Senior dog rescues play a vital role in providing loving care and finding forever homes for abandoned gray-muzzled friends. Most often, older dogs end up in shelters because their guardians can no longer care for their needs. Some elderly dogs were once cherished companions of those who either passed away, moved into assisted living, or were evicted.
Regardless of the reason why senior dogs are no longer with their original owners, they still need to be cared for, which is where senior dog rescues come into the picture.
Though many people tend to look for pups with less years under their belt, it’s important to note that senior dogs can be just as loyal, adorable, and adoptable as younger ones, and they can make perfect companions.
Senior dogs are typically easier to handle than puppies, and they’re already housetrained. Many of them don’t need as much general training and come with good learned behavior. For example, my sweet senior rescue mutt walks better on the leash than my other dog whom I’ve had since she was a puppy. Sadly, older dogs are about only 25 percent likely to get adopted than their younger counterparts and can end up spending their last years at a shelter, or worse, being euthanized to make space for more “adoptable dogs”.
Keep reading to find out how senior dog rescues are helping these older pups, as well as things to consider when adopting a senior dog. We’ll cover some of the best senior rescues in the country that are working hard to provide a second chance for oldies in their golden years.
Why Are Senior Dog Rescues Important?
According to Kristen Peralta, Founder of Vintage Pet Rescue in Rhode Island, a shelter is no place for a senior dog. “Most seniors have joint issues or arthritis, so a hard floor is not the best for them,” she explains. This, coupled with the fact that senior dogs get adopted at a lower rate, means they suffer longer at the shelter.
The average time to adoption varies, says Lisa Lunghofer, Ph.D., executive director of The Grey Muzzle Organization, one of the only national organizations dedicated to providing lifesaving efforts on behalf of senior dogs. She notes that the time depends on the “dog’s size, age, medical condition, and a variety of other factors.” This is when a senior dog rescue comes to their aid, to care for their needs and provide a foster home or a comfortable place until the dog finds a forever home.
Senior dogs aren’t necessarily surrendered at higher rates, but they tend to be more difficult to place in homes. According to Drew Eastmead of Forever Loved Pet Sanctuary in Arizona, this is mainly because “many people have been conditioned to automatically think of a puppy when they think of adopting a new pet.”
But Eastmead wants people to look beyond the puppies. While some senior dogs may need special treatment or accommodations, many do not, he explains. “Older dogs are so wonderfully grateful for the second chance that adopters give them, and we think a new, loving environment energizes them,” Eastmead says. “My own senior rescue dog, Otis, became a certified therapy dog at age 9!” Otis is now 13 and continues to visit senior centers and nursing homes, bringing smiles to people all over Phoenix.
8 Best Senior Dog Rescues in the U.S.
It takes a special person to want to adopt a senior dog, and an even more dedicated bunch to run a senior dog rescue. Inflation, the ongoing global pandemic, and uncertainty about the future are all affecting the most at-risk animals, including senior dogs. Despite all this, the following rescues are unwavering in their effort to save as many of them as possible and find them loving “furever” homes.
Foster, Rhode Island
As the name suggests, Vintage Pet Rescue focuses on super seniors, meaning dogs over the age of 14, and special needs dogs. At this rescue, in addition to seniors, you will find dogs that are paralyzed, missing limbs, or under hospice care. The rescue is run out of a home where a lot of the dogs live.
They have dogs living at the rescue, as well as some in short-term foster care and others who have found their forever foster homes, meaning they will live the rest of their lives in the care of a foster parent. The rescue adopts out to those within 100 miles of Rhode Island.
Before going to their forever homes, Vintage Pet ensures that every dog gets a full senior bloodwork as well as echocardiogram, ultrasound, MRI, or surgery on a needed basis, which means higher veterinary bills. Some of their special needs dogs can cost them over $10,000, according to Peralta.
Accepting both large and small breeds, Forever Loved Pet Sanctuary (FLPS) focuses on saving dogs 7 and older. “We take pride in making sure they are in good health, spayed/neutered, and fully vaccinated by the time we make each dog available for adoption to the public,” shares Eastmead.
They typically have pups that live at this senior dog sanctuary, as well as anywhere from 10 to 20 others at any given time in foster homes in the Phoenix area. FLPS volunteers can take the pre-approved dogs out on field trips in the Scottsdale, Phoenix, Mesa, Gilbert, and Chandler areas to give them a chance to explore and have a change of scenery.
San Francisco, California
Muttville rescues senior dogs aged 7 and up from both Northern California shelters, as well as from people who can no longer care for their furry friends. The dogs live in a cage-free shelter (the first of its kind) in San Francisco where they mingle in different gated rooms.
This rescue has an onsite veterinary clinic that conducts wellness checks on all incoming dogs before they go to foster homes while waiting for their forever homes. Those out of state can adopt from Muttville, but the rescue requires potential adopters to visit to ensure a good match.
The Dog Lodge is a senior dog sanctuary for advanced age and special needs dogs – essentially a permanent place for dogs that are considered “unadoptable” because of chronic illness, physical disabilities or age. “Because our population is older, there is a general intolerance for anything except slow walks and uninterrupted nap times,” shares Elaine Rosen, Executive Director.
All of the dogs live in the Dog Lodge Sanctuary facility, which is designed to resemble a real life home environment. The rescued dogs do not live in cages or kennels. Each of them, according to Rosen, stays in their own room while napping or eating and commingles with the other dogs the rest of the time.
Freehold Township, New Jersey
Set on 25 acres, the 8,200-square-foot sanctuary of Marty’s Place offers a comfortable, home-like living space, care, and physical and mental stimulation for up to 40 senior dogs ages 7 and older. Rescued dogs spend their days playing with each other and trained volunteers who provide enrichment and loving care. Outdoors, dogs can enjoy playtime in fenced-in yards or go on wooded walking trails surrounding the property. At the onsite Canine Swim Center, dogs can paddle around the indoor saltwater pool. And for those that need it, there’s an underwater treadmill for low-impact exercise.
Dogs either have a home for life at the sanctuary or with a long-term foster, or they get adopted to a family. Marty’s Place adopts to people in the tri-state area: New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Albert’s Dog Lounge is an all-breed, foster-based rescue finding homes to seniors, hospice dogs and those with special needs that are pulled from overcrowded shelters and from families who are no longer able to care for them. The special needs dogs can be any age and include pups that are deaf, epileptic, or missing eyes and limbs, or have neurological problems.
“These are such deserving animals, we only want to see them in warm beds and loving homes,” says Mandy Lewis, Founder and President.
At Albert’s, all dogs are adoptable. While there are few that are considered hospice and are staying with their forever fosters, Lewis says even the hospice fosters are listed for adoption, and some of them have gone to loving homes. “Several have found wonderful homes knowing full well they have a very short period of time left,” she says. Albert’s Dog Lounge prides itself on being transparent about all of the dogs’ medical issues, costs, and needs.
The rescue adopts to people within a five-hour radius of the headquarters in southern Wisconsin.
Senior Hearts is a foster-based rescue that helps dogs of all breeds, aged 8 and older. The goal for Senior Hearts is to help find homes for senior dogs where they can be cared for as beloved family members. A majority of the dogs go through a renewal program, which includes medical and surgical renewal (and could cost upwards of $1200 per dog).
You’re welcome to adopt a senior dog from Senior Hearts if you are within a two-hour driving distance from Pittsburgh. A small portion of their dogs (those with complicated chronic illnesses or terminal illnesses or advanced age) become members of the Permanent Paws programs and are placed in permanent foster homes. The rescue provides medical and preventative care for these dogs to ensure their quality of life for the time they have left.
Tampa Bay Area, Florida
Rugaz Rescue pulls dogs that are on the euthanasia lists at the tri-county Florida Animal Service facilities. While they accept any breed, the rescue’s all-volunteer team focuses on Mastiff and Bull dogs, rehabilitating and re-homing pups that’ve been abused, neglected, and/or abandoned. The dogs live in foster homes and are spayed/neutered and treated for any necessary medical conditions before being adopted out.
Rugaz also provides end-of-life care for rescued senior dogs through their specialty program, RRInc Project Golden Years. Additionally, the rescue is able to place senior dogs with senior humans, thanks to donations from community members.
A program unique to Rugaz is the Virtual Foster Parents sponsorship, where individuals can make a monthly donation toward foster pets. Those virtually fostering hospice dogs will provide support for them to live out their golden years in homes, with access to medical care and other needed treatments.
Adopting a Senior Dog: What to Consider
Below are a few things to keep in mind when adopting a senior dog, including the many pros (and some cons).
Size matters. Dogs are considered senior at various ages, depending on their size. Small breeds are considered senior around 11-12 years of age, medium size dogs reach senior status at 10, and large breed dogs between 7 and 8.
You’re not starting from scratch. Senior dogs, unlike puppies, don’t require a lot of attention or energy. According to Eastmead, older dogs are calmer and more comfortable with basic commands and walking on leash, and they already come housetrained. They are accustomed to routines and are unlikely to develop new bad habits. More importantly, you can already see their personality and disposition, making finding the right match for your family easier.
Senior dogs can be ideal companions for senior humans. “All dogs are individuals, but senior dogs tend to be more laid back and easier to live with than younger dogs,” says Lunghofer. Programs like Muttville’s Seniors for Seniors Program waives the adoption fee for people 62 and older. Some shelters offer reduced fees to those taking home an older dog, which Lunghofer says is a “bargain for what could turn out to be years of unconditional love!”
You can teach old dogs new tricks. Contrary to popular belief, old dogs can learn new tricks. With proper training, senior dogs can learn new commands and be a good addition to your family.
However, according to Peralta, for dogs 14 and older, it’s not important or possible to train. In fact, you may end up seeing a regression. “Our seniors develop new behaviors weekly,” she says. “If a dog is housebroken today, it doesn’t mean that they will be housebroken in a week. They may develop incontinence issues, dementia, or mobility issues very quickly.”
There may be health issues. Older dogs may experience loss of vision, muscle tone, immunity, hearing, and energy, along with arthritis and other joint problems. They will also need more regular dental cleanings. Some dogs may develop cancer, kidney/urinary tract disease, liver disease, diabetes, weakness, heart disease, and senility. Senior dogs could require food that’s more easily digestible, and in some cases changes to their home environment, such as rugs and ramps, to aid them in moving with more ease.
It’s not for everyone. While incredibly rewarding, senior dog adoption can take an emotional toll on pet parents. “You have to be prepared for the heartbreak that comes with losing a senior dog,” explains Peralta. “Some may only have months, others years.”
You can always donate or volunteer. If you’re not ready to adopt, there are plenty of ways to help senior dogs. Volunteer to foster, donate your special skills, or spend time walking or comforting a senior dog awaiting adoption, recommends Lunghofer. If you are looking to donate, either do so to a senior rescue near you or to The Grey Muzzle Organization, where your money will go to carefully vetted animal shelters and senior dog rescue groups and sanctuaries around the country.
Senior Dog Rescues: Focusing on the Positive
Despite an increase in adoptions during the height of the pandemic, shelters and rescues are now facing an uphill battle due to decrease in donations, fosters, and adopters. But Lunghofer wants to focus on the positive. Opening one’s home and heart to an older dog can be an extremely rewarding experience. “Older dogs who have lost their families are especially grateful for a second chance to love and be loved again,” she says. “And people who have adopted senior dogs tell us they would do it again in a heartbeat.”