relatives to see if there are any takers among them–sweeten the pot with an offer to help pay the dog’s upkeep or vet expenses. That is the most ideal opportunity for most older dogs.

If that is not an option–and think very carefully before discarding it–try groups to which you may belong, such as church, clubs, social groups, or about anywhere else that you, or your family, may have connections. Older dogs are often “charity cases”, depending on what the age and health status of the dog may be, and what assets the dog has acquired while in your care.

Siberians and Malamutes live, on the average, 12-14 years. If the dog is 9, and in less than ideal health, then it may be perceived as a charity case. If the dog is 6 or 7, then it may have enough great years, and be in good enough physical condition to be highly adoptable to the right person–which will then depend on other assets.

At ADRTC, we say that a dog must have at least one asset for every year it is older, after the first year. People do not expect much of a 1 year old dog, or less. As the dog gets older, they expect much, much more. By the time a dog is 5 years of age, it has to be accomplished in order to place it through rescue. It may be easier to make a private placement if one has good connections.

We recommend that those wishing to place older dogs read our article entitled: “The Art of Rescue” on our website, under the General Information section. It will acquaint the reader with the constraints of rescue.

If the dog is already over 10, and has any health issues, it may be kinder to have it euthanized. The dog may never adjust well to any potential home, unless it has always been a very social and outgoing dog, and is used to changing locations. Few breeds adjust well to new homes after this age. Even American Eskimo dogs, which often live far longer than the larger breeds, do not adjust well to new homes after age 10.

The reader is probably getting the idea that this is not a simple issue–it is like human issues–fuzzy and with many variables. One should look at various web-based opportunities to post and promote the dog. It is best to plan on taking about one month for every year the dog is over 4 years of age. Consulting with rescue groups who place dogs can help, as they know well how fast dogs are currently placing.

It is best to ask for a fee if you are placing the dog to the general public. $50 might be in order to demonstrate that the person is a serious adopter, and not a front for an organization wanting a test animal. Yes, there are such. Sometimes, surprisingly innocent people are fronting for such organizations, and collecting dogs to sell for money to the organization that requires them as test animals.

The options for an older dog are about the same as for an older adult were she/he living with you, and not able to live independently. If you had to move across the country, and live where you could not have this hypothetical older adult, stay with you, then you would have to find other options–none of which would ever be quite as good as you would like. That is the problem with which you are now faced. You might wish to review your situation, and see if the dog really can remain housed with you. The chances are all too great that if the dog is not placed with a relative, or close friend, or a person willing to keep you in touch with the welfare of your dog, that it will soon end up at a shelter, or abandoned. It happens all the time.

One additional option is to discuss the dog with your vet, assuming you have a good relationship with a vet. It might be that the vet does know someone committed to dogs, who might take yours. Again, offering a subsidy will help. The vet assumedly knows the health and quality of your dog, and can best assess the opportunities for it in terms of health issues and longevity–healthspan.

You should sit down, and make out a list of all the assets your dog has–these include: housebroken, leash trained, obedience trained, possibly crate trained, good with people/strangers, good with small children or infants, good with other dogs, good with cats, playful, great for jogging/hiking/water sports, exceptional breeding and quality, exceptional temperament and personality, exceptional health and energy for the age, exceptional intelligence and ability to learn, and size–too big is harder, and small is desirable.

Compare this to major liabilities, such as: escape artist, biter, back yard dog only, aggressive with other dogs, cat or small animal predator, bad tempered with children, or strangers, or has major health issues, such as diabetes.

Be absolutely honest. Your dog’s life depends on it. Check it over with your partner, if you have one, or with a close friend, who also knows the dog. Then take it to your vet, and ask if your vet can give your dog a “report card” on your dog’s health. Review the list with your vet, and see if the vet feels the dog is a good prospect for adoption. If the assets are too few, or the liabilities too great, the dog has little chance. If the dog has extraordinary assets, and no major liabilities, then it has an excellent chance.

Your honesty is essential in rating the dog. Your dog wins or loses according to the honesty of your answers to this evaluation. As difficult as it can be, a death with dignity in your vet’s office with you present, may be preferable to a lonely and frightened abandonment in a shelter, and a final death at the hands of a stranger, or worse–on the streets alone. This last is too often the fate of animals that are “free to a good home”, and placed with no understanding of the issues discussed in this paper.

We welcome additional ideas and comments. Please write to us through ADRTC.ORG.

Permission is granted to repost and distribute this article, so long as the material is not changed, and proper credit is given to the Author and ADRTC.ORG. Copyright© 2005, 2007, by Gary Wynn Kelly.